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The Ambitious Elementary School

Its Conception, Design, and Implications for Educational Equality

The challenge of overcoming educational inequality in the United States can sometimes appear overwhelming, and great controversy exists as to whether or not elementary schools are up to the task, whether they can ameliorate existing social inequalities and initiate opportunities for economic and civic flourishing for all children. This book shows what can happen when you rethink schools from the ground up with precisely these goals in mind, approaching educational inequality and its entrenched causes head on, student by student.
Drawing on an in-depth study of real schools on the South Side of Chicago, Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick, Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Lisa Rosen argue that effectively meeting the challenge of educational inequality requires a complete reorganization of institutional structures as well as wholly new norms, values, and practices that are animated by a relentless commitment to student learning. They examine a model that pulls teachers out of their isolated classrooms and places them into collaborative environments where they can share their curricula, teaching methods, and assessments of student progress with a school-based network of peers, parents, and other professionals. Within this structure, teachers, school leaders, social workers, and parents collaborate to ensure that every child receives instruction tailored to his or her developing skills. Cooperating schools share new tools for assessment and instruction and become sites for the training of new teachers. Parents become respected partners, and expert practitioners work with researchers to evaluate their work and refine their models for educational organization and practice. The authors show not only what such a model looks like but the dramatic results it produces for student learning and achievement.
The result is a fresh, deeply informed, and remarkably clear portrait of school reform that directly addresses the real problems of educational inequality. 


"For readers who want a sophisticated look at one university's attempt to use research to correct flaws in educational organizations."

Library Journal

"Theoretical in practical terms, this book demonstrates the best of applied sociology to make a real impact on social life. . . . the book provides solid evidence that what can be accomplished by schools in poor neighborhoods should not be underestimated. The details are in this book, and it deserves a very wide audience."

American Journal of Sociology

"A good book presenting the design, development, and results of a five-year, intensive study of school change in two charter elementary schools in Chicago serving mainly struggling African American students. The book is well written and well organized with a preview, details, and summary for each chapter."

Contemporary Sociology

"A particularly instructive addition to this literature. . . . Studies like this should push our sense of what is possible with some disadvantaged youth when schools are expertly organized and resourced to support their student population. It also warns us against looking at instructional interventions in isolation, without considering the social, technical, and material supports for the intervention. . . . [T]his research should make it clear that schools can do something meaningful for a significant number of disadvantaged youngsters. Maybe broad statements about the impotence of schooling were plausible in the past, but they are increasingly at odds with a growing body of evidence."

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"The Ambitious Elementary School provides a compelling model for school improvement centered on personalized instructional procedures, school-community collaboration, and greatly expanded instructional time. It also illustrates how innovation in charter schools may generate strategies that can be tested by district schools. Readers who are interested in the operations of high-performing charter schools or concerned with school improvement broadly will find much to value in the book."


“A great school is much more than a collection of excellent teachers laboring in their separate classrooms. This wonderfully clearheaded book describes how one school achieved success by building a highly collaborative culture and organization that supports teachers learning from one another and from evidence on every student’s progress, and it shows readers what it will take to make that success spread.”

Michael S. McPherson, coauthor of Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in Higher Education

The Ambitious Elementary School is an important book. It has already affected my thinking and my work. I am a practitioner, working with public schools every day, so I come to works like these as a searcher, as someone always looking for convincing presentations of a better way forward. This book absolutely offers one. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who believes in the mission of public education.”

Ellen Guiney, executive director emeritus, Boston Plan for Excellence

Table of Contents

Part I: Lessons from Research and Practice
1 Introduction
2 Can School Improvement Reduce Inequality? Lessons from Research
3 Origins of the Model: Lessons from Practice (1989–1998)
Part II: A Model of Instructional Practice and School Organization
4 Organizing Principles of the University of Chicago Charter School (2008–2012)
5 Designing Reading Instruction to Overcome Educational Inequality
Coauthor: Molly Branson Thayer
6 Designing Math Instruction to Overcome Educational Inequality
Coauthors: Debbie A. Leslie, Sarah Burns, and Andy Isaacs
7 Organizing the School to Support Ambitious Instruction
Coauthor: Tamara Gathright-Fritz
Part III: Impact and Implications
8 The Impact of Attending an Ambitious Elementary School
Coauthor: Daniel Schwartz
9 Producing Knowledge for School Improvement

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