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As Good As It Gets

As Good As It Gets

What School Reform Brought to Austin

Larry Cuban

ISBN 9780674035546

Publication date: 02/25/2010

Take an economically and racially diverse urban school district emerging from a long history of segregation. Add an energetic, capable, bridge-building superintendent with ambitious district-wide goals to improve graduation rates, school attendance, and academic performance. Consider that he was well funded and strongly supported by city leaders, teachers, and parents, and ask how much changed in a decade of his tenure—and what remained unchanged?

Larry Cuban takes this richly detailed history of the Austin, Texas, school district, under Superintendent Pat Forgione, to ask the question that few politicians and school reformers want to touch. Given effective use of widely welcomed reforms, can school policies and practices put all children at the same academic level? Are class and ethnic differences in academic performance within the power of schools to change?

Cuban argues that the overall district has shown much improvement—better test scores, more high school graduates, and more qualified teachers. But the improvements are unevenly distributed. The elementary schools improved, as did the high schools located in affluent, well-educated, largely white neighborhoods. But the least improvement came where it was needed most: the predominantly poor, black, and Latino high schools. Before Forgione arrived, over 10 percent of district schools were failing, and after he left office, roughly the same percentage continued to fail. Austin’s signal successes amid failure hold answers to tough questions facing urban district leaders across the nation.


  • Cuban is always great--and this is a marvelously level-headed and gripping account of a school reform process we know all too well, told with sympathy for everyone involved. Reminding us how uncertain our certainties often are, Cuban prods, provokes, and teaches.

    —Deborah Meier, author of Many Children Left Behind: How No Child Left Behind is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools


  • Larry Cuban is Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University and past president of the American Educational Research Association.

Book Details

  • 304 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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