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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 06, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

MIRACLE IN EAST HARLEM: The Fight for Choice in Public Education by Seymour Fliegel with James Macguire (Times Books: $23; 244 pp.). In 1973 New York's Public School District Four in East Harlem ranked at or near the bottom of almost every possible list. Reading and math achievement, attendance, drop-out rate and number of college bound students. By 1987 all that had dramatically changed. District Four rose from 32nd (out of 32) to 15th place among the city's school districts surpassing more affluent areas.

"Miracle in East Harlem" by Seymour Fliegel, is the story of how that happened. Fliegel, who is a former deputy superintendent of District Four, has a simple philosophy. First, start a variety of small, innovative alternative schools each one addressing a particular need within the neighborhood. Then, allow parents and their children to decide for themselves which school they want to attend instead of automatically assigning students to the school nearest their homes.

The fact that Fliegel, along with a group of dedicated teachers and administrators, succeeded is nothing short of astounding. The amount of bureaucracy, small-mindedness and downright malevolence District Four faced from The Board of Education will amaze even hardened cynics. Yet, for the most part, District Four prevailed.

It's difficult to find fault with a book that has such a worthy cause. Fliegel's ideas are important and should be discussed in school districts across the country. However, "Miracle in East Harlem," has one enormous drawback which can not be ignored: It's boring. The hundreds of names, statistics and long-winded explanations of school policy might flow a little easier if they were surrounded by vibrant writing. Instead, the style is flat and airless. This is sad in such an important book.

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