Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America

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9780385475334: Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America
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In her previous book, Within Our Reach, renowned Harvard social analyst Lisbeth Schorr examined pilot social programs that were successful in helping disadvantaged youth and families. But as those cutting-edge programs were expanded, the very qualities that had made them initially successful were jettisoned, and less than half of them ultimately survived. As a result, these groundbreaking programs never made a dent on the national or statewide level.

Lisbeth Schorr has spent the past seven years researching and identifying large-scale programs across the country that are promising to reduce, on a community- or citywide level, child abuse, school failure, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependence. From reformed social service agencies in Missouri, Michigan, and Los Angeles to "idiosyncratic" public schools in New York City, she shows how private and public bureaucracies are successfully nurturing programs that are flexible and responsive to the community, that have set clear, long-term goals, and that permit staff to exercise individual judgment in helping the disadvantaged. She shows how what works in small-scale pilot social programs can be adapted on a large scale to transform whole inner-city neighborhoods and reshape America.

On the heels of the federal government's dismantling of welfare guarantees, Common Purpose offers a welcome antidote to our current sense of national despair, and concrete proof that America's social institutions can be made to work to assure that all the nation's children develop the tools to share in the American dream.

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In her previous book, Within Our Reach, which has shipped more than 70,000 copies, Lisbeth Schorr examined small-scale social programs that succeeded in reducing child abuse, school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy and juvenile crime, identifying the specific attributes that made these programs successful. But less than half the programs celebrated in , Within Our Reach survived when they became part of mainstream bureaucracies.

In Common Purpose, Lisbeth Schorr identifies the efforts by dozens of large school systems, welfare systems, and child protection agencies she has researched over the past seven years that have shown that effective programs can be sustained expanded, and replicated. From reformed social service bureaucracies in Missouri, Michigan and Los Angeles to "idiosyncratic" but accountable public schools in New York City, she shows how mainstream bureaucracies have been made hospitable to programs that incorporate flexibility; community roots; a clear, long-term mission; and well-trained staff able to exercise individual judgment. She shows how "what works" in small-scale hot house conditions can be combined to transform whole inner city neighborhoods.

At a time when welfare as we know it is coming to an end, Common Purpose is a welcome antidote to our current sense of national despair, proof that America's institutions can be made to work to assure that all the nation's children will come into adulthood prepared to share in the American Dream.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Tough, cerebral, informed--and sanguine but not quixotic about the possibilities of injecting flexibility and imagination into the policies that govern welfare, child protection, and education. In an earlier work (Within Our Reach, 1988), Schorr (director of the Harvard Project on Effective Intervention) examined small, experimental social programs that successfully made a dent in seemingly intractable problems like teen pregnancy, school dropouts, and unemployment. A decade later, she finds many of the innovations strangled by bureaucracy or still limited to the neighborhoods where they began. But all is not lost, says Schorr. Leading from crowded classrooms and the cubicles that house children's-services and public-assistance workers are threads of insight and ingenuity that can be woven into a tapestry of programs that will serve the poor, the undereducated, and the overwhelmed. With new techniques of measurement, these programs can be realistically evaluated and propagated. What works, she says, are programs that are close enough to their communities to be ``comprehensive, flexible, responsive, and persevering.'' But good intentions are not enough. Such programs must also have clearly defined goals, competent, well-trained staffs--and government money. A chapter titled ``Taming Bureaucracies . . .'' is one of the most effective in the book, partly because Schorr does not abandon government employees, or even politicians, to the usual charges of apathy and selfishness. Other chapters look closely at productive partnerships among schools, families, and community and government agencies that have effectively reduced child abuse and neglect, drug abuse, illiteracy and unemployment. ``I have tried to paint a picture of the possible,'' says Schorr--and she has. But the picture also demands hard work, an open mind, and, yes, faith from every citizen who views it. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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