The Manufactured Crisis
The Manufactured Crisis: Myth, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995.
You've already heard about America's educational crisis. It's been headline news since 1983, when A Nation at Risk warned us that we were losing the race for international leadership because of “the rising tide of mediocrity” in our schools. Not so, write David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, who argue that the so-called crisis in education is little more than a “disinformation campaign” manufactured by “reactionary voices” from the Reagan and Bush administrations. Among the myths are:
- Standardized test scores are falling steadily.
- U.S. schools come up short when compared to other countries.
- We spend a lot more money on our schools than do other countries while producing fewer results.
- This money is usually wasted—indeed, money is not related to school performance.
If you are looking for ammunition to refute the public school bashers, you've come to the right place. It's all right here, arguments backed up with pounds of documentation. But remember, this is a polemic not intended to include data that could damage the authors' own arguments.
While Berliner and Biddle don't claim schools are problem-free, their own critique focuses almost exclusively on macro-issues like racism and funding priorities. They surprisingly find common ground with many of their conservative counterparts in support of restructured small schools, like those within New York's Central Park East School.
Published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 170 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
—Michael Klonsky, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Making Schools Work
Making Schools Work by Eric Hanushek. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994.
Recent debate about education reform, the author states early on, has neglected economic analysis. He then proceeds to summarize an extensive discussion among a panel of economists that he led. One of Hanushek's major points is that education can be reformed without an overall increase in funding.
Making Schools Work is, for the most part, well written and free of educational jargon. Even so, Hanushek has difficulty making economics an interesting subject. He reviews many well-known facts and figures, gleaned from previous studies, that recite the shortcomings of education. His use of highlighted boxes to feature these findings is nicely done. Educators who've kept abreast of the studies, however, will find much of the material, especially in the first four chapters, somewhat old hat.
Typical of these re-echoes are comments such as: “The development of better school-to-work transitions ... calls for more contact between school and employers.” We have heard a lot about that concern from many other sources. Also: “High performance [can be developed by creating] a system that rewards good performance.” The author states these apparent truisms, but doesn't provide useful recommendations that school systems can put into action.
This is another “talk book” on the perceived shortcomings of education in America. In searching for novel solutions to the problems cited in Making Schools Work, we had difficulty finding any doable alternatives to the existing system.
Published by The Brookings Instition, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Price: $34.95
—Reviewed by Angelo C. Gilli and Lynne M. Gilli, IDEAS, Inc., Pasadena, Maryland
Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for Change in High Schools by Robert Lynn Canady and Michael D. Rettig. New York: Richard H. Adin Freelance Editorial Services.
For teachers or principals who have dreamed about a secondary school schedule that shatters the lock-step routine still so prevalent today, here is the book that can help make the dream a reality (or at least a pilot?).
Complete with charts that show a wide range of alternative schedules—from alternate days to extended blocks of time—the presentations are realistic and achievable. Working within the constraints facing schools today (the 180-day school year, Carnegie unit credits, and teacher contract issues, for example), Canady and Rettig provide pros and cons to a dozen variations on the theme of a high school or junior high schedule that uses time in innovative ways.
The authors preface their many examples with a sound argument for changing a school schedule, citing current research on both the structure and process of teaching and learning. They also discuss staff development needs and ways that teachers must modify their instruction for block scheduling to succeed. The planning and evaluation checklists provided are practical and easily replicated.
Block Scheduling is a well-written manual based on the experiences of schools that have answered the question, “How do we change our traditional school schedule?” It will be of value to teachers and administrators who are ready to convert the five-, six-, or seven-period school day to something different and, as is hoped, better for all students.
Published by Richard H. Adin freelance editorial Services, 9 Orchard Dr., Gardiner, NY 12525. Price:$39.95.
—Reviewed by Nancy Davis, East Lansing High School, East Lansing, Michigan
Leading with Soul
Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Bolman and Deal have written an unusual book, given the standard fare prescribed for managers and would-be managers. Told through a series of dialogues between two characters and occasional “Interludes” by the authors, this book is an antidote to the usual focus on the bottom line, clear goals, and measurable objectives that guide current pursuits for excellence. They call for a revolution in how we think about leadership.
For these authors, spirit and soul are the essence of leadership. The bottom line is not the ultimate criterion, and reason cannot solve every problem. Bolman and Deal advocate compassion and courage, in place of technical solutions and specialization. Most of all, they try to provide a means for transforming managers into leaders.
This book—a must-read by managers, would-be leaders, and educators of every stripe—distinguishes managers from leaders. The former view the world as it is and pursue the goals of the organization without question, often guided by what is political or popular. The latter view the world as it should be and demonstrate the courage and vision to do what they believe to be right. Leading with Soul “leads from where we are to where we dream of going” (p. 2).
Published by Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104. Price: $18.50.
—Reviewed by Henry Zabierek, Lebanon High School, Lebanon, New Hampshire