"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A book on our side?

This morning I stared at the NY Times Book Review section, as I do most weekends and asked myself, “Should I or shouldn’t I browse through it.” Most of the time I don't find anything of interest but today I decided, “What the hell, I might as well.”

I am glad I did. My eyes did a “what the?” when I hit page 9 and saw this headline: Getting Schooled: What happened when two politicians and a tech billionaire set out to reform a city’s schools. It was a full-page review of THE PRIZE: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools by Dale Russakoff.

Now my interest began to peak as that title looked to me as if the book might be a critique of the corporate/foundation/political top down attempts to take over public education. So I started to read the review.

After reading the first couple of paragraphs that set the stage for the book’s content, I thought, hmmm, this might actually be critical of the attempt of the three (Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg) powerful men who wanted to use Zuckerberg’s “gift” of $100,000,000 to “not to repair education in Newark but to develop a model for saving it in all of urban America.”

My next clue about why I want to read this book followed shortly thereafter.

“Russakoff, a longtime Washington Post reporter, had the good sense to recognize the potential power and import of this story early on, and so embedded herself in Newark, winning access not only to the key players — Booker, Christie and Zuckerberg — but also to some remarkable teachers and students whose stories serve as a reality check to the maneuverings of those commanding the reform efforts. A lesser reporter might have succumbed to the seduction of such intimate access to the rich and powerful, but Russakoff maintains a clear eyed distance, her observations penetratingly honest and incisive to what she sees and what she hears. I suspect some may have regretted letting Russakoff in.”

The writer of the review, Alex Kotlowitz, subtly pointed out how the book exposed Booker's and Christie's pro charter and anti teacher positions and Zuckerberg's naivety. He points out the significance of the hiring of “Cami Anderson, from the New York City schools, whose unbending management style only affirms teachers’ and parents’ worst fears,” and “like the other main characters in this effort, seems tone-deaf to the demands of the community to be involved in the process.”

“It’s the irony of ironies. Public education is the bedrock of democracy — and yet when it comes to repairing our schools the democratic process is too often ignored. What ultimately derails this grand experiment is the unwillingness of the reformers to include parents and teachers in shaping the reforms.”

Finally, I was sold on this line. ““The Prize” may well be one of the most important books on education to come along in years. It serves as a kind of corrective to the dominant narrative of school reformers across the country.”


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