Book For Educators on Reform
should have been a gripping read about some of the most compelling
educational issues facing educators, politicians and parents today
instead turns out to be a fairly tedious slog that is the literary
equivalent of taking one’s medicine because one should.
The promise of the provocative title Children as Pawns
never quite delivers in this undeniably thorough, well researched
and carefully argued book. The author has obviously done his homework,
and, graded on effort alone, would undoubtedly deserve an A-plus
for effort. What’s missing is any sense of the passion that informs,
say, a comparable work by a Robert Cole.
Hacsi leaves no research study unturned that has anything at all
to bear on the five sensitive school reform issues that he addresses
here: Head Start, bilingual education, class size, social promotion
and school financing. Any one of these topics could have (and
should have) made for pulse-quickening reading. Instead, perhaps
because of the author’s thoroughness and research orientation,
the lay reader is lost in a thicket of analysis about various
and sundry studies concerning each one of these topics.
Although the book is billed as ‘written for a broad audience,’
according to its public relations materials, Hacsi is really writing
for the educational cognoscenti–be they professors of education
at the nation’s finest graduate schools, or educational policy
wonks at think tanks and on Congressional staffs. This is hardly
the stuff of bedside reading for your classroom teacher, or building
principal–and I suspect that most school superintendents simply
wouldn’t have time to wade through all this material. And probably
all a parent or PTA leader should do is duck quickly into one
or two chapters whose topics are closest to their own interests.
The heart of Hacsi’s argument here is essentially this: “The simple
fact is that in some instances, broader societal conflicts shape
schooling.” He continues, “If we really want to improve our schools,
one of the things we need to do is recognize that we will never
have absolute knowledge...School officials, teachers and parent
groups should push for more knowledgeable education reform–and
for the long-term planning we will need to guide us on any number
of issues. We have run blind for too long as it is.” With each
of the issues he addresses, Hacsi offers a complete history of
the topic, provides examples of previous–and frequently competing
and contradictory studies that have sought to determine whether
or not a program works, and attempts to come up with some sort
of conclusion about what kinds of policy steps should be taken.
Hacsi rightly points out that, during the past two decades, educational
reform issues have surfaced as a critical agenda for those seeking
political office on the local, state and national level. His argument
is that before politicians and others embrace a particular reform,
which can have significant and serious consequences for students
and schools, all the parties involved should be as well informed
as possible about what the relevant research would suggest.
After making my way through this, I felt frustrated. I wish that
the author had written a challenging 1200-word Op Ed piece that
would have communicated his ideas in a clearer fashion, and rendered
his message more accessible to a general audience.#
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