Book Reviews

Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools

by Tony Wagner

Reviewed by William J. Leary
Professor, Ross College of Education, Health and Human Services, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.

Author Tony Wagner argues against what today’s K-12 schools are doing to America’s children in this cogent and sensible book. Wagner, who is co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out in Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools that many public school students today are very much at risk, particularly those who are poor and non-white, echoing the 1983 National Commission on Excellence in Education report.

Instead of being “sorting machines” as they have been in the past, public schools have the responsibility to teach all students higher-order thinking skills and how to use new technologies, he says. Wagner views the qualities needed to succeed in the working world and in higher education to be essentially the same.

He blames the heightened emphasis on testing and the standards movement as leading contributors to the schools’ shortcomings in serving needy kids. It’s less expensive to test students about factual information than to assess critical thinking or problem-solving skills.

In describing how schools can be reinvented, he describes the need for a “shared vision.” This requires a deeper understanding of good teaching practices that can achieve the goals of teaching essential skills needed for “work, continuous learning and citizenship today.”

Wagner also cites individual schools that exhibit an entire community engaging in a dialogue about education and forming what he calls “New Village Schools.” These are schools that are supported by community members and groups dedicated to reinventing education for all children.

(Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools by Tony Wagner, Routledgefalmer, New York, N.Y. 2002, 176 pp., $22.95 hardcover. Available from