Book Reviews

Choosing Excellence: "Good Enough" Schools Are Not Good Enough

by John Merrow

Reviewed by Daniel M. Rodriguez
Superintendent, Old Bridge Township School District, Old Bridge, N.J.

In education, we often complain when we don't get the right answers. Well, this book exposes us to the right questions.

John Merrow, a veteran education reporter and producer on public television, has created a strategy to look not only at the major topics of the day—technology, school safety, testing and charter schools, among them—but he also poses penetrating questions that go to the core of these issues.

His premise is that there are three kinds of public schools: bad ones, excellent ones and those that are "good enough." His questions are designed to assist educators, parents and others to move the system beyond good enough.

Merrow handles the chapter on safety particularly well. While our nation has been obsessed with physical safety, the author focuses on the issues of emotional and intellectual safety, contending they too must be addressed by schools and school systems. On this point, he states, "Excellent schools are emotionally and intellectually safe. They welcome honest mistakes and encourage intellectual curiosity." This expansive definition of safety is a wonderful approach.

His premise of looking, listening, and asking questions is a refreshing way to examine schools. Merrow is obsessed with getting us to ask the right questions rather than impressing us with how much he has to tell us.

(Choosing Excellence: "Good Enough" Schools Are Not Good Enough by John Merrow, Scarecrow Education, Lanham, Md. 2001, 206 pp., $15.95)