Book Review

Why Is It So Hard To Get Good Schools?

Reviewed by
Marc Space
Superintendent, Taos Municipal Schools,
Taos, N.M.
With the growing implications of No Child Left Behind, school leaders nationwide are scrambling to best position their organizations to address the area of accountability. Or, as Larry Cuban asks in his newest book, what really makes a good school?

Cuban’s Why Is It So Hard To Get Good Schools? is actually a series of three lectures that examine the role that business has played in public education over the last century. This is not, however, a diatribe on the importance of business in education. Rather Cuban’s book is cautionary and should be cause for deep reflection by every school leader.

The first section details how the corporate world imposed some principal ideas on public education: high standards, frequent assessment of progress, a system of rewards and punishments.

In the second section, Cuban criticizes business-led reform for the one-size-fits-all description of a good school and for the loss of civic engagement. He also addresses the sacrifice of democratic principles because of the business world’s agenda.

In the last chapter, Cuban argues for using more than one definition of what constitutes a good school. A school’s effectiveness, he suggests, should be judged on select criteria: Is there stakeholder satisfaction? Are district goals being met? Are democratic values apparent in the student population?

While each lecture could stand alone on its own merit, they complement each other well. Cuban’s treatise should give the reader pause and reflection not only as to what makes a good school but what is the purpose of schooling.

(Why Is It So Hard To Get Good Schools? by Larry Cuban, Teacher’s College Press, New York, N.Y., 2003, 97 pp., $14.95 softcover)