Book Review

Cutting Through the Hype

by Jane L. David and Larry Cuban, Education Week Press, Morris, Ill., 2006, 120 pp., $19.95 softcover

This combined effort of Jane L. David of the Bay Area Research Group and Larry Cuban, a Stanford University professor emeritus and one-time superintendent, is a rarity in the day of reform panaceas. Rather than trumpet a particular reform, David and Cuban, in Cutting Through the Hype, present a balanced review of 20 key reforms to help policymakers, taxpayers and educators evaluate each one in a real school context.

The authors contend they “maintain a passionate commitment to the public school system” but use their experiences as researchers and practitioners to delineate the problems within that school system as well. Cuban and David discuss when each reform originated, look at the problems the school reform addresses and review successes and challenges in implementing the school reforms before giving their own insights into “what can be done to increase the likelihood that a reform will succeed.”

The questions put forward quickly get to the core of each reform. For example, in the chapter on standards-based reform, the authors ask: What are the standards and who chooses them? Where is the cutoff score for meeting standards, and who sets it? Should everyone be held to the same standards? What happens to students — and their schools — who do not meet the standards? A concern running throughout the book is that those who, in the authors’ view, “shape school reform on some combination of ideology, best guesses and hope,” do so apart from the schools. “Seldom are those who carry out the reform — principals and teachers — involved in the design.”

Finally, Cutting Through the Hype reminds us that regardless of the quality of the standards and the tests, focusing on only academics ignores “other historic goals that the public schools have served for decades such as civic engagement, building community and molding character.” Can society afford the cost if we fail to meet those goals?

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, superintendent, Eureka Union School District, Granite Bay/Roseville, Calif.