Defending Public Schools

by E. Wayne Ross

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

Defending Public Schools is a four-volume set that does not have to be read all at once. With that caveat in mind, the set is valuable in total but also allows the busy administrator to read sections of the books on an as-needed basis.

Why should public schools have to be defended? This represents an obvious question to some, but not to many, particularly those who don’t interact with public schools. In this treatise, the essays resolve educational contradictions, artfully edited by E. Wayne Ross, a professor of curriculum studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and four others.

The first volume describes how the philosopher John Dewey pointed out that all societies wish to use education as a means of control. Volume 2 tackles the role of teaching. Veteran principal Deborah Meier is quoted as saying, “Every citizen is capable of the kind of intellectual competence previously attained only by a small minority.”

Volume 3 has assembled essays on modern-day curriculum, including a rationale for why each subject is necessary in today’s public schools. Most valuable is Volume 4, which describes the nature and limits of standards-based reform and assessment. It contains essays by critics of comparison achievement testing such as Alfie Kohn, Gerald Bracey and Jim Popham.

The most engaging commentaries concern how the so-called accountability reform movement affects students with disabilities and poor and minority children. They raise the question as to whether parents are really partners in the accountability movement.

This final volume concludes by exploring the difficulties of educational leaders in managing the state and federal mandates of NCLB. Superintendent William Cala of Fairport, N.Y., calls upon all concerned individuals to “speak out and resist” against the federal government’s harmful mandates.

(Defending Public Schools, edited by E. Wayne Ross, Praeger, Westport, Conn., 2004, indexes, 4-volume set, $300 hardcover)