Book Reviews

What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools

by Dan Woll, Superintendent, St. Croix Central School District, Hammond, Wis.

It is fortunate for voucher and privatization proponents that William Bennett’s gambling indiscretions were revealed after the publication of What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools. Author Gerard Bracey makes no attempt to conceal his disdain for those whom he views as hypocritical detractors of public schools. Bennett comes off as one of the worst.

Bracey is no stranger to the debate over how well America’s public schools perform and how much it takes to sustain them. His earlier works earned him the reputation as one of the staunchest defenders of public schools.

The War Against America’s Public Schools is a valuable resource in the fight to save public education. Bracey’s knowledge and grasp of statistics overwhelm some of the simplistic generalizations used by critics of public schools. Unfortunately its value may be limited because it preaches to the choir. It is doubtful many homeschoolers, private schoolers or charter advocates will seek out this title with the intent of hearing the other side of the story.

Herein lies the problem and Bracey would do well to address it. He proves his point, but how does one go about starting a dialogue that will compel both sides to look at the facts? If patients deserve evidence-based medicine, don’t children deserve evidence-based education? Does Bracey have suggestions about how his point of view can be more widely disseminated and discussed?

Bracey makes no attempt to hide the flaws that exist in public education. He states that irresponsible spending in Kansas City, Mo., proves that one should not “throw money at politically dysfunctional schools with incompetent teachers, administrators and board members …” This candor strengthens his work, although one wishes that he had spent some time discussing how a flawed governance system can turn a school into its own worst enemy.

From an educator’s standpoint, the only problem with Bracey’s research is that it is not a more prominent part of the national discussion on education. Perhaps this provocative book will remedy that.

(What You Should Know About the War Against America’s Public Schools by Gerald W. Bracey, Allyn and Bacon, Boston, Mass., 2002, 224 pp., $18 softcover. Available from Amazon.com.)