Book Review                                                    Page 41

Screwed-up School Reform


Fixing America’s Broken Promise

by Richard G. Shear and Bruce S. Cooper, Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2012, 157 pp., $22.95 softcover


No component of American education is spared Richard G. Shear’s and Bruce S. Cooper’s blame in Screwed-up School Reform: Fixing America’s Broken Promise. They deliver a harsh assessment of the reform movement supported by an in-depth analysis and identification of the contributing negative forces.

But these authors don’t leave it at that. They provide rational and feasible responses to the reform attempts that are the targets of their tough appraisal.

Shear and Cooper argue things are screwed-up because the reformers fail to see the problem for what it is and to make matters worse are applying the wrong fixes, producing the same bad results again and again. Their analysis of the root causes for American students’ poor academic performance begins with the identification of the critical component they argue is simply outside the reformers’ perspective: the students and more specifically their feelings and opinions. The authors reference the huge proportion of American students who cannot leave school fast enough. They make a compelling case that students should be valued at the least as consumers, customers who in large numbers would not purchase the current product if given the opportunity because it does not satisfy their needs.

The authors contend that fixing America’s schools is possible only if the student is the focus of the reform movement, but it won’t happen under a system of oppressive accountability. They want the reformers’ propensity to promote the making of winners and losers ended. Every effort should be devoted to support all students with respect and, above all, love.

From this position, Shear and Cooper take on professional educators, governmental governance, boards of education, parent groups and school funding. In each case, they pull no punches providing an assessment that rings true and is supported by rational observations and the views of recognized authorities in the field. At the same time, they offer in each case comprehensive recommendations and solutions that provide a truly new approach to school reform.

Their culminating 10 recommended changes represent a dramatic shift in approach and emphasis from the current reform movement -- a movement they expose in every aspect failing to produce the needed change and desired results. Some readers may feel the recommendations are radical, beginning with their call for a much more participatory role for students and parents in the school system.

But the supporting arguments and rationale are all there in detail. It may not be necessary to employ all 10 changes to move reform in the right direction. Discussion about just one of the changes could start a movement toward the true reform for American education that Shear and Cooper believe can be achieved.

Reviewed by Jim Frenck, associate professor of teacher education, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester, N.Y. 


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