Cutting Through the Hype: A Taxpayer's Guide to School Reforms

Sarah Kim

Jane L. David and Larry Cuban
Education Week Press

Cutting Through the Hype is true to its title. This book is for those befuddled by edu-jargon, or simply unfamiliar with the latest in education policy. It's a primer that gives good background information and, for the most part, smartly evaluates recent education reforms such as standards-and-accountability and school choice. The authors explore three key questions: What are the realistic expectations of these highly touted reforms? What trade-offs do they involve? and, What can be done to increase their successes? Each of the three major sections-system of schooling, school organization, and teaching/learning in the classroom-provides an easy, readable walk through some of education's major reform movements. Curriculum reform, professional teacher development, and declining academic achievement in middle schools (among many other topics) are given a fair, brisk treatment. The authors acknowledge that standards-based reform, test-based accountability, and school choice (all hallmarks of No Child Left Behind) have brought about some successes, but they believe the right blend of reforms has yet to be achieved. For them, successful reform is about balance-coupling high standards with strong curricula and teaching, holding schools accountable while providing adequate funding and support, and giving school choice options to low-income families. At times, the recommended solutions state the obvious without providing concrete suggestions. For example, the authors conclude that the achievement gap is best closed by "providing funds and keeping pressure on schools...without setting unrealistic expectations and punishing schools." Most would agree with that sentiment, but the book offers no implementation strategy or evidence to back it up. But it does recognize that most reforms are easier said than done, and that even the most balanced policies are plagued by problems when they are eventually implemented in schools. This is no hard-driving report laden with quantitative data or research, but it is a fairly comprehensive, even-handed introduction to education reform. In fact, if you're teaching a class on education policy, it might make a nice supplement to No Child Left Behind, A Primer. You can order a copy here.