Choosing Excellence

Overview

How do you evaluate a school? Today parents and teachers lean on standardized test scores - along with image, rumor, and reputation - to make vital decisions. However, a single number is inevitably misleading. Author John Merrow, host of PBS's premier documentary series on youth and learning, "The Merrow Report, " delves into the problem of school evaluation. He shows that there are really only three kinds of schools: bad, good enough, and excellent. "Good enough" is the kind of school that most people settle ...
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Overview

How do you evaluate a school? Today parents and teachers lean on standardized test scores - along with image, rumor, and reputation - to make vital decisions. However, a single number is inevitably misleading. Author John Merrow, host of PBS's premier documentary series on youth and learning, "The Merrow Report, " delves into the problem of school evaluation. He shows that there are really only three kinds of schools: bad, good enough, and excellent. "Good enough" is the kind of school that most people settle for, schools people want to believe are okay. In these schools, which Merrow contends comprise the majority of America's public schools, some students excel, but most simply endure. Each of the chapters in Choosing Excellence explores some aspect of schooling: safety, academics, values, technology, and so on. He spotlights excellent practices and strategies, concluding each chapter with a list of evidence for visitors to look for.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Based on the PBS Special, "The Merrow Report," this straightforward and intelligent book searches beneath symptoms for solutions to today's troubling educational problems.
American School Board Journal
…outstanding assessment of the current state of the nation's schools…practical, forthright and engaging. Merrow's book should be required reading for every parent of a school-age child and for anyone who wants to see public education move beyond 'good enough'.
Childhood Education
As a guide for parents, Choosing Excellence is timely...Education policymakers, school administrators, and classroom teachers who want to shake up the status quo will find an ally in Merrow.
School Administrator
His premise of looking, listening and asking questions is a refreshing way to examine schools. Merrow is obsessed with getting us to ask the right questions rather than impressing us with how much he has to tell us.
Jonathan Kozol
Common sense and an uncommon shrewdness intermix in the good counsel that he offers here, especially to parents who are trying to make judgments on the merits of a school, a classroom, or a teacher…In an age when market-driven forms of mechanistic competition, frequently disguised under the cover-term of parent-choice, have come to be a substitute for civic virtue and collective efforts to improve the opportunities of all our children, Merrow has given us a primer in choosing wisely. For this, above all else, the parent's of our nation's children will be grateful.
The Washington Post
To help parents go beyond the superficial, I recommend a new book, Choosing Excellence…[Merrow] gives parents a framework for what they should be seeking and very practical hints on evaluating schools.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This outstanding assessment of the current state of the nation's schools is the culmination of Merrow's 25 years as an education reporter. Based on "School Sleuth: The Case of an Excellent School," a program for his PBS series The Merrow Report (which also airs on NPR), this book explores "good enough" schools, the ones that "most people settle for: schools everyone wants to believe are okay even though, deep down, they know better." Merrow aims here to help parents and others who are "determined to push and pull the system beyond `good enough.'" To that end, he examines various aspects of schooling from testing and homework to safety, values and technology drawing on years of school visits and interviews. Merrow weighs in on the current infatuation with "machine-scored" tests; teacher burnout ("we train teachers poorly and then treat them badly and so they leave in droves") and how it can be prevented; charter schools ("buyer beware"); the explosive growth of ADD ("a dubious diagnosis"); bloated administrative bureaucracy and much more. Writing lucidly throughout, he keeps his primary audience parents clearly in mind, offering, at the end of each chapter, helpful checklists for evaluating prospective schools (e.g., "Are papers marked up with thoughtful comments?"; "How serious is the school about art and music programs?"). Practical, forthright and engaging, Merrow's book should be required reading for every parent of a school-age child and for anyone who wants to see public education move beyond "good enough." (Apr.) Forecast: Since most children in America attend "good enough" schools, this book's potential market is enormous, and the author's high profile will help. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
Based on the Peabody Award-winning program, School Sleuth: The Case of an Excellent School, this book discusses twenty-five measures of excellence that can be used to assess schools. Schools of excellence, the author argues, are those that "have a strong sense of purpose, and that [goal] is the development of the individual and his or her intellectual life." Merrow shows that he is clearly against the current emphasis on "high-stakes" testing that he feels threatens excellence in education. He proposes, rather, multiple measures of testing, asserting that "teacher-made tests are the truest indicator of student accomplishments." Other measures he includes are overall size of school; class sizes; the depth of the curriculum, as opposed to breadth and scope, in which students solve problems rather than memorize facts; the meaningful use of technology; intellectual, emotional, and physical safety; and schools in which the value system is made clear. Separate chapters are devoted to charter schools, which the author feels parents especially need to evaluate, and to special education. Each chapter is followed by a list of questions that parents can ask when making decisions on the right school for their child. Merrow's philosophy of education contains ideas similar to those expounded by Theodore Sizer in his trilogy of books on the American high school—Horace's Compromise, Horace's School, and Horace's Hope (all Houghton Mifflin, 1997). Although directed primarily toward parents, all those who have a role and interest in American education should read this worthwhile book. Source Notes. 2001, Scarecrow Education, 207p, $15.95 Trade pb. Ages Adult. Reviewer: Hilary Crew
Library Journal
No pre-service teacher should consider his or her professional education complete if it does not include regular viewings of The Merrow Report the documentary series now airing on PBS and National Public Radio. Building on research completed for a recent episode of that series, Merrow here provides a thoughtful discussion of "excellence in education." While highlighting issues of current concern, e.g., high-stakes testing, safe schools, and the place of technology in the curriculum, the author also provides an overview of the "best practices" in education. He shows the reader how to ask substantive questions about any school with which he or she might become involved (whether as a student, teacher, parent, or community member). Drawing on his writing skills, his experience as a teacher and reporter, and his familiarity with leading scholars and practitioners in the field, Merrow has crafted a volume containing lessons that can be put to good use by virtually anyone interested in our schools. Highly recommended for all libraries. Scott Walter Head, Washington State Univ. Lib., Pullman Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Merrow, a long-time education correspondent for NPR and PBS, outlines what he believes are excellent practices in American public education and argues that it is possible to expand these practices nationwide. Decrying the single measure evaluation approach that is currently in vogue with many politicians, he looks at a variety of measures in the same fashion as his earlier PBS special report "School Sleuth: The Case of an Excellent School." Chapters explore such topics as testing and assessment, technology, teacher preparation time, safety, homework, special education, and more. At the heart of the work is the wish to see excellent teachers have the tools and motivation to stay in teaching for the long-term. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578860142
  • Publisher: R&L Education
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

John Merrow is Executive Producer/Host and President of Learning Matters, Inc. a not-for-profit corporation that produces television and radio/web programs to train youth to create their own public service messages. He spent five years as education correspondent for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS and two years at The Learning Channel.
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Table of Contents

1 Foreword by Jonathan Kozol 2 Introduction 3 Look, Listen, and Ask 4 Testing, Assessment, and Excellence 5 Technology and Excellence 6 The "Rushed, Crunched, and Isolated" World of Teachers 7 Safety and Excellence 8 Homework and Learning 9 Our Kids Are Not the Problem 10 Values and Excellence 11 Charter Schools—Buyer Beware 12 "Don't Smile Until Christmas" and Other Clichés 13 Epilogue: "And in Conclusion..."
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