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Making the Grade: Reinventing America's Schools


This book provides a guide for a long-overdue public dialogue about why and how we need to reinvent our nation's schools. How has the world changed for our children; what do all students need to know in light of these changes; how do we hold students and schools accountable for results; what do good schools look like; and what must leaders do to create more of these schools? These are some of the questions that drive this book. The answers emerging to these questions may surprise many. The most successful public ...

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Making the Grade: Reinventing America's Schools

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This book provides a guide for a long-overdue public dialogue about why and how we need to reinvent our nation's schools. How has the world changed for our children; what do all students need to know in light of these changes; how do we hold students and schools accountable for results; what do good schools look like; and what must leaders do to create more of these schools? These are some of the questions that drive this book. The answers emerging to these questions may surprise many. The most successful public schools of the 21st century look a lot more like our 19th century village schools than our current factory model of schooling. This book describes these "new village schools" that have been created in the last decade and suggests that they are a prototype for the schools of the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Decades of school reform efforts have led only to the consensus that American education needs improvement. The problem, Wagner argues, is that people are confused about what's really wrong with public schools. Worse, many of the accountability systems established in the last five years to improve schools are having the opposite effect. The standards movement, once touted as the cure-all for failing schools, "has degenerated into the `standardized testing movement,' " in which teachers teach to the test, students become scores, and everyone feels less motivation to learn and achieve. Inadequate attention gets paid to the development of the complex reasoning and problem-solving abilities necessary in a rapidly changing world or to the citizenship skills needed in a pluralistic society. And perhaps most troubling, high stakes testing attached to grade retention has led to increased dropout rates, especially among minorities. Wagner, a codirector of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, may decry the same old demon, but he also offers a number of solutions that move the dialogue beyond tired debates. He favors accountability systems that focus on what students can do with their knowledge, rather than what they can remember for a test; localized authority that holds teachers and administrators accountable for student learning, but allows them choice in curriculum and methodology; and smaller schools, where teachers and students know each other and children feel valued. None of these ideas is revolutionary; each has merit in the struggle to make schools places of genuine, relevant learning. (Nov. 19) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What's really wrong with America's schools? In this engaging, readable study, Wagner taught for the past several years as part of the Harvard Institute for School Leadership and as a "performance coach" for local school leaders hoping to implement effective programs of reform. Describing the prevailing model of public education as "obsolete," Wagner poses a number of critical questions: What should all high school graduates know? What are the best models for assessing student learning and for holding teachers and schools accountable? How do we motivate students (and teachers) to achieve? What should "schools of the future" look like? And what kind of leadership is necessary to meet the goals of a "reinvented" school system? Wagner's description of the problems facing our students, teachers, and administrators is cogent, his criticism of the current environment of high-stakes testing is provocative, and his description of "the new village school" draws effectively on the already popular work of reformers such as Deborah Meier (The Power of Their Ideas, LJ 4/15/95) and Ted Sizer (Horace's Hope, LJ 8/96). Recommended for all libraries. Scott Walter, Washington State Univ., Pullman Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping if muddled plan to reshape the nation's educational system-beginning with the community, not the classroom. A veteran of 30 years in the education system, Wagner (How Schools Change, not reviewed) is now co-director of a leadership group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a senior advisor on education to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here, he decries the call for "reform" that has politicians, business leaders, and even educators in a scramble to standardize testing, tinker with curricula, and micro-manage teachers in the classroom, among other stopgap measures. In the past hundred years, the world has changed radically, Wagner says, but America's educational system hasn't really been modified at all. Educators, politicians, parents, business leaders, and students must set aside their special interests and in "civil discourse" at the local level set new goals for schools tied to the information age, not the industrial revolution. Wagner is all over the lot-perhaps rightly so-in discussing such widespread social problems as lack of motivation, lack of commitment, fear and cynicism about change, plus the isolation of children from adults and the isolation of teachers from each other. As a prime example of a school that solved many of these problems, we once again have the Central Park East Secondary School in New York City, the darling of visionary educators. CPESS used what Wagner dubs approvingly the "merit badge" approach to education, that is, students were required to prove their proficiencies in subjects by doing, not testing. Wagner's most valuable contribution here is reporting on his own work with communities whose school systems were in disarrayand how, through forums and focus groups, common goals were established and successfully implemented on the local level, creating what he calls the "New Village School." In many ways, a laudable template for restructuring education, but unlikely to have much impact.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415927628
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 2/21/2003
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Wagner is Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and leads the Harvard Seminar on Public Engagement. Senior Advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation education programs, he consults widely to schools, districts, and foundations in the U.S. and internationally. He is the author of How Schools Change: Lessons from Three Communities.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: What's Really Wrong with Our Schools? 1
1 How Has the World Changed for Children? 15
2 What Do Today's Students Need to Know? 37
3 How Do We Hold Students and Schools Accountable? 61
4 What Do "Good Schools" Look Like? 87
5 What Must Leaders Do? 121
Notes 153
Bibliography 159
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