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Bad Students, Not Bad Schools

Bad Students, Not Bad Schools

by Robert Weissberg

Americans are increasingly alarmed over our nation's educational deficiencies. Though anxieties about schooling are unending, especially with public institutions, these problems are more complex than institutional failure. Expenditures for education have exploded, and far exceed inflation and the rising costs of health care, but academic achievement remains


Americans are increasingly alarmed over our nation's educational deficiencies. Though anxieties about schooling are unending, especially with public institutions, these problems are more complex than institutional failure. Expenditures for education have exploded, and far exceed inflation and the rising costs of health care, but academic achievement remains flat. Many students are unable to graduate from high school, let alone obtain a college degree. And if they do make it to college, they are often forced into remedial courses. Why, despite this fiscal extravagance, are educational disappointments so widespread? In Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, Robert Weissberg argues that the answer is something everybody knows to be true but is afraid to say in public America's educational woes too often reflect the demographic mix of students. Schools today are filled with millions of youngsters, too many of whom struggle with the English language or simply have mediocre intellectual ability. Their lackluster performances are probably impervious to the current reform prescriptions regardless of the remedy's ideological derivation. Making matters worse, retention of students in school is embraced as a philosophy even if it impedes the learning of other students. Weissberg argues that most of America's educational woes would vanish if indifferent, troublesome students were permitted to leave when they had absorbed as much as they could learn; they would quickly be replaced by learning-hungry students, including many new immigrants from other countries.

American education survives since we import highly intelligent, technically skillful foreigners just as we import oil, but this may not last forever. When educational establishments get serious about world-class mathematics and science, and permit serious students to learn, problems will dissolve. Rewarding the smartest, not spending fortunes in a futile quest to uplift the bottom, should become official policy. This book is a bracing reminder of the risks of political manipulation of education and argues that the measure of policy should be academic achievment.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Author Robert Weissberg, in 'Bad Students, Not Bad Schools,' clearly makes the case that the neighborhood has more influence on a school than the educators." —The Baltimore Sun “In his book, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, Robert Weissberg, takes a no-holds-barred crack at examining the status of the American educational system… [Bad Students, Not Bad Schools] opens the door to a needed conversation about the role of education in American society and an honest appraisal of the current system’s ability to achieve such outcomes… Whether you agree or disagree with Weissberg’s strong statements, his provocative arguments warrant further investigation.” —Contemporary Sociology “Professor Weissbeg is a slaughterer of sacred cows, many of which deserve to be put down forthwith…The book is at its best in destroying the myth that good material conditions are essential for educational success, and that improving material conditions will necessarily lead to a rise in educational attainment.” Anthony Daniels, The New Criterion “Weissberg suggests that devoid of any sense of the diversity of students moving in and out of the nation’s classrooms, the myopic focus on achievement is a recipe for continued education failure. So too, the focus on equity–understood as a panacea in which all students receive the same opportunities and resources–harms those students who are academically talented as well as those who may struggle… This challenging book unapologetically confronts current education trends and their questionable results. Recommended.” —J. A. Helfer, Choice “Weissberg’s readable, controversial Bad Students, Not Bad Schools if funny, acerbic, bold, and slaughters more than a few sacred cows of what he calls the ‘failed educational industrial complex. . . .’ [H]e states what many others believe, but fear to speak aloud. That alone makes this an important book to read in order to understand the dark underbelly of public schooling. . . . This is a book which should be widely read and debated.” —Robert Maranto, Journal of School Choice "In this fine debunking book, Bob Weissberg hacks his way across the landscape of current American education like a marauding army,trashing bogus theories, exposing the futility of pointless 'reforms,' showing no mercy to the charlatans, rent-seekers, and fools who promise academic excellence for all. He even dares to argue that our educational failings are not of supply, but of demand, and are therefore not failings at all in any moral sense, just expressions of human liberty. Stuffed with facts, statistics, and research, this book is a relentless attack on the absurdities of educational romanticism, and on what the author calls the 'culture of mendacity' that has taken over educational theory and practice in the U.S.A." John Derbyshire, author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism “Robert Weissberg has written a book that blows the lid off the pieties and hypocrisies that have characterized the education reform movement for decades... Read his book. Despite its serious subject and weighty evidence Bad Students Not Bad Schools is a good read. Weissberg is a witty and engaging writer and his ideas merit consideration by everyone concerned about the future of American society.” Rita Kramer, FamilySecurityMatters.org "The extensiveness and sophistication of Weissberg's research is so subtle, illuminating (and surprising) that it is, unfortunantely, not possible to capture in a review. No doubt myriad professional articles will address his arguments, but all interested are urged to first read this fine book. There is, incidentally, much that simply engenders reading pleasure; Weissberg is a true stylist with a wit that makes the reader laugh out loud even as he winces at the information provided. But above all Bad Students, Not Bad Schools is a game-changer in the world of educational research. It has the ability to transform the delusions we “know” about education into truths we know about schools." Steven Goldberg, Society “According to Weissberg’s depressing survey… students bear no responsibility. If they are bored, educators and advocates insist, it’s because the textbook is boring. If they ignore the teacher, it’s because the teacher doesn’t heed their “perspective.” If test scores at a school remain abysmal, it’s because the curriculum isn’t relevant… [Weissberg] offers another reason… [T]hat “obvious truth” hovers over the system, and nobody dares to speak it. Millions of lazy, incurious, disruptive, unintelligent, and nearly illiterate youngsters flood classrooms every day, and none of the popular and hugely expensive initiatives and ideas peddled by “education mayors,” well-meaning foundations, and professors of education will change them.” —Mark Bauerlein, Commentary “[A]n important new book… [Weissberg’s] analysis is worthy of serious attention.” —Allan C. Brownfeld, The St. Croix Review

Product Details

Taylor & Francis
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Robert Weissberg is professor of political science emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana. He is the author of Polling, Policy, and Public Opinion: The Case Against Heeding the “Voice of the People”; The Politics of Empowerment; Political Tolerance: Balancing Community and Diversity; Political Learning, Political Choice, and Democratic Citizenship; The Limits of Civic Activism: Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics (Transaction, 2004); and Bad Students, Not Bad Schools (Transaction, 2010). In addition, his writings have appeared in many professional publications, including Society and the Weekly Standard.

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