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.
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.