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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflicting Signals, January 2, 2012
This review is from: Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools (Hardcover)
I found Class Warfare to be an engaging yet frustrating book with many conflicting signals. As most reviews of the book (here and in the press at the time of its release) indicate the author takes a strong position against the teachers unions for the majority of the book and then, in the conclusion, adopts a more conciliatory tone. The engaging part of the book is the tour it takes the readers on of a few different school systems, charter school efforts, and individuals seeking to reform education through reduced teacher tenure and process protections and increased evaluations. Some of the figures discussed are familiar such as former New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and former DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee. Others, such as Charter school evangelicals Eva Moskowitz, Jeff Canada, and Jessica Reid are less familiar though given the volume of books and documentaries discussing education reform as of late they are not totally unfamiliar. The book also takes us inside the Democrats for Education Reform organization and discusses its impact on the Obama Administration and No Child Left Behind.

The book has quite a few factual errors which an editor should have caught. John Edwards was a Senator from North Carolina (not South Carolina), Ferraro was the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee in 1984 (not 1988), a DC Council vote could not be 31-3 because the Council only has 13 members, and a "recent" term limits law in New York was from 1996. Those were the ones I knew about but who knows what else could be in there. Far more frustrating, and ironic given the book's conclusion, was the suspicion with which the author treated those outside the education reform movement. Every statement of motive of American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten or education historian Diane Ravitch was scrutinized and fact checked while it seemed like no anecdote by those on the other side was examined. A great example was near the beginning of the book where the author recounts Joel Klein's first day on the job as chancellor and one of the administrators not answering the phone because, to paraphrase, "it was just a parent calling to complain." It certainly could be a true story, but similar tales by those with which Klein (and the author) tend to disagree led to follow-up by the author and a conclusion that it could not be verified.

The book's conclusion is controversial but probably pragmatically correct. It takes a lot of teachers to serve our students and not all of them will be able to work the 20 hour days the gold standards Brill points to seem to work (or work until they burn out, as the book recounts). To "scale" education reform is going to require the involvement of those already teaching and to do so through an organized body, like a union, has a lot of benefit and has already been successful in some places, such as Colorado. An additional nitpick is the author's repeated dismissive attitude to Maryland's race to the top application with no explanation as to why the state was so undeserving (I'm from Maryland). The book spends a few pages on the Race to the Top evaluations which it concludes, based on quotes from reformers, did not reach correct conclusions because some pro-reform states such as Louisiana and Colorado were left out. I found the reformers distaste for the supposedly objective testing metric to be ironic, though I recognize they are not proposing an exact replica of a competitive grant program for teacher evaluations.

America's schools are a mixed bag and Brill gives an interesting, if largely one-sided (until the conclusion) of the past few years of reform efforts. It is a story that will continue.
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