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Below C Level: How American Education Encourages Mediocrity - and What We Can Do about It Paperback – June 30, 2010
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"I would suggest that for anyone seriously interested in the future of American education, in the issues that have consumed us and are under public discussion, this book is a near invaluable resource." --Kenneth J. Bernstein, Daily Kos
"Below C Level is a common sense and very readable diagnosis of our many educational challenges." --Susan Furhman, President, Teachers College,Columbia University
"An exciting, upsetting, galvanizing book...You won't agree with everything he says, but it will force you to think harder about our schools than any of us have done in some time." --Jay Mathews, Washington Post
"In five vividly written sections, Below C Level offers a scathing assessment of the current school system and lays out Merrow's vision for creating effective schools." --Teachers College News
About the Author
John Merrow began his career as an education reporter with National Public Radio nearly 40 years ago with the weekly series, “Options in Education,” for which he received the George Polk Award in 1982. He is currently Education Correspondent for PBS NewsHour and President of Learning Matters, an independent production company based in New York City. Since 1984 he has worked in public television as a NewsHour Correspondent and as host of his own series of documentaries. His work has been recognized with Peabody Awards in 2000 and 2006, Emmy nominations in 1984, 2005, and 2007, four CINE Golden Eagles and other reporting awards. An occasional contributor to USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Education Week, he is the author of The Influence of Teachers (2011), Choosing Excellence (2001) and co-editor of Declining by Degrees (2005). Merrow earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College, an M.A. in American Studies from Indiana University, and a doctorate in Education and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He received the Harold W. Mcgraw Prize in Education in 2012, a Lifetime Achievement Award From the Academy Of Education Arts And Sciences in 2012, the James L. Fisher Award for Distinguished Service to Education in 2000, the HGSE Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contributions to Education in 2006, The Horace Dutton Taft Medal in 2010, and honorary doctorates from Richard Stockton College (NJ) and Paul Smith’s College (NY). He lives in New York City with his wife, Joan Lonergan, the Head of the Hewitt School. John Merrow blogs regularly at Taking Note: Thoughts on Education.
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John Merrow has been an important contributor on education issues for more than 30 years as a reporter on the PBS Jim Lehrer News Hour and on National Public Radio. His incredibly powerful new book takes an in-depth look into the broken educational system in America and offers solutions for turning it around.
I have served as a New York State public school educator for over 40 years, for most of that time working as principal of one of the nation's most successful city public schools, Lincoln Elementary of Mt. Vernon, NY, named a national Blue Ribbon School of Academic Excellence. Serving a large population of economically disadvantaged and minority students, the New York Times described Lincoln as, "a school that outperformed some of the elite public schools in the country." In the chapter, "Picturing Superman," Mr. Merrow studies my management style and ingredients for success at Lincoln Elementary. I have followed his incredible career in journalism since the 80's and find this book to be enlightening, informative, and humorous at times and right on target.
Mr. Merrow is one of the nation's top authorities in educational journalism, and his newest book, Below C Level, is a must-read for anyone interested in the progressively darkening world of K-12 public school education and the mismanaged, broken college educational leadership programs. The description of many college teacher training and leadership programs as part of a cartel business is on target and exposes one of the main reasons many of the country's public schools are failing students. Mr. Merrow's book emphasizes that business as usual in our public schools must not continue and I agree that if school leaders resist change, they must be rooted out.
Government education reform programs, from Reagan's "A Nation at Risk" to Obama's "Race to the Top" initiatives, will continue to fail if we don't get to the root of our problems in the American educational system - the encouragement of mediocrity. Let's stop looking for fashionable quick fixes like those sentimentalized in the latest Hollywood movie or by shoving endless dollars into a bureaucratic bottomless pit. Instead, let's listen to experts like John Merrow and educational reformists who have proven successful models. Let's target the corrupt cartel business of educational training programs, remedy opportunity and expectation gaps, adopt a more thoughtful approach to testing, integrate the arts into school curricula, and more. Then and only then will we rebuild our nation's educational system.
Buffet lines are the best, this reviewer and pseudo-gourmet thinks.
You can easily take your time, choose from a wide variety at your leisure, and find it all both tasty and nourishing. There is no know-it-all maître d' coercing you into something you do not want to taste, at least just yet. Survey the line, pick what suits you, and know that someone who cared did the cooking.
That is what is different about John Merrow's Below C Level, a highly readable, reasoned and varied volume by the dean (in tenure and talent) of America's qualified writers of education. It is subtitled, "How American education encourages mediocrity, and what we can do about it."
Stop yawning. Wake up and read the book. It is not just another tired commentary on the failings of American schools by academicians who often disagree with each other but like to have writing duels. Like that good cafeteria-buffet meal, the reader will find it easy to digest, even humorous at times, with a menu full of various morsels that you can pass by, then return to if you like.
With an engaging writing style, not a professorial tone, and a mind and heart that look at both sides of an issue from tenure to technology, Merrow reaches out as he has done for decades. Often seen as the education correspondent on the PBS News Hour and head of Learning Matters, the publisher of Below C Level, Merrow has written several other highly readable, common-sense books. He has been a board member and longtime leader of the international Education Writers Association, lecturer, mentor, and trustee of Teachers College, Columbia University.
With its clarity, vision, vigor and variety, this book should be the required core text to stimulate discussion in all college education classes.
If you are Not an educator, but are a taxpayer or parent perhaps wondering about decision-making or progress or priorities or how to pay the education bills, never fear. Merrow is not dogmatic. Neither the writing style nor tone will make you think it is for eggheads or egotists only. Moms, dads, voters or just about anyone should find something to chew on as Merrrow uses his perceptive and balanced approach. With a healthy mix of reporter's notes he tells about real people he has met and profited from for decades, in school systems of all sizes as he traveled across the country. As a matter of fact, one of Merrow's major points, perhaps, about teachers and education is found in his own writing style and core being: listen--do not talk or write before you think or judge too harshly. Listen, to real people, not just the self-acclaimed "experts."
Merrow urges schools, locally elected boards, and others to admit their problems, be willing to change, use teaching methods that engage students rather than simply lecture to them. He says we must restructure teacher colleges so there is more emphasis on identifying good prospects and weeding out bad ones--something he believes society is extremely reluctant to do.
Toward the end of the book, Merrow says "I have argued that it is necessary to 'think outside the box.' I have tried to provide examples of men, women, children and schools doing just that. I hope I have persuaded you that age segregation is counterproductive and that educators ought to be held at least to the same standards as swimming coaches and music teachers." He argues that only about 60 percent of the school day is actually devoted to teaching content, and teaching often is too narrowly defined.
Merrow uses feeling, often wit as well as wisdom, to look into real classrooms and offer sound advice. Toward the end of the book he seems to narrow his focus to what many see as the core of the art of education: the teacher...someone who knows, who sees, who cares, who has a variety of talents often unrecognized.
Gee. imagine what just lowering class size and increasing caring human contact would do. What an education theory! Some souls might, in fact, find the comments about people and pedagogues in the closing chapters the heart of the book, and consequently might prefer to read the book backwards. Buffets are like that. Take the dessert first if you like.
Using technology wisely, finding strong and unafraid school leaders, pushing quality pre-schooling and making the arts and science more of a priority are among his suggestions after viewing hundreds of classrooms at all levels and talking and listening. He warns often against testing just for the sake of testing, as if it were the only measure of education's value.
So, if you believe that a true education involves some rigor, caring, variety, a willingness to listen and occasionally change, read Below C Level-- as parent or professional. You will learn much, and, perhaps, open your mind and heart a bit.