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Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America's Future Hardcover – July 22, 2008

2.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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One in every five Americans either attends or works in a public or private elementary or high school. For that reason alone, Americans should be concerned about the current sorry state of education and interested in making improvements. With 20 years of experience teaching English and journalism, Crosby offers 38 suggestions that include no homework and the abolition of teachers’ unions. He begins with an appeal for physical structures that are roomy and engaging, and moves on to advocating smaller class sizes, no summer break, later start times, no school bells, and all-day kindergarten. He also argues for more-nutritional meals and principals with MBAs. In separate sections, Crosby tackles changes in curricula (bringing back vocational education and reducing reliance on standardized tests), teacher training, school funding, and parental involvement. Crosby offers a comprehensive and radical overhaul of failing American schools that threaten to weaken every aspect of American life, from the economy to homeland security. This is a passionate and radical look at what ails America’s schools and how to make improvements. --Vanessa Bush


"In this fast moving shake ’em up book, public school teacher, Brian Crosby, manages to enlighten, infuriate, stimulate, irritate and maybe energize readers who want to do the right things for our children but have never given themselves the time to think about how it can be done down at the old school house. He gives committed readers plenty of chores, chances and choices to make a comprehensive difference. If Crosby makes you angry or horrified, he’ll at least make you think and that trait is always a good precedent for action."
--Ralph Nader

"Brian Crosby knows how vital it is that our kids get well-educated. Lots of people know that. But Crosby tells us what to do about it in a book that is at once cogent, readable, and provocative."
--Ben Wattenberg, host of the weekly PBS program Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg and author of Fighting Words

"Crosby, a California high school English teacher with 17 years experience, wants America to fix its ailing educational system. His earlier book, The $100,000 Teacher, focused on paying teachers better to encourage better performance; this latest proposes a broader range of changes, from student behavior to a basic rethinking of how quality education should be assessed. After explaining that he's arguing for a complete overhaul of the system, not some marginal tweaking of the rules, Crosby sets out his 38-point plan, in 38 brief chapters. He begins simply: building more inviting-looking schools, ending social promotion, enticing experienced teachers to troubled schools and reviving vocational education as an option for the non-college bound. These widely acceptable ideas buffer the shock from some of his more heterodox ideas -- banning teacher unions, recognizing excellence in teaching with merit bonuses, ending teacher tenure, cutting special education spending, ending compulsory education after the ninth grade and giving up on smaller class sizes, because there simply aren't enough great teachers to staff twice as many classrooms. Crosby speaks from a world of experience; his "political incorrectness" may bother some readers, but many will appreciate his honesty and his willingness to think outside the box."
--Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition: August 2008 edition (July 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312372582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312372583
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,886,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By CrimsonGirl VINE VOICE on September 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Crosby's book is a fairly quick read and many of his ideas for improving government-run schools are eminently sensible. These include: making schools' physical appearances and policies less like prisons; larger class sizes with higher quality teachers in high school classes; K-8 schools rather than separate middle schools; a ban on junk food/beverage sales; daily PE and a strong arts program; high-quality vocational education for non-college bound students; merit pay for teachers; eliminating tenure; ending social promotion; bringing back the teaching of basic civility, personal responsibility, respect for and consideration of others, and other virtues; more rigorous classes for gifted students; more field trips; incorporating community service; empowering teachers to actually do their jobs instead of being micromanaged by administrators and bureaucrats; less standardized testing; improving teacher preparation programs at the nation's colleges of education; having a career ladder for teachers; better fiscal management so that schools get more bang for their educational buck; requiring parental involvement; expelling chronically disruptive students; ending frivolous lawsuits by parents; and placing caps on out-of-control special education spending.

A few of his arguments I found unconvincing. I do not share his enthusiasm for a year-round calendar, a longer school day, and full-day kindergarten for all students. These may be appropriate for some children, but for others so much time spent in an institutionalized setting may actually be detrimental.
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Format: Paperback
I am a homeschooling mother who also has a child in public school. As such, I am interested in the fate of public schools on a rather personal level. I will admit that the first thing I did when I got this book is scan the index for references to homeschooling and read them. To put it bluntly, this author is anti-homeschooling. As hard as it is to take anything related to education seriously when it is said by someone who believes that homeschooled "kids avoid interacting with other kids," I read the rest of the book with as open a mind as I could manage.

I agree with some of the author's ideas and not with others. I think there should be year-round schooling; I think schools should be nicer, physically (my own child's school doesn't even have internal walls, just movable, not-ceiling-high dividers); I agree that schooling past grade nine (or even grade eight) should not be compulsory. I disagree that class size doesn't matter and that students should be in class until 5:15 pm.

However, my personal opinions about the author's ideas aren't really the point. The reason this book got only 2 stars is three-fold. First, the author spends a HUGE amount of time griping and complaining about how put upon teachers are, how thankless and impossible their task is, and how unfair the teaching profession is. This hardly inspired me to feel that this man was in a good position to come up with ideas to overhaul public schooling. He just sounded whiny. Second, many of his ideas are contradictory. For example, he states that those who go into administration positions are there only because they either don't like teaching or just want to earn more money. He then states that if administrators were paid more, more highly qualified candidates would be attracted to these positions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I felt Mr. Crosby had visited our school. Such insight into a major problem that is often blamed on everything but the real culprit. Easy read and informative.
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Format: Paperback
I am a public school teacher who, intrigued by what I saw with a quick scan, picked up Crosby's book while browsing the bookstore on vacation. Crosby should be applauded for having the courage to identify so many things teachers know don't work but generally keep quiet about. Many of the ideas he presents are logical, well supported and just make great sense. For example, if the countries that outperform us go to school 20 to 60 more days each year than our kids, why don't we even the playing field by expanding our school year too? Why do the worst schools have the most unqualified teachers? Why not recruit administrators from the MBA pool rather than former teachers who wanted out of the classroom?

It became clear while reading, however, that this was a subjective read. Crosby clearly allowed personal biases to cloud many of his reforms without offering tangent solutions. Case in point: cut special education and Title I. Huh? Crosby delivers the usual, tired argument that every public school teacher unwilling (or unable) to accommodate delivers with alarming regularity: the kids are cheating the system to get better grades and more time on tests, and these perpetrators are taking time and money away from other kids. His solution: just give the money back to the schools and trust the people in charge will do what's best for their students. This after writing an entire book dedicated to criticizing how the people in charge do a poor job. Such illogical and contradictory ideas are dangerous, occur too frequently, and greatly diminished the legitimacy of this book.

Ultimately Smart Kids, Bad Schools, if limited to fewer of the more logical reforms which fell in Crosby's area of expertise, could be a legitimate cadre of ideas. Instead, it is a disconnected, illogical rant smacking of a disgruntled teacher critical of almost every aspect of American education (except his own performance).
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