The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? (Russakoff)

I understand the instinct. The short-term window. The bipartisan creation story. The big money. I even understand the top-down approach. It takes time to engage constituents and, to be honest, constituents are often under-informed about the issues in play. Would a community conversation have helped alleviate the issue of siblings being assigned to separate schools? But would it have made for better teachers?

Still, the top-down, outsider-led, system-focused, charter school-fueld approach does not seem to have improved the situation as much as it has just changed them.  Russakoff’s narrative provides compelling insights into what’s succeeding and what’s not in the Newark schools, and begins to articulate how difficult this issue is in the country at large, even when forces like Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg align.

Russakoff introduces the idea of community schools, which hold tremendous appeal, but the 10,000 foot view shows the sources of some potential frustration. Priscilla Chan (Zuckerberg’s wife) is apparently creating a wonderful community school, but it’s one school, resting largely on the shoulders of one individual with remarkable access to funds. Ras Baraka, the mayor who followed Booker, is doing more to engage the community, but what’s happening to students while he is engaging the public?

This is a solidly written and important book.

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One Reply to “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? (Russakoff)”

  1. Agreed — what upset me in this story was the way they blew the consensus they had (the money is more replaceable). The other thing that was galling was how little the policy decisions seemed to draw upon research. To me, that seems like a challenge to researchers to make our work more user friendly and public. But it would also be nice to see parents, students, teachers, the public in general demand that education policy decisions (at all levels) show some basis in research (meaning more than just test score results, of course).

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