Making the Grade

Reinventing America’s Schools

Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools reframes the education debate in fundamental ways. Wagner argues persuasively that schools are not failing and can’t be helped with reforms. Rather the public education system has become obsolete and must be reinvented. He goes on to describe principles of reinvention, new approaches to accountability, and vivid examples of highly successful public schools where all children are learning the critical competencies for the new knowledge economy. Find out what reviewers are saying about this best-selling primer on education reinvention…

The Chicago Tribune © 2002

In his persuasive, if idealistic, Making the Grade, Tony Wagner claims the continued push for educational reform routinely misses a much larger and more important point.

He argues, quite effectively, that American schools need more than lip service and finger-pointing; instead, the system needs reinvention that goes far beyond the debates about increased length of school days, raised standards, accountability and better pay for teachers.

Since 1906, the standard unit of study in high schools, the Carnegie Unit, has determined “how the overwhelming majority of teachers and students spend their days in school.”

Too much has changed in the last century to stay slavishly dedicated to this type of pedagogy. Wagner breaks his work into digestible chapters, careful to walk between the hard-drawn lines of current debates while showing how both sides are missing crucial issues (and opportunities) to completely reshape and rethink American education.

He maintains that an increased emphasis on soft skills (think emotional intelligence), work ethic, citizenship and learning motivation can help bring teachers, students and parents out of the rut created by “a culture [that] appears to celebrate passive consumption and instant gratification.”

Central to this reinvention is the concept of Village Schools, where smaller classes and a self-paced, hands-on curriculum teaches children skills beyond memorization and obedience.

Wagner writes passionately about such issues but avoids the anger that often underpins books about what’s wrong with American education.

Loaded with surprising statistics and solid analysis, Making the Grade is as sobering as it is insightful.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

ISBN13: 9780415927628 / ISBN10: 0415927625 / 176 pg. / 2003 / Routledge


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Making the Grade
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