Smart Kids, Bad Schools 3

– 38 Ways to Save America’s Future
by Brian Crosby
300 pages, Hardcover
St. Martin’s Press, NY (2008)

Calling on political leaders to abandon “reforms” of America’s public education system, Hoover High School English teacher Brian Crosby argues that a complete transformation is needed in the way we prepare students for life.

In his new book, Crosby offers 38 welcome but politically incorrect ideas to give students, teachers, and administrators incentives to excel. Each idea threatens some existing stakeholder, whether they are a lazy parent, incompetent teacher, disruptive student, out-of-touch administrator, or entrenched union representative.

Among his structural proposals is an idea repeated today by Louis Gerstner, Jr. in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal: lengthening the school year and the school day to provide more instructional time. This would bring the U.S. system into sync with those of countries whose students consistently outperform us. Crosby also advocates eliminating homework (as increased instructional time allows students to master coursework in the classroom), and eliminating middle school entirely to set up a K-8 school environment. The last idea is overwhelmingly favored by parents, who want a more protective and familiar environment for children ages 11-14.

On the subject of classroom dynamics, Crosby’s voice is eloquent with experience. Paying the best teachers to teach at the worst schools is one proposal. Refusing to promote failing students is another. Limiting AP courses to kids with proven ability to take them is yet another politically incorrect, but sensible idea to fight lowered standards.

Crosby devotes 12 pages to standardized testing, railing against No Child Left Behind, High School Exit Exams, and districts’ political focus on test results. He objects to the loss of classroom time, professional development, and instructional opportunities as teachers prepare for, administer, and interpret standardized tests. He concludes that testing itself is preventing real reform. Clearly, politicians don’t trust teachers themselves to evaluate students

In The $100,000 Teacher, Crosby’s first book, he addresses this problem head on with a well-reasoned argument that teachers should demand dramatically higher starting salaries, reinvent themselves as high-level professionals, and establish a career path toward a professional achievement hierarchy (NOT tenure). One result of this major change would be a different role for teacher unions, or no role at all.

Smart Kids, Bad Schools echoes Crosby’s earlier call for setting teacher salaries at a professional level, and highlights some of his first book’s ideas, set into the larger argument for increasing teacher pay, in a more anecdotal and less rigorous way. Any of the 38 ideas can be read independently, considered, and discussed.

Crosby calls on American society to treat teaching as a vital profession (as it is treated, for example, in Japan), to deny unions the power to prevent desperately needed change, and to involve master teachers in a major transformation of public education. High points in the history of capitalism include stories of rank and file workers who implemented wildly successful ideas to improve corporate profits and productivity. At this point in the 21st century, why are we still listening to politicians and “educrats” (as Crosby calls them) and not listening to teachers?

Check out Brian Crosby’s blog for his list of 10 things President-Elect Obama should do for America’s schools.

3 thoughts on “Smart Kids, Bad Schools

  • David Bogosian

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention; it sounds like it’s worth reading. After hearing my otherwise bright 6th grader fumble around and grope for an answer to the question: “which ocean is on the west coast of the U.S.?”, it’s clear to me that the GUSD is not doing very well.

  • Brenda Laue

    This looks like a very interesting book. I wholehearedly agree with many of his recommendations, especially more instructional time and no homework. Let children be with their family and friends instead of tied to homework. I want a well-rounded child who has time to participate in activities outside of school and time for family. I also love the idea of eliminating middle school and making it K-8 and 9-12.

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