School reform reads like homework

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The title "Children as Pawns" suggests that Timothy Hacsi will come out swinging, but a more timid book on educational issues would be hard to find. The author analyzes the evaluations of educational programs, and how, not surprisingly, the media and politicians have willfully or carelessly misunderstood and misused such evaluations.

The book presents case histories of five American educational movements over the past four decades. We learn about Head Start's original intentions, which in 1965 included not only promoting preschool education for impoverished children but helping parents gain job skills.

We get the lowdown on how bilingual education's supporters and detractors too often resort to name-calling and rarely allow research evidence to speak for itself.

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We learn that yea- and nay-sayers of "social promotion" have persuasive arguments that nonetheless raise the more important question of why so many students haven't been learning at their grade levels.

In his discussion of class size and funding, Hacsi usefully describes a quandary that has resulted since the commitment to smaller class sizes: Because more teachers are needed than are available, veteran teachers have been fleeing the poorer schools, leaving the students who most benefit from good, experienced teachers with the least experienced ones.

Good issues all, but readers will find the author's rhetorical questions and cautious truisms frustratingly noncommittal.

• Bob Blaisdell edited "Tolstoy as Teacher: Leo Tolstoy's Writings on Education."

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