Guided Tour of an Educational Revolution

DESPITE being buried under an avalanche of negative reports and well-documented failures, successful schools are hard at work transforming education in the United States.Former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske provides a guided tour of this "quiet revolution" in "Smart Schools, Smart Kids." He clears away the negative clutter and shines a spotlight on grass-roots reform, highlighting far-flung efforts that inspire hope for the future of US schools. Fiske begins by bluntly stating, "It's no secret that America's public schools are failing." Then he launches into the good news and provides a glimpse into the often unheralded reform efforts under way. The revolution Fiske describes stems from the long-overdue realization that the "19th-century factory model school" isn't capable of preparing students for the 21st century. What we need, he concludes, are "smart schools." There is no recipe for "smart schools," Fiske writes, only ingredients. The chapters of this book outline the essential ingredients and provide on-the-scene examples of those elements in practice. "Smart Schools, Smart Kids" could double as a travel guide for anyone wanting to visit the most exciting, innovative schools in about a dozen states. * In Dade County, Fla., school decentralization is allowing teachers, parents, and students to be involved in decisions that were once reserved for top administrators. * In Houston, a school with multi-age classes is encouraging children to be both teacher and learner. At the same school, English- and Spanish-speaking students work side by side. * In Indianapolis, individualized student videos have replaced paper-and-pen standardized tests. The author uses his background as an education reporter to his advantage. By telling the stories of real people and schools, Fiske sustains interest in a complex subject. This book isn't destined simply to take up space on educators' bookshelves. Parents, teachers, and education activists may well use it to prod their own communities toward more effective education. The good news is that "smart schools" are being put together piece by piece throughout the nation's 16,000 local school districts. "We know how to fix American schools, and they are being fixed," Fiske writes. The bad news is that full-blown "smart schools" don't yet exist. "No one has yet taken a Ted Sizer classroom ["teacher as coach, student as worker"], put it in a decentralized school system, loaded it up with new technologies, made teachers responsible for student progress, measured this progress with authentic tests, brought social-service agencies into the school, and then given parents the choice of whether this is what they want in the first place," Fiske writes. How and when that will happen depends on where the revolution goes from here. This book is not a wish list; it focuses on schools and programs that already exist. One disappointment, Fiske writes, is in the area of teacher training. His plan to include a chapter on a school of education that is successfully preparing teachers for schools of the future proved impossible. "Teacher education is the big black hole in the movement to create smart schools," he writes. "Smart Schools, Smart Kids" shows what's possible in the realm of education. While offering concrete examples of what's working in schools nationwide, it proves that there is some good news about US schools after all.

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