In a reporting tour de force, award-winning journalist Steven Brill takes an uncompromising look at the adults who are fighting over America’s failure to educate its children and points the way to reversing that failure.
Brill’s vivid narrative, filled with unexpected twists and turns, takes us from the Oval Office, where President Obama signs off on an unprecedented plan that will infuriate the teachers unions because it offers billions to states that win an education reform “contest”; to boisterous assemblies, where parents join the fight over their children’s schools; to a Fifth Avenue apartment, where billionaires plan a secret fund to promote school reform; to a Colorado high school, where students who seemed destined to fail are instead propelled to college; to state capitols across the country, where school reformers hoping to win Obama’s "contest" push bills that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It’s the story of an unlikely army - fed-up public-school parents, Ivy League idealists, hedge-funders, civil rights activists, conservative Republicans, insurgent Democrats - squaring off against unions that the reformers claim are protecting a system that works for the adults but victimizes the children.
Class Warfare is filled with extraordinary people taking extraordinary paths: a young woman who goes into teaching almost by accident, then becomes so talented and driven that fighting burnout becomes her biggest challenge; an antitrust lawyer who almost brought down Bill Gates’ Microsoft and now forms a partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates to overhaul New York’s schools; a naive Princeton student who launches an army of school reformers with her senior thesis; a California teachers union lobbyist who becomes the mayor of Los Angeles and then the union’s prime antagonist; a stubborn young teacher who, as a child growing up on Park Avenue, had been assumed to be learning disabled but ends up co-founding the nation’s most successful charter schools; and an anguished national union leader who walks a tightrope between compromising enough to save her union and giving in so much that her members will throw her out.
Brill not only takes us inside their roller-coaster battles, he also concludes with a surprising prescription for what it will take from both sides to put the American dream back in America’s schools.
If you are interested in the history and current status of the efforts to reform the public education system in the U.S. this is a good place to start. This book outlines all the political, education, and union players in the reformers vs. unions vs. government battle for the hearts and minds of our children.
A number of interesting programs are detailed including: Teach For America, Race to the Top, Charter Schools, Gates Foundation, KIPP Schools, No Child Left Behind, etc. The book goes into detail on all the individual players and the battles they waged and are still waging.
If you are unfamiliar with the fight here is a quick synopsis: U.S. student test scores have been falling rapidly and rank in the bottom third globally even though we are one of the top countries in spending per student. The reformers believe this is because there are no measurement tools related to teacher performance and student outcomes. The unions vehemently deny that those tools have any value and think there are too many student variables to effectively measure teacher performance.
The reformers are fighting to change the laws and create outcome based performance measurements and incentives. Most of the recently published data supports the reformers position and they are locked in a battle with the largest union in the US, the national teachers union - NEA, who has a tremendous amount of political clout and money.
Worth the read if you are interested in this complex issue.
The book is biased on the side of the reformers.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
I disagree with some of the other reviews - this book is not slamming unions. In fact, I think it very honestly portrays the issues. Some of the people in the book are definately anti-union, but he is only reporting their feelings. He also reports the unions' side. I think it is just that when the reader hears what is being done by the unions, they can't help the emotions that come up.
Brill basically uncovers all the events that have happened in education for the last 10 years or so, which helped me gain some clarity that I was missing. As a doctoral student, I found this book to be extremely helpful. He gave me some background on the movers and shakers in education which helped me understand where they came from and why. He speaks not only of unions and the Obama administration, but also about Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, New Orleans, The Gates Foundation Grants, Michelle Rhee, Colorado and Michael Johnson, Harlem Success Academy, KIPP Schools, and the Race to the Top program.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
The attack on unions continue. Initially, this book was a wonderful balanced approach to American schools, but somewhere in the second third of the book it got stuck on the Union issue and just never let it go. It went from detailing and analyzing problems to harping on the teacher unions. Yes, unions become a problem when they resort to their lowest common denominator, e.g. really bad teachers, but that happened for a reason.
As a former teacher in Pasadena, California and current university professor in Tokyo, Japan, I have two things to say: First, the grass is not greener on the other side. Education in Japan is not better than education in the US, from my 9 years of public/private experience here. Secondly, as a former teacher, I remember ignoring my union president and principal's orders and doing my own thing, with the result that all of my students' reading and math scores improved. It is about the person in the front of the class and their dogged determination to succeed.
This is one of those issues that touches almost every single American and, having been in a classroom, we all have some ideas of what should or should not happen. As I listened to this book I saw the logic of what was being asked, but then realized that the hard-liners are in control. Union leaders who feel the need to protect every single teacher against every possible offense, and union busting bureaucrats/administrators who want to rule with iron fists.
In the end Mr. Brill presents a brilliant, though one-sided, case about the reform issues in our public education system. It is too bad he does not present a more balanced approach to problem solving.
13 of 15 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about this story?
Very eye opening accounts and data concerning our educational system and what is contributing to it's downward spiral.
What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?
The willingness of so many people to go against party politics to persue what really mattered: the next generation
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
As a public school administrator I am impressed how well Brill tells the story of the battles that are going on in the American Educational System. The narration is good and the writing is well paced.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
If you want to understand why the path to great schools is so tortuous, read this book. Needless to say, "kids" are rarely the first priority. I won't spoil it for you, but Brill's big idea, at the end of the book, is somewhat interesting. Solid narration.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the issues facing our public schools.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Class Warfare?
I did not realize the effect Race to the Top was having on changing our public schools. I also did not realize how Democrats have been working to address the issues with public schools.
Which character – as performed by L. J. Ganser – was your favorite?
Joe Klein - Chancellor of NYC Schools
What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?
I believe when all the smoke clears the deciding factor in education is our Teachers. There is a lot of smoke to clear out of the way - unions, contracts, laws, etc. but the core way to make a change is to get the best teacher possible in front of our students and let them teach. I hope we can do this within our existing framework of public schools.
Steven Brill in Class Warfare: Inside the fight to Fix America’s Schools has accomplished the impossible; making education policy exciting and interesting. You don’t have to be a policy wonk to benefit by the closely written and thoroughly researched narrative that Brill presents here. The founder of Brill’s Content Magazine – if you remember that great effort – Brill presents the story of how Federal education policy has come to be. He tells the story in a very well researched and readable style. Any American interested in the current status of schools in the US will benefit from his narrative and the insights that readers will gain from it. This is not a teaching book or a classroom management book. It is sort of a contemporary history book. Readers will not fully agree with Brill’s conclusions, but he certainly makes tax payers think, think, think. If nothing else, a reading of Brill’s current volume will know something of the sausage grinder that produces education reform in this era. The narration of L J Ganswer is very good.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
The overall content of the book is decent with the battle with the teachers union, charter and public schools, rubber rooms, and race to the top. It seems like we all heard about this before.
We might have bad education, but no matter how good is the school or how poor is their neighborhood, it's up to the parent to be on top of their kids. Like, "What did you do in school today?" "Did you do your homework, show me your work?"
I really think that parents nowadays, relies on schools and teachers so much that they don't pay any attention on what their kids are doing in the classroom. No matter what the school is like, it's up to their parents to stay on top on their children by being involved.
If a single mom is from the ghetto and her kids are going to a crappy school, if education was important to her, she would make sure that her kids are doing their work no matter if she is home or not. She might have to work two or three jobs, but she will make sure that they are at home, doing their work and getting the grades. We hear about these kinds of story all the time, single mom, poor, and her children becomes much more successful because of their parents.
Then, you have the other side. Wealthy kids going to a good school and becoming underachievers because their parents are not involve.
Charter schools, Private schools, Seed Schools are not the answer. Just because they get in, does not mean success, if their parents doesn't get involve.
Charter schools can kick out students for any reasons. They might not meet the test score, gone. Causing too much trouble, gone. Having a mental disability, gone. The same goes for teachers and most them are on an year by year contract and that put even more pressure on them to succeed, or they are gone.
We as an whole, don't value "education" like we used to.
Education has become an accessory, not a necessity.
5 of 12 people found this review helpful
When I started college some 55 years ago, it was common knowledge that the school of education was the resort of those with the poorest entrance grades. I don't think that's changed. The shocking revelations about New York's handling of those who in any other career would be fired needs to be spead far and wide. In my state a judge blocked the implementation of a qualifying test that was employed nationally because it was said to be racially biased. Imagine that, math, English, history, art, etc. being so classified. The welfare of countless children took backseat to benefit "teachers" afraid to, or unable to pass a test.
Tenure was intended to protect against arbitrary action--initially created to encourage free
exchange of ideas--and now exists principally as a means of extortion. It costs more to fire an unqualified person than to keep them on the payroll. One need go no further than to compare our children's educational ranking with the rest of the world to know that something must change if we are to keep pace (much less lead).
1 of 4 people found this review helpful