Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning the Hard Way

Speaking of Klein, he published in today's WSJ a spot-on review of Class Warfare as well as Terry Moe's Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (

The debate has been going on for more than a decade, but in the past few years it has become nearly incendiary. The traditionalists claim that reformist ideas will essentially destroy the public schools and consign the children of low-income families to a dire fate. The reformers argue that, without the kind of major changes in school structure and teacher performance that they advocate, the crisis of the schools will get worse and worse—until America ends up as a country with a small, educated upper class and a vast, uneducated underclass, with few between. This is, as Bill Gates recently said, the most important issue our nation faces.

Two impressive writers now join this debate. At their core they share the reformist perspective and conclude that teachers unions—fueled by the manpower and money they can mobilize and the enormous political power they enjoy as a result—are the major obstacle to solving the education crisis. But they make their arguments from different perspectives, citing different evidence.

"Class Warfare," by Steven Brill, is an extremely well-reported survey of the modern reform movement that is likely to have a big impact and will appeal to a wide audience. "Special Interest," by Terry M. Moe, is a carefully researched analysis of the power dynamics underlying today's policy disputes. Mr. Brill, a celebrated media entrepreneur and longtime journalist, takes us on a breezy journey through the education-reform landscape, written with a storyteller's page-turning magic; Mr. Moe, a political scientist, offers a painstaking study, also compelling if less fast-paced.

Mr. Brill opens with a quick visit to the Oval Office early in the Obama administration, where the new president commits himself to an aggressive reform agenda. "Just make sure," he says to his advisers, "that we don't poke the unions in the eye with this." The bulk of "Class Warfare" is a series of vignettes of reformers and traditionalists, and of struggling schools they are fighting to save.


Learning the Hard Way

The reformers who want to save the public schools are starting to make a difference, against ferocious opposition


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