Five pages into this 2011 book, subtitled How a New Breed of Reformers Is Transforming America’s Public Schools, Jack Schneider asserts: “This book is about understanding the world of ideas in American school reform.” Naturally, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to understand the world of ideas in American school reform?
Schneider’s main purpose is to show how the “excellence for all” era (which, for reasons I don’t understand, he doesn’t hyphenate even though the phrase is used adjectivally) has been driven by three key reforms: the push for small schools, the development of Teach for America, and the expansion of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He provides ample historical context for the evolution of the excellence for all movement and makes compelling cases for the influence of the first two reforms, but I found the last part less convincing, possibly because he himself admits that the popularity of AP courses has already waned.
I wonder if he could have made a stronger case for the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act. Though it’s been a mixed blessing for various reasons, it has certainly focused attention on the Achievement Gap and the need for schools to be held accountable for results for ALL students.
I am also curious to know what other threads he considered before settling on these three. Maybe I’ll ask him. In any case, we are in total agreement on this point: “Despite the disappointments of many excellence for all reforms and any inherent challenges to the movement as a whole, the broader vision remains intact. The conditions that created the movement, after all, remain the same. American faith in the power of education to solve social problems, whatever the evidence against it, continues to persist.” He calls excellence for all “the highest ideal in American education reform.” Indeed. The question remains, though: How do we get there?