“To Hell With School Vouchers, Charter Schools, and Merit Pay,” by Samuel Breidner.
“To Hell With School Vouchers, Charter Schools, and Merit Pay,” by Samuel Breidner is a short book that’s well worth reading and probably won’t reach much of the audience it should. To begin with, it’s mistitled. The book is a proposal for Theme-Based Academies in public schools, in which teams of teachers design curricula around themes that keep the students interested in learning. Vouchers and the rest are used as a threat to justify the need for this change if we are to save the “marketability” of our public schools. Otherwise, the concepts in the book’s title aren’t addressed at much length, and the description of the book on its back cover is absurdly misleading.
The book starts out with a couple of other strikes against it. It promotes patriotism on the front cover and religion on the back (neither of which I care for, though I’m aware many others do). The book is full of bad grammar, typos, and arrogant grand pronouncements, and it starts out in a rambling stream-of-consciousness manner that barely managed to hold my interest.
Getting through it was worth the effort, because the book’s proposal makes a lot of sense. Thirty percent of American kids drop out of high school, and it’s hard to blame them. The education provided is often lousy and does not even seem well-intentioned. It bears little relationship either to what students expect to be doing after graduation or what they would prefer to be doing right now.
Breidner makes some proposals that would probably help, and are already helping in some places:
Theme-based education (themes include: “liberal arts, small business, financial/banking, law, aviation, bio-medical, advertising, television, woodworking, art/design, maritime, wildlife/ecology, and the like.”);
Teacher teams with a Lead Teacher for each academy, and team control over what other teachers joins the team;
Teacher control over lesson plans;
Higher teacher pay;
Higher teacher qualifications;
Renaming principals “administrators,” separating their duties from those of teachers, and paying them less than teachers;
School choice for parents;
Requiring student attendance and parent participation;
Requiring that parents be financially responsible for students’ behavior;
Reviewing students’ progress on the basis of a portfolio of work.
These excellent proposals are explained in a disorganized but persuasive manner, and at only 89 pages the book’s drawbacks don’t amount to much trouble. I think it should be read by anyone thinking about the problems with our schools.