What’s wrong with America’s schools? Why can’t we fix them? How did we wind up with dropout rates of 25 percent and graduates who can barely read and write? Why does the United States spend twice as much on education as the international average and wind up near the bottom of the barrel in global comparisons of student achievement? Why do we lag behind nations such as South Korea, Hungary, and Singapore? And how should we go about improving the situation? Answers to these questions lie at the heart of this volume. David T. Kearns and James Harvey contend we are fine-tuning failure. We have yet to break with the past in order to face a different and challenging future. Despite worshiping at the altar of “local control” we have managed to create cookie-cutter schools across the country. We have been sidestepping the transparent need for common expectations about what students should know and be able to do. Standards, the authors say, are not clear enough or high enough. Above all, we have met the enemy and it is us: all of us support “change” as long as someone else is changing. This book is a fascinating and provocative analysis of where we went wrong and what we need to do to get American education back on track. It defines the kind of education our kids deserve. It calls for a new definition of “public education” in which choice is taken for granted. And it outlines an action agenda to help parents and citizens make first-class schools truly their own. In the future, the authors argue, we should think of a public school as any other non-profit entity—capable of operating in the public interest free of the red tape now strangling public education. It should be paid for by the public and accountable to the public, with its charter or contract routinely revoked when it stops serving public purposes or fails to meet its performance goals.
David T. Kearns is chairman emeritus of New American Schools. He is former chairman and CEO of the Xerox Company. James Harvey is a senior fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington. He is also a Seattle-based consultant. A former appointee in the Carter administration, he helped develop the landmark report A Nation at Risk for the National Commission on Excellence in Education. George Bush is former President of the United States.