New Books on Education Reform

Published March 1, 2003

A Primer on America’s Schools
Edited by Terry M. Moe
Hoover Institution, 2001
324 pages, $15.00 paperback
ISBN 0-8179-9942-6

Edited by Stanford University political science professor Terry M. Moe, this book is the first of several planned publications from the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force, a five-year effort initiated in 1999 to address key problems in K-12 U.S. education and identify potential policies for improvement. The Task Force consists of 11 recognized scholars in various aspects of K-12 education. Each has a chapter in the book.

U.S. education, says Moe, is “in a crisis of quality. But it is also a crisis of social equity: the children who most desperately need … opportunity–who are mainly poor and minority–are without hope in the absence of major reform.” Each chapter introduces a key issue and examines how Americans might “get off the treadmill of failed reforms” and promote the cause of real progress.

Moe himself writes a chapter about the teacher unions. Other contributors include Diane Ravitch (traditions in American education), John E. Chubb (the system), Eric A. Hanushek (school spending), E.D. Hirsch (curriculum), Williamson M. Evers (standards and accountability), Herbert J. Walberg (student achievement), Chester E. Finn Jr. (teachers), and Paul E. Peterson (school choice).

School Reform: The Critical Issues
Edited by Williamson M. Evers, Lance T. Izumi, and Pamela A. Riley
Hoover Institution and Pacific Research Institute, November 2001
438 pages, $15.00 paperback
ISBN 0-8179-2872-3

Education reform covers such a wide range of topics–from teaching styles and parental involvement to class size and teacher testing–that it is a challenge even for those following one aspect of reform to keep abreast of the developments in a multitude of other areas. This book, a joint undertaking of the Hoover Institution and Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI), attempts to fill that gap by having more than 50 expert contributors address education reform from their individual perspectives.

School Reform: The Critical Issues, edited by Williamson Evers of the Hoover Institution and Lance Izumi and Pamela Riley of PRI, includes articles on the following topics:

  • the pitfalls of “progressive” education, and a strategy for supporting a more traditional approach;
  • student responsibility and character education–why school reform requires students of good character;
  • teacher testing and evaluation, and why it’s so difficult to fire bad teachers;
  • how the federal government spent $118 million on Title I to close the achievement gap, and failed.

Contributors include Lynne V. Cheney, Paul Ciotti, Milton Friedman, David Gelernter, Jerry Jesness, Alveda C. King, Tom Loveless, Heather MacDonald, La Rae G. Munk, Lewis J. Perelman, Michael J. Petrilli, Debra J. Saunders, Brother Bob Smith, Thomas Sowell, Sol Stern, Abigail Thernstrom, and Joseph P. Viteritti.

The Education Gap–Vouchers and Urban Schools
William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson
The Brookings Institution, 2002
288 pages, $28.95 cloth
ISBN 0-8157-0214-0

In The Education Gap–Vouchers and Urban Schools, political science professor William Howell of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University professor of government Paul Peterson report new findings drawn from a massive and comprehensive study on vouchers. Patrick Wolf of Georgetown University and David Campbell of Princeton University are co-authors.

The book presents data from randomized field trials conducted in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. It also includes a randomized field trial evaluation of a program that offered vouchers to 40,000 low-income families nationwide. Findings from a voucher initiative in the Edgewood school district in San Antonio also are presented.

Findings were quite consistent across the field trials, despite the variety of settings. Combined results for New York, Dayton, and Washington showed that black students participating in voucher programs on average scored three percentile points higher than their public school peers in the first year, six points higher in the second year, and seven points higher in the third year. The test score differences in years two and three were statistically significant.

The scores of other students in public and private schools did not differ significantly from one another in any city or any year. The authors suggest that because the educational options available to black Americans are more limited, new forms of choice–such as vouchers–are most likely to benefit black students. Vouchers thus may help close the achievement gap found nationwide between black and white students.

The findings from this research also provide new insight into how existing voucher programs affect other aspects of students’ educational experiences–factors such as school climate, school resources, class size, and homework. In addition, the findings reveal how vouchers affect racial segregation, political tolerance, parental satisfaction, children’s self-esteem, school-family communication, and community social capital.

“This study is based on the best experimental arrangements on voucher programs to date,” commented Milwaukee voucher researcher John Witte of the University of Wisconsin, a sentiment echoed by class size researcher Alan B. Krueger of Princeton University.

“Because of the strength of its research design and the daunting financial and administrative hurdles facing anyone who tries to launch another randomized evaluation of vouchers, The Education Gap will provide an important intellectual battleground for the debate over vouchers for years to come,” noted Krueger.

Can the Market Save Our Schools?
Edited by Claudia R. Hepburn
Fraser Institute, Canada, 2001
193 pages, paperback
ISBN 0-8897-5185-4

A spring 2000 Fraser Institute conference in Vancouver addressed the question: Could school reforms based on the market–i.e., competition–benefit the Canadian education system of public education?

The ten papers presented at that conference are now available in the book Can the Market Save Our Schools? Although the lessons are for Canadians, they make enlightening reading for Americans, since many of the lessons are in fact derived from research carried out in the United States.

Contributors whose names will be familiar to American school reformers include Harvard University economist Caroline M. Hoxby, Fordham Foundation president Chester E. Finn, Jr., Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene, Bowling Green State University senior research associate Andrew J. Coulson, Indianapolis scholarship parent Barbara Lewis, and Indianapolis scholarship student Alphonso Harrell.

The problems experienced in education systems north of the border appear strikingly similar to those in the U.S. For example, in his paper “Publicly Funded Education in Ontario: Breaking the Deadlock,” William Robson focuses on the province’s persistent achievement gap between children from low-income families and those from higher-income families. Robson, director of the Ontario Coalition for Education Reform, recommends reforms to enhance parental empowerment as the solution.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].