Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools

In Making the Grade, Tony Wagner clarifies the need for school change in order to urge policymakers and school leaders to work concertedly on education’s real problems. Wagner, Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, distinguishes between entrenched threats (achievement gaps among different groups, outdated goals and obsolescent curricula) and the quick-fix (and therefore, ultimately, less challenging) so-called problems that politicians claim will be solved by high-stakes standardized tough love. Wagner focuses on four challenges to excellent education for all: What should students know and be able to do-and who should define that? How can testing and accountability actually help schools and students? How do we motivate students to ask more from themselves and from school? And who will provide the crucial policy leadership that’s desperately needed to produce truly great schools?

As Wagner untangles overused rhetoric, he examines the attention-getters- teacher pay and accountability, school choice, school size, technology infusion-noting what works and what’s missing. He concludes that instant fixes won’t produce lasting meaningful change; a good school is the complex result of long-term cooperation among school and policy leaders, the community, students and their curricula. Making the Grade usefully describes and defends progressive school reform’s prize jewel: the belief that authentic, engaged learning leads to intellectually skilled adults. Wagner’s suggestions that students ought to understand their worlds deeply, not to memorize and abandon fragments of learning-aim to resonate with a wide audience of school people, politicians and parents and aim to get everyone facing in the same direction, headed toward the same goals.

reviewed by Jill Davidson