Here is our recommended reading list of books for our current

educational political environment. 

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education  by Diane Ravitch | Jun 28, 2016

See our review.

*  An urgent case for protecting public education, from one of America's best-known education experts


In this landmark book, Diane Ravitch - former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum - examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that she once staunchly advocated. Drawing on over forty years of research and experience, Ravitch critiques today's most popular ideas for restructuring schools, including privatization, the Common Core, standardized testing, the replacement of teachers by technology, charter schools, and vouchers. She shows conclusively why the business model is not an appropriate way to improve schools. Using examples from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, Ravitch makes the case that public education today is in peril and includes clear prescriptions for improving America's schools.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System is more than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system. It is a must-read for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling.

* = Amazon.com description

Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement by Steve Suitts | Feb 4, 2020

See our review.

School choice, widely touted as a system that would ensure underprivileged youth have an equal opportunity in education, has grown in popularity in the past fifteen years. The strategies and rhetoric of school choice, however, resemble those of segregationists who closed public schools and funded private institutions to block African American students from integrating with their white peers in the wake of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. In Overturning Brown, Steve Suitts examines the parallels between de facto segregationist practices and the modern school choice movement. He exposes the dangers lying behind the smoke and mirrors of the so-called civil rights policies of Betsy DeVos and the education privatization lobbies. Economic and educational disparities have expanded rather than contracted in the years following Brown, and post-Jim Crow discriminatory policies drive inequality and poverty today. Suitts deftly reveals the risk that America and its underprivileged youth face as school voucher programs funnel public funds into predominantly white and often wealthy private schools and charter schools.

Donald Cohen is the founder and executive director of the research and policy center In the Public Interest and the co-author (with Allen Mikaelian) of The Privatization of Everything and (with Nick Hanauer, Joan Walsh, and Zachary Roth) of It’s Never Our Fault (And Other Shameless Excuses) (both from The New Press). He lives in Los Angeles.

The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back  by Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian | Nov 23, 2021

America’s leading defender of the public interest and a bestselling historian show us how to prevent the private takeover of our cherished public resources.

An essential read for those who want to fight the assault on public goods and the commons. —Naomi Klein

As people reach for social justice and better lives, they create public goods—free education, public health, open parks, clean water, and many others—that must be kept out of the market. When private interests take over, they strip public goods of their power to lift people up, creating instead a tool to diminish democracy, further inequality, and separate us from each other.

The Privatization of Everything, by the founder of In the Public Interest, an organization dedicated to shared prosperity and the common good, chronicles the efforts to turn our public goods into private profit centers. Ever since Ronald Reagan labeled government a dangerous threat, privatization has touched every aspect of our lives, from water and trash collection to the justice system and the military.

However, citizens can, and are, wresting back what is ours. A Montana city took back its water infrastructure after finding that they could do it better and cheaper. Colorado towns fought back well-funded campaigns to preserve telecom monopolies and hamstring public broadband. A motivated lawyer fought all the way to the Supreme Court after the State of Georgia erected privatized paywalls around its legal code.

The Privatization of Everything connects the dots across a broad spectrum of issues and raises larger questions about who controls the public things we all rely on, exposing the hidden crisis of privatization that has been slowly unfolding over the last fifty years and giving us a road map for taking our country back.

The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America's Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle | Aug 26, 1996 

Dispelling sensational beliefs that portray public schools as bureaucratic, violent, and ineffective, a study argues that increased population levels have distorted the statistics and reveals an improved competency among average students.

School’s Choice: How Charter Schools Control Access and Shape Enrollment by Wagma Mommandi and Kevin Welner | Sep 10, 2021

Dispelling sensational beliefs that portray public schools as bureaucratic, violent, and ineffective, a study argues that increased population levels have distorted the statistics and reveals an improved competency among average students.

The Choice We Face: How Segregation, Race, and Power Have Shaped America's Most Controversial Education Reform Movement  by Jon Hale | Aug 10, 2021 

A comprehensive history of school choice in the US, from its birth in the 1950s as the most effective weapon to oppose integration to its lasting impact in reshaping the public education system today.

Most Americans today see school choice as their inalienable right. In The Choice We Face, scholar Jon Hale reveals what most fail to see: school choice is grounded in a complex history of race, exclusion, and inequality. Through evaluating historic and contemporary education policies, Hale demonstrates how reframing the way we see school choice represents an opportunity to evolve from complicity to action.

The idea of school choice, which emerged in the 1950s during the civil rights movement, was disguised by American rhetoric as a symbol of freedom and individualism. Shaped by the ideas of conservative economist Milton Friedman, the school choice movement was a weapon used to oppose integration and maintain racist and classist inequalities. Still supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, this policy continues to shape American education in nuanced ways, Hale shows—from the expansion of for-profit charter schools and civil rights–based reform efforts to the appointment of Betsy DeVos.

Exposing the origins of a movement that continues to privilege middle- to upper-class whites while depleting the resources for students left behind, The Choice We Face is a bold, definitive new history that promises to challenge long-held assumptions on education and redefines our moment as an opportunity to save it—a choice we will not have for much longer.

Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago's South Side  by Eve L. Ewing | Apr 10, 2020

That’s how Eve L. Ewing opens Ghosts in the Schoolyard: describing Chicago Public Schools from the outside. The way politicians and pundits and parents of kids who attend other schools talk about them, with a mix of pity and contempt.
 
But Ewing knows Chicago Public Schools from the inside: as a student, then a teacher, and now a scholar who studies them. And that perspective has shown her that public schools are not buildings full of failures—they’re an integral part of their neighborhoods, at the heart of their communities, storehouses of history and memory that bring people together.
 
Never was that role more apparent than in 2013 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an unprecedented wave of school closings. Pitched simultaneously as a solution to a budget problem, a response to declining enrollments, and a chance to purge bad schools that were dragging down the whole system, the plan was met with a roar of protest from parents, students, and teachers. But if these schools were so bad, why did people care so much about keeping them open, to the point that some would even go on a hunger strike?
 
Ewing’s answer begins with a story of systemic racism, inequality, bad faith, and distrust that stretches deep into Chicago history. Rooting her exploration in the historic African American neighborhood of Bronzeville, Ewing reveals that this issue is about much more than just schools. Black communities see the closing of their schools—schools that are certainly less than perfect but that are theirs—as one more in a long line of racist policies. The fight to keep them open is yet another front in the ongoing struggle of black people in America to build successful lives and achieve true self-determination.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire | Nov 17, 2020 

A trenchant (cutting) analysis of how public education is being destroyed in overt and deceptive ways--and how to fight back


If America's public schools don't survive the COVID-19 pandemic, it won't just be due to the virus. Opponents of public education have long sought to dismantle our system of free, universal, and taxpayer-funded schooling. But the present crisis has provided them with their best opportunity ever to realize that aim. Books like Jane Mayer's Dark Money and Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains sounded a clear warning about the influence that right-wing plutocrats increasingly exert over American politics. Now, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door takes their analyses a step further, addressing an urgent question: Why is the right so fixated on dismantling public education in the United States? 

Education historian Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire trace the war on public education to its origins, offering the deep backstory necessary to understand the threat presently posed to America's schools. The book also looks forward to imagine how current policy efforts will reshape the educational landscape and remake America's future.  A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door offers readers a lively, accessible, yet scholarly view of a decades-long conservative cause: unmaking the system that serves over 90% of students in the U.S. 

Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education by Mara Sapon-Shevin and Nancy Schniedewind | Sep 4, 2012

Lost amid the debate over educational policies are the stories of the educators, parents, and students who are most affected by legislation such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. In Educational Courage, veteran educators and activists Nancy Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin bring together the voices of those who are resisting market-driven initiatives such as high-stakes testing, charter schools, mayoral control, and merit pay. The diverse narrators who write in this volume confront the educational agendas that undermine teachers’ judgment and knowledge, ignore the different backgrounds of students and parents, and debase the learning process. Yet these educators, parents, and activists also offer stories of resistance and hope as they fight to uphold the ideals of democratic public education.

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Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy  by Derek W. Black | Sep 22, 2020

The full-scale assault on public education threatens not just public education but American democracy itself.

 

Public education as we know it is in trouble. Derek W. Black, a legal scholar and tenacious advocate, shows how major democratic and constitutional developments are intimately linked to the expansion of public education throughout American history. Schoolhouse Burning is grounded in pathbreaking, original research into how the nation, in its infancy, built itself around public education and, following the Civil War, enshrined education as a constitutional right that forever changed the trajectory of our democracy. Public education, alongside the right to vote, was the cornerstone of the recovery of the war-torn nation.

 

Today's current schooling trends -- the declining commitment to properly fund public education and the well-financed political agenda to expand vouchers and charter schools -- present a major assault on the democratic norms that public education represents and risk undermining one of the unique accomplishments of American society.

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Rich Thanks to Racism: How the Ultra-Wealthy Profit from Racial Injustice by Jim Freeman | Mar 15, 2021

More than fifty years after the civil rights movement, there are still glaring racial inequities all across the United States. In Rich Thanks to Racism, Jim Freeman, one of the country's leading civil rights lawyers, explains why as he reveals the hidden strategy behind systemic racism. He details how the driving force behind the public policies that continue to devastate communities of color across the United States is a small group of ultra-wealthy individuals who profit mightily from racial inequality.

In this groundbreaking examination of "strategic racism," Freeman carefully dissects the cruel and deeply harmful policies within the education, criminal justice, and immigration systems to discover their origins and why they persist. He uncovers billions of dollars in aligned investments by Bill Gates, Charles Koch, Mark Zuckerberg, and a handful of other billionaires that are dismantling public school systems across the United States. He exposes how the greed of prominent US corporations and Wall Street banks was instrumental in creating the world's largest prison population and our most extreme anti-immigrant policies. Freeman also demonstrates how these "racism profiteers" prevent flagrant injustices from being addressed by pitting white communities against communities of color, obscuring the fact that the struggles faced by white people are deeply connected with those faced by people of color.

Rich Thanks to Racism is an invaluable road map for all those who recognize that the key to unlocking the United States' full potential is for more people of all races and ethnicities to prioritize racial justice.

 

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol | Aug 1, 2006

Since the early 1980s, when the federal courts began dismantling the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, segregation of black children has reverted to its highest level since 1968. In many inner-city schools, a stick-and-carrot method of behavioral control traditionally used in prisons is now used with students. Meanwhile, as high-stakes testing takes on pathological and punitive dimensions, liberal education has been increasingly replaced by culturally barren and robotic methods of instruction that would be rejected out of hand by schools that serve the mainstream of society.

Filled with the passionate voices of children, principals, and teachers, and some of the most revered leaders in the black community, The Shame of the Nation pays tribute to those undefeated educators who persist against the odds, but directly challenges the chilling practices now being forced upon our urban systems. In their place, Kozol offers a humane, dramatic challenge to our nation to fulfill at last the promise made some 50 years ago to all our youngest citizens.