/ Book Reviews

Bowman, Barbara.T., Donovan, Suzanne, & Burns, M. Susan (Eds.) (2000). Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 443 pp. ISBN 0309068363.

The 17-member Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy convened by the National Research Council spent three years to produce this comprehensive, cross-disciplinary synthesis of the theoretical, research, and evaluation literature about the education and care of 2 to 5 year olds in group settings outside the home. A companion piece, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Child Development, discusses more generally the health and well being of young children. Secretary of Education Richard Riley convened an Early Childhood Summit in June of 2000 to introduce the 19 recommendations in the report to 600 members of state teams representing education and human services agencies.

This volume represents an incredibly comprehensive review of the literature regarding preschool education. It begins with a review of learning science, including familiar and newer information about development and individual and cultural variations. Studies of preschool program quality are reviewed, for programs in general and for programs focusing on specific groups of children-inclu ding those with economic disadvantage, those with identified disabilities, and those who are English language learners. Results and evidence from early childhood programs in other countries are included. Studies on early childhood curriculum (the content of what children learn) and methods (teaching strategies) are reviewed. Assessment in early childhood education for four purposes (to support learning, for identification of special needs, for program evaluation and monitoring trends, and for school accountability) is discussed. A chapter focuses on the preparation of early childhood professionals and an additional chapter on program practices and standards of quality.

The 19 recommendations of the Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy focus on professional development of preschool teachers, educational materials (curricula and technology), state and federal policies regarding program standards, content standards, career ladders, and program accessibility, public awareness and engagement, and future research needs. The first recommendation, that each group of children in an early childhood education and care program be assigned a teacher with a bachelor's degree and specialized education in early childhood, is perhaps the best-founded in the literature as well as the most controversial.

Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers is dense in its comprehensiveness and complexity. The overall impression left on the reader is that the field of early childhood education has matured rapidly over the last three decades, that there is a sufficient body of knowledge to indicate what the parameters of good policy and practice might be, and yet enough variability within the field to fuel much more research.

Lindy Buch
Supervisor, Birth-12 Curriculum
Michigan Department of Education

Brighouse, Harry (2000). School Choice and Social Justice. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 217 pp. ISBN: 0198295863.

The issues of school choice and educational reform are among the most hotly debated socio-political topics of the decade. Harry Brighouse's book, School Choice and Social Justice, addresses these issues within the context of social justice. In this mostly philosophical book, Brighouse offers an overview of liberal and conservative arguments both for and against school choice. Brighouse considers Milton Friedman's writings the seminal force behind the emergence of choice as an issue of public policy. He discusses whether educating children is a fundamental right of parents or whether education should be governed by the state. The notion that education is a "standard public good" is also debated. Brighouse suggests that education does play a role in providing civic and social stability to society. There are several important arguments proposed against school choice including:

  1. the commodification of education;
  2. the importance of democratic control rather than private control of education; and
  3. whether educational policy should promote the collective good of the public rather than private enterprise.

Two separate, existing school choice programs are reviewed. The Milwaukee Public School voucher program and the United Kingdom's Educational Reform Act of 1988 are noted for their strengths and weaknesses in offering choice in education.

Brighouse takes a mostly impartial position on the issue of school choice. However, he does suggest that the interests of children should remain at the forefront in the design of educational institutions. He also states that we should aim to equalize education for children. In Chapter 4 "The Case for Autonomy: Facilitating Education," Brighouse proposes that educational institutions should fundamentally value giving children a realistic opportunity to become autonomous adults.

While the dialectics of school choice, social justice, and educational reform continue to be interesting topics for discussion, the reader will need to look further for evidence on successful or unsuccessful school reforms models. School Choice and Social Justice provides a strong framework for the intellectual debate over school choice. However, those persons committed to reform should seek data grounded in research before selecting educational models for equity in the future.

Aloha Van Camp
Dean of Weekend College
University of Detroit Mercy

Finn, Chester E. Jr., Manno, Bruno V. and Vanourek, Gregg. (2000). Renewing Public Education: Charter Schools in Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. 288 pp. ISBN: 0691004903.

Are charter schools here to stay or are they a passing fancy in the attempt to reform public education? The authors provide strong evidence that the ideas coming from the charter movement will help create a new public education system that looks very different from the one existing today. In the future, public education will encompass many different models, existing side-by-side, managed either by small grass roots organizations that form a single school, like the current charters; by larger school operators that manage networks of schools across the country; by national religious organizations that run church-affiliated schools; by local education agencies like the current school districts; or by a regional education authority that has responsibility for managing schools in trouble and granting charters or contracts to school operators. The menu of options available to parents, the high level of community engagement, as well as the high level of public accountability inherent in these models will preserve America's determination to provide a free public education to its citizens.

The authors dedicate the first half of the book to the genesis of charters, what they look like, how they are working, and the obstacles they face, particularly at start-up. One chapter offers a close-up look at five operating charters in four states. The second half of the book consists of an analysis of the allegations against charters, the political battles being fought, and the impact charters are having on public school systems. Throughout the book, close-up looks at the successes and failures of a variety of charter schools are offered through profiles and interviews of students, parents, principals, teachers, superintendents, board members, and education policymakers. Twenty-five tables provide a variety of data on issues as varied as parent and student satisfaction, ranking of state charter laws, teacher and parent demographics, start-up and operating costs, per-pupil facilities funding, students' rating of their performance by ethnicity, and a comparison of accountability in the financial and education sectors.

This book is extremely well written and offers valuable insights and information to anyone concerned about public education. Points of view of parents, educators, charter school developers, state legislators, school board members, and public school administrators are expressed and explored in ways that encourage rethinking of the traditional view of public education. In particular, the old assumptions about one best system for educating today's youth is replaced by some new assumptions that will help us reinvent America's schools.

Toby L. Bornstein
Executive Director, Multicultural Learning Center
Los Angeles, California

Fuller, Bruce (Ed.) (2000). Inside Charter Schools: The Paradox of Radical Decentralization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 304 pp. ISBN: 067400325X.

Inside charter schools: The paradox of radical decentralization has three major segments. Fuller's introductory chapters provide a context for the middle section, including six case studies on charter schools by other authors, and his concluding chapter describes guidelines for the future. Fuller takes an ecological approach to studying charter schools. He also provides a quick historical overview of the charter school movement in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 discusses the political context of charter schools. He makes it very clear that the intent of the book is to contribute to the research base on the charter school movement.

The methods in the text are qualitative methods. He writes,"We do not offer easy answers. Instead, we aim to be informative and proactive, placing the charter movement in historical and political perspective" (p. 11). Fuller's introductory chapters also provide a cautionary framework for reading the case studies that follow. The case studies, some co-authored, tell the stories of six very diverse schools. This diversity is geographic, ethnic, socio-economic and philosophical. In Chapter 8, Fuller says, " . . . we must do a better job of representing more than one canvas . . ." (p. 231). This book does just that. The cases are interesting and compelling, but it is Fuller's discussion of context and cautions that make this book an important contribution to our understanding of the charter school movement. If I were required to describe this book only with adjectives, I would say it is balanced, thoughtful, and thought provoking.

Inside Charter Schools.... is an important read for educators, families, and politicians. The only caution that I would recommend to readers is the same caution that Fuller asserts: The reader needs to feel compelled to keep the ecological and political context in mind as (s)he reads the captivating stories of the charter schools. It would be easy to read these stories and forget Fuller's caution. If the reader fails to keep the context in mind, the balance this book provides could be lost, and its balance is the powerful feature of this interesting and worthwhile book.

Sandy Alber
Associate Professor of Education
Oakland University

Kopp, Wendy (2001). One Day All Children ... The Unlikely Triumph of Teach for America and What I Learned Along the Way. New York: Public Affairs. 187 pp. ISBN 1891620924.

On the page where a dedication would normally appear, Wendy Kopp has written, "One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education." This book is part memoir, part vision statement in which the author, a Princeton University graduate, recalls her journey from writing her senior thesis on education reform to becoming a successful entrepreneur as the founder of Teach for America, a precursor to Americorps. Her idea, which came into being in 1989 with limited corporate and foundation support-in-kind donations of office space and a meager seed-money grant of $26,000-was the first national teacher corps of highly competitive recent college graduates who gave two years to teaching in low-income communities.

This book should be read by anyone interested in starting a non-profit organization. One Day All Children... more fully describes the hardships of entrepreneurial start-ups than the content of educational innovation. In Chapter 1, we meet Wendy and become familiar with her mission of creating an alternative career for herself and her socially responsible peers in a business-do minated environment. In Chapter 2, Wendy describes the initially arduous process of recruitment, fundraising, and pre-service training. Chapter 3 reads like a suspense novel filled with prologue, high drama, denouement, and an eventual climax-the first summer training institute of sought-after graduates from the country's top schools: historically black colleges, state schools, and private universities. Chapters 4 and 5 chronicle the struggles and growing pains of the organization, while chapter 6 describes a necessary, but painful, downsizing. Chapters 7 and 8 comprise a case study in management, replete with negative publicity, impending financial crises, and inspiring organizational decisions. By Chapter 9, Wendy takes stock at the Tenth Anniversary Alumni Summit in May 2000 and describes the immediate and long-term impact of the Teach for America project on schools, teachers, and children from varied communities across the country. Chapters 10 and 11 reiterate the vision of educational opportunity for all through stories about specific teachers' drives to ensure that their students are academically competitive.

In the end, says Wendy, "It's not magic." In fact, the book provides the reader with very little guidance on strategies that work to ensure either teacher success or student achievement. Wendy Kopp's contribution to teacher recruitment is perhaps greater than her impact on teacher education methodology. I don't believe that Wendy would take issue with this conclusion. Her goal in creating Teach for America was to improve children's access to excellent teachers. It is fitting, therefore, that she concludes her personal narrative with an invitation to all recent college graduates reading the book to call her by visiting www.teachforamerica.org or contacting her directly at 212-279-2080 or wendyk@teachforamerica.org.

Libby Balter Blume
Associate Professor of Psychology
University of Detroit Mercy