Book Reviews

How Schools Work

Arne Duncan - 2018

The former Secretary of Education in the Obama administration provides a blistering analysis of public education. He emphasizes that the situation is particularly acute for the poor in the inner cities. The first chapter is titled “Lies, Lies Everywhere” which relates first to telling kids that they are doing well when in fact they are failing.  He tells a story of starting to help an inner-city high schooler get ready to take the ACT when he realized that the young man was actually reading on a second-grade level. 

Duncan takes on the teacher’s unions for their resistance to change, opposition to merit pay and hostility to charter schools. He takes on colleges of education as “an industry of mediocrity. Duncan is a reformer but was unable to institute much positive change when in the national driver’s seat. A parent from a failing school being closed accused him of being a racist to which he replied: “If I were a racist I would leave this school exactly as it is.”

The Secretary certainly knows how schools work and understands the problems. He is however short on solutions to make real change.

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