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Dale Patrick Dempsey

Here is a fact to ponder: Americans spend $430 billion a year—from local, state and federal sources—on K-12 public education. That figure exceeds the budget of the Department of Defense.

At the same time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, shows U.S. student achievement trailing much of the industrialized world, by a lot. The U.S. ranked 24th in math and 15th in reading out of 29 industrial nations in a 2003 survey conducted by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Our graduation rate, sadly, is lower than nearly all of the other 29 nations surveyed. Small wonder that a growing chorus of business leaders, political leaders, and even educators are asking if we are getting our money’s worth from public education. What will it take to reform a moribund educational system for the 21st century?

Two fairly recent developments, the introduction of choice and competition into public education, and holding schools accountable for meeting state standards, offer our best hope for improvement. Harvard’s Paul Peterson, one of education’s premier educational thinkers, examines both developments in this unflinching collection of essays. Most topics, from charter schools to vouchers to teacher unions, are arranged with one essay making the case for change, and a second pointing out its possible pitfalls.

The result of this pro-con approach is an unvarnished picture of today’s education landscape. The essays were initially published in Education Next: A Journal of Opinion and

Research, and the collection brings together some of the best minds in American education. John Chubb, senior vice president of Edison Schools, Inc., writes about unleashing the power of private industry in education, while Bruno Manno of the Annie E. Casey Foundation takes on charter school politics, to name just two issues covered.

Choice, competition, and accountability all have their strengths and limitations, but they are the best hope for success in the future. To order the book: www.rowmanlittlefield.com/catalog

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