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A Teacher's Take on Brill's 'Class Warfare'

In the Washington Post, English Teacher Patrick Welsh reviews Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, Steven Brill's much talked about chronicle of the current education reform movement. Welsh says the book is fascinating for the "privileged glimpses" it provides into key developments and strategy sessions, but thinks that Brill's perspective is based on a faulty premise:

Like many of the reformers he admires, Brill operates under the misconception that the U.S. education system is thoroughly rotten and that lousy teachers are the principal contributors to its decay. "American public education [is] broken," Brill writes, and has "collapsed to a point where it [is] an obstacle to the American dream rather than an enabler." But many of my students would beg to differ -- notable among them the immigrants I have taught who entered the Alexandria public school system from Sudan, Afghanistan, Korea and El Salvador speaking little or no English and who went on to places like the University of Virginia, Harvard and William and Mary.

Welsh also criticizes Brill for subscribing to the "Rhee-Obama-Gates theory" that ineffective teachers are the central cause of school's problems:

Teachers would love to have the power to lift children born to 16-year-old, semi-literate girls mired in intergenerational poverty to the same academic level as that of children born into stable homes of parents who prize education. But both test results and common sense show that, with few exceptions, things don't work that way.

Finally, while praising Brill's political-reporting skills, he questions whether the author has had enough personal experience in urban public schools to truly understand the "profound problems" they face and the work that teachers do on a day-to-day basis.

In the end, he recommends Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System as a more authentic account of recent trends in education reform.

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