In this debut book on education policy and its implementation, Russell draws on his years teaching high school math, surveys of his students and colleagues, and news coverage of trends in education to indict many of the policies and assumptions that govern today’s schools. He lays out what he sees as the most pressing challenges—lack of parental support, an incentive structure that rewards minimal student effort, the pressure of bureaucratic mandates, etc. The book explores each challenge in detail and concludes with Russell’s cost-benefit analysis of some of the most promising solutions. Russell makes no claim to being a disinterested observer, and both his enthusiasm for working with his students and his frustration with the limitations of the public school system are evident as the driving forces of the book. At times, that authorial passion overwhelms the narrative, as frequent underlining, typeface changes and large blocks of italic text provide so much emphasis as to be distracting. Although Russell draws heavily on the results of a survey he conducted of student and teacher opinions on the state of public education, he also has a tendency to introduce statistics drawn from his own assumptions. “[A]necdotal, non-scientific personal opinion follows!” and variations on the phrase appear multiple times throughout the text, introducing claims, for instance, that no more than a quarter of students benefit from homework, that a significant portion of teachers demonstrate a dislike for the students they teach, and that the majority of administrative appointments are driven by cronyism rather than merit. The book’s arguments are more effectively delivered when, instead of drawing from imagined percentages, Russell uses his classroom experience and reasonable logic to explain why students benefit from being allowed to fail, or how problematic curriculum requirements demand that teachers fit 115 minutes of instruction into a 70-minute class.
A teacher’s prescription for improving the education system, with reasonable arguments at times overwhelmed by passion.