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Books: In Review

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The premise of Rethinking School Finance is that the financial issues raised by today's broad-scale education-reform strategies represent a school-finance agenda that is "dramatically different from the traditional concern with fiscal disparities across school districts within states.'' The book, edited by Allan R. Odden, the University of Southern California school-finance scholar, offers what it calls "a first analytical discussion'' of these emerging issues.

The authors use case studies of schools involved in such structural reforms as site-based management and choice to buttress their policy recommendations for achieving greater efficiency with limited school funding. Some of the proposals are unorthodox. The former school-board president and University of California scholar James W. Guthrie, for example, calls for instituting a global "Dow Jones Index'' of school financial performance-indicators that could be used as a measure of return on investment relative to economic competitors.

A chapter by Mr. Odden and the University of Arizona researcher Sharon Conley addresses the issue of whether teacher pay can be linked to education productivity. They propose offering an entire new structure for teacher compensation.

Underlying all the chapters' advice is a common theme: Reforms will not take root unless schools treat finance with the same discipline and creative problem-solving private business brings to the task.

Looking ahead, Mr. Odden predicts that "the links between school finance and education programs will be strengthened . . . resulting in improved student achievement and increased education productivity--the goals of current policy interest in education.''

Rethinking School Finance: An Agenda for the 1990's, ed. by Allan R. Odden. Jossey-Bass Inc., 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94104; 358 pp., cloth, $28.95.

If you thought terms like "anomie,'' "paradox,'' and "hegemony'' were used only at universities, tune in to a television news program during this election year. When the networks turn to the "experts,'' audiences may occasionally need some verbal illumination.

To help lead us out of Plato's cave, the author and educator Herbert Kohl has compiled a comprehensive guide to "the language of ideas.'' From Archetype to Zeitgeist describes in lay terms such abstract concepts as epiphenomenalism (something is epiphenomenal if it is incidental to the real workings of an event or phenomenon), dialectics, and the currently trendy post-modernism.

Grouped by topics such as arts, philosophy, sociology, political science, logic, and religion, each word includes a concise definition, along with pronunciation guide, and word derivation for the etymologically challenged.

From Archetype to Zeitgeist: Powerful Ideas for Powerful Thinkers, by Herbert Kohl. Little, Brown & Company, 34 Beacon St., Boston, Mass. 02108; 264 pp., $19.45 paper.

In My Posse Don't Do Homework, a 5-foot-tall female ex-Marine digs into the trenches of a racially mixed California high school. LouAnne Johnson's account of her first four years of teaching English at Parkmont High School highlights her unorthodox teaching methods, which often draw upon her military experience--whether facing down hostile students or instilling a sense of respect and camaraderie in a class.

While the book has insights to offer on the learning habits and social dynamics of teenagers, Ms. Johnson's story line follows the school careers and private lives of a handful of students, most of them "problem'' students she refuses to write off. In one case, she tells of making a deal with Raul, a goof-off and gang member, promising to loan him money for a coat as long as he graduates.

Three years later, she meets Raul as he is trying out for the football team. He complains, "You know you're wrecking my posse, Miss J. . . . We used to be ruthless. Then we stopped cutting classes, then we started doing our own homework instead of copying it off the geniuses.''

Ms. Johnson, whose book has been compared to Up the Down Staircase, dedicates the work "to all the kids who hate school.''

My Posse Don't Do Homework, by LouAnne Johnson. St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010; 226 pp., $19.95 cloth.

Compiled by Sally Gifford

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