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If the decades-old debate on how to reform American education is ever to produce results, it must be grounded in economic reality, 12 leading economists contend in Making Schools Work: Improving Performance and Controlling Costs. That reality, they insist, means schools must start to observe basic economic tenets commonly followed in the private sector. Led by Eric Hanushek, the economists, who collectively make up the independent five-year-old Panel on the Economics of Education Reform, urge educators to see that their efforts conform to three broad guidelines: efficient use of resources; performance incentives; continuous learning and adaptation. They conclude that schools do not necessarily need more money, but can be improved by spending existing monies more pragmatically. They recommend administrators support only those reforms that improve student performance and jettison those that have no measurable impact. (The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.; $34.95 cloth; $14.95 paper) Washington; $34.95 cloth; $14.95 paper)

Although the Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Christian fundamentalists are managing in some instances to infiltrate public schools in the guise of a pseudo-science, warns Lee Tiffin, a retired pastor. Thwarted in efforts to teach religion directly, they pursue an alternative route to proselytization by inserting creationism into the science curriculum. In Creationism's Upside-Down Pyramid: How Science Refutes Fundamentalism, Mr. Tiffin, who holds advanced degrees in both science and divinity, exposes the flaws in creationists' scientific methodology and the political tactics they use to penetrate schools. Their Bible-based rhetoric, he argues, stifles critical thinking, ignores proven scientific facts, and contributes to the growing crisis of science illiteracy. (Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y.; $29.95 cloth)

Attacked from both the left and the right, today's twentysomething generation suffers labels such as lazy, unthinking, apathetic, and selfish. Educators and commentators that range from E.D. Hirsch Jr. and the late Allan Bloom to "Doonesbury" cartoon creator Gary Trudeau, have created this inaccurate, undeserved picture of Generation X, argues the journalist Paul Rogat Loeb in Generation at the Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American Campus. After listening to countless college students over a seven-year period, Mr. Loeb has concluded that the Generation X reputation does not jibe with reality. The reasons for its cynical pragamatism, he observes, are far more complex than most commentators would allow. This generation, he says, is marked by having grown up in a "financial wonderland," where fleeting happiness relied on credit, and where social institutions crumbled. Confronted with massive education loans, aids, escalating crime, and other social crises not of their making, these young adults have retreated politically and socially as a way to survive, Mr. Loeb says. Nevertheless, he points out, many young adults do commit to specific issues, though they are very careful about how they invest their time, money, and energy. To commentators, educators, and other potential critics, Mr. Loeb has this message: Pay attention to these individuals because they will be our leaders in 25 years. (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, N.J.; $24.95 cloth)

Although higher education is more accessible to different segments of the population than it used to be, many minority students do not feel fully accepted by their colleges or universities. This disconnection, Ruth Sidel suggests, comes from a persistent discrimination by other students, faculty, and staff members toward them. Having interviewed 100 college students on 17 campuses, Ms. Sidel, a professor of sociology at Hunter College in New York City, concludes in Battling Bias: The Struggle for Identity and Community on College Campuses that an insidious battle is being waged in the nation's institutions of higher learning. Citing dozens of disturbing incidents of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual harassment, she says she fears that administrators' frequently cowardly response to such incidents and the hostile learning environment they create will adversely affect everyone in the community. Ms. Sidel also questions what this trend portends for society as a whole. (Viking, New York; $22.95 cloth)

"A growing body of research clearly demonstrates that sexual identities are not biological imperatives but social artifacts," suggests Janice M. Irvine in a new collection of essays on adolescent sexuality. In Sexual Cultures and the Construction of Adolescent Identities, she and 11 other scholars consider the complete range of social and cultural factors that shape an individual's sexuality and sexual identity during adolescence. These essays focus on such influences as ethnic background, class, gender, disabilities, families, and homosexuality. They also consider the changing role of sex education in an increasingly more diverse student population. By delving into these delicate issues and illuminating research, the writers say they hope to offer educators and policymakers enough facts and data to plan appropriate and sensitive curricula. (Temple University Press, Philadelphia; $44.95 cloth; $19.95 paper)

Parents need to become educated, sophisticated consumers of television, not passive recipients of the "plug-in drug," asserts Milton Chen in The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV. Mr. Chen is the director of the Center for Education and Lifelong Learning of San Francisco's KQED-TV, which is the provider of the nation's largest instructional-television service. In the book, he says he fears that parents use television in a very limited way instead of reaping its full potential as an educational tool. A parent himself, Mr. Chen designed this book with busy parents in mind, consolidating research data and practical strategies into easily digestible chapters and charts. He draws on nearly 20 years' experience working with the Children's Television Workshop to broach such questions as: What impact will technology have on children? Does TV inhibit children's reading-skills development? Is television violence giving children a dangerous message? Parents, he says, need to see themselves as educators and their television as a tool they can control for their own and their children's educational development. (KQED Books, San Francisco; $8.95 paper)

Raising girls to become self-confident, healthy women requires parenting techniques that respect girls' unique psychological and emotional makeup, propose Jeanne and Don Elium in Raising a Daughter: Parents and the Awakening of a Healthy Woman. The couple, who have a daughter and a son, describe the different forces influencing girls' development: biological, cultural, social, and psychological. Unlike boys, girls determine their actions and self-definitions based on their relationships with others. Parents, the authors insist, must treat their daughters differently than their sons. Drawing on a broad body of research, literature, and cultural studies, they illustrate specific ways parents can nurture, rather than mold, their daughters into healthy adult women. They also offer numerous suggestions to help parents guide their daughters on their journey from birth to adulthood. (Celestial Arts, Berkeley, Calif.; $11.95 paper)

--Megan Drennan

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