Published Online: November 11, 2005
Published in Print: November 1, 2005, as Education Myths
Book Review

Education Myths

by

What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools—and Why It Isn’t So

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by Jay P. Greene (Rowman & Littlefield, 265 pages, $24.95)

“Myths aren’t lies” is how Greene begins this broadside against 18 long-held beliefs about schooling. Instead, the education researcher argues, they usually have an air of plausibility, some evidence to back them up, and, most important, vested interests who depend on them.

With that in mind, he tackles assumptions ranging from finances (“schools perform poorly because they need more money”) to accountability (“the results of high-stakes tests are not credible”) to vouchers (“school choice harms public schools”). Most evidence supporting such assertions is superficial, Greene argues, but he takes his own anecdotal swipes against such liberal straw men as the New York Times, Hillary Clinton, and Jonathan Kozol’s “best-selling books portraying urban schools as desperately underfunded.”

Some of Greene’s arguments are far from novel—as part of a broader discussion on teacher pay, for instance, he points out that they get summers off. But he makes a strong case for challenging assumptions in an era of limited resources and identifies what he calls a “meta-myth,” namely, an overarching, deep-rooted resistance to attaching incentives of any kind to education. This emotional reaction, Greene argues, has been exploited by such vested interests as teachers’ unions and policymakers in protesting merit-based pay, accountability measures, and private school vouchers.

Vouchers are a central focus of the book’s strongest section, in which detailed case studies and research bolster Greene’s arguments for school choice. (Not coincidentally, his employer, the Manhattan Institute, is a strong proponent of the cause.) Unfortunately, Greene’s overall approach is more likely to provide ammunition to his supporters than some mythical consensus on reform.

—Mark Toner

Vol. 17, Issue 3, Page 45

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