Williams, an education reporter for the New York Daily News, has written an effective, if old-fashioned, exposé on the failings of public school systems nationwide. His targets, while familiar, still deserve to be targets. Among his villains are central bureaucracies that virtually compel New York City teachers to take time off to process paperwork; federal politicians who’ve created such boondoggles as the E-rate program, which has enriched corporations while proving to be generally ineffective; and teachers’ unions, which in San Diego protested reform-minded Jewish superintendent Alan Bersin with signs comparing him to Hitler.
All of these villains, the reader will notice, are institutional entities rather than individuals, which is exactly Williams’ point. The system itself, as he sees it, is the enemy, and it’s so amorphous and unaccountable that no one really knows how to take it on.
For this reason, Williams’ proposed solution to the problem—that activist parents fight the system and demand change—seems a stretch. While he cites some putative successes, like a school choice program in Milwaukee that was largely driven by angry inner city parents, such examples are few and far between. Some parents, it’s true, know how to play the system, but they are generally savvy middle-class individuals dealing with smaller districts. Fighting the power is surely a much tougher proposition for disenfranchised parents in big cities who are struggling just to make ends meet.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as Cheating Our Kids