No Title Left Behind

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As an education editor, I receive in the mail every year dozens of books about schools and children and teaching, mostly from publishers hoping to gain publicity for the authors.

I get children’s books; books on how to choose a college or how to ace the SAT; theoretical works on teaching math or science; books about dedicated teachers; books that “celebrate the learning process”; and lots and lots of books by people who think they’ve figured out the problems of America’s public schools and know how to solve them.

The titles and topics are all over the map. At least they used to be.

The school reform legislation signed by President Bush in January 2002 has struck a chord with educators and writers from across the political spectrum.

A few months ago, I opened an envelope from Yale University Press to find an advance copy of Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World, by James P. Comer, M.D. Dr. Comer is a widely respected school reformer, and unlike many of the books that show up in my mailbox, his is worth more than a cursory glance. So I reached over and set it on a short stack on my desk, noticing as I did that it had landed right on top of Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Then a few days ago came a hardcover copy of Leaving No Child Left Behind? Options for Kids in Failing Schools.

Clearly, there’s something going on here. A quick search on confirmed the trend: No Child Left Behind?: The Politics and Practice of School Accountability; Achievement Now! How to Assure No Child Is Left Behind; Working Smarter to Leave No Child Behind: Practical Insights for School Leaders; and, my favorite, Leave No Angry Child Behind: The ABC’s of Anger Management for Grades K-12.

Unlike the all-but-forgotten Goals 2000: Educate America Act of a decade or so ago, the school reform legislation signed by President Bush in January 2002 has struck a chord with educators and writers from across the political spectrum. And, judging by some of the titles, with clever publishers who see marketing potential in linking the buzz about the No Child Left Behind Act with books that aren’t really about the law.

Which got me thinking that if the trend continues, we might soon see some education classics reissued: Why Johnny Got Left Behind (And What You Can Do About It), by Rudolf Flesch; A Nation at Risk of Being Left Behind, by the National Commission on Excellence in Education; McGuffey’s No Child Left Behind Reader, by William Holmes McGuffey; Low-Ranked Colleges Left Behind, by the editors of U.S. News & World Report; Fun With No Child Left Behind, by the Scott, Foresman Co.; and No Baby Left Behind, by Dr. Spock.

Then again, maybe not.

For my money, if you’re looking for something to read about schools and learning this fall, skip the gimmicky titles and pick up a copy of The Red Pencil, by Theodore R. Sizer: simple title; clear ideas; nice writing.

Vol. 24, Issue 11, Page 35

Published in Print: November 10, 2004, as No Title Left Behind
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