Connor Boyack and Corey DeAngelis’ new book, “Mediocrity: 40 Ways Government Schools Are Failing Today’s Students,” provides a concise explanation for why Americans have begun abandoning the woefully inept public school system.
Forty chapters rife with examples of failure paint the American public school system as a catalyst for the exodus to alternative options. Case after case of sexual abuse, academic inaction, hemorrhaging budgets, political strong-arming, and a lack of vision showcase a public education environment that is anything but beneficial for the students of the best nation on Earth.
As a former teacher, administrator, and science academic, I’m often disappointed by the lack of ability in modern education writing to build qualitative assertions for future policy by citing and applying quantitative data. “Mediocrity” is a pleasant surprise—each of the 40 facets of U.S. public education’s failure is built upon a foundation of test scores and performance tracking, legal cases and precedents, broad-coverage surveys, and statements from professionals (of varying backgrounds and political opinions) in education, psychology, and policy.
It would have been easy to write a book attempting to start a fire built only on the emotional response to the education system’s failure regarding COVID-19 and to simply point to the tweets and public statements from teachers unions in which parental rights advocates were demeaned as “racist” and “domestic terrorists.”
More to the point, DeAngelis could have used this book to address the quiver of arrows shot his way from the aggressive and often petty anti-school choice movement.
Not one such statement finds its way into this book. Instead, Boyack and DeAngelis used these pages to tell the stories of those who were distressed at the lack of quality in our nation’s schools. Every chapter contains anecdotes to add personal perspective to the data.
Would I recommend this book as an afternoon of easy reading? Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing, though—easy-reading books masquerading as education theory have done their fair share of damage in getting us into this public education nightmare in the first place. What “Mediocrity” is, however, is an invaluable reference for any education advocate, parent, school board member, or author who devotes his or her time to untangling the generational mess of our failing school systems.
“Mediocrity” is starkly different from one of the thousands of education theory or statistics books more fit to stabilize a wobbly desk than to be read or taken seriously. Boyack and DeAngelis focus on the needs of the students and the parents. Rarely, if ever, are the opinions of the authors expressed via “I believe … ” or “I think … ” statements. It cannot be overstated how rare this is in a book about education.
Let’s examine how a modern education theorist describes “diverse needs,” such as in Elena Aguilar’s “Coaching for Equity,” and juxtapose it with a similar passage from “Mediocrity.”
Every conversation I have in and about schools is a conversation about equity—regardless of the demographics of the school. Every time I set foot in a school or speak to an administrator or a coach or a teacher, everything I see and hear is filtered through an equity lens … . I process what I see through my understandings of sexism, classism, institutional racism, and other forms of bigotry and discrimination.— “Coaching for Equity,” Page 10
Take note of the following difference in focus with Boyack and DeAngelis. The self-obsession is gone, replaced with concern for students and their families:
The government school system is a one-size-fits-all substandard system that will never be able to meet the diverse needs of individual families and their children. Parents may have different ideas about how to raise and educate their children, and the government school system does not provide the flexibility needed to accommodate these differing views. Those wanting something different for their children are compelled to look elsewhere.— “Mediocrity,” Page 183
This clearly written, well-organized, and succinct material provided will rest on the bookshelf closest to my desk within arm’s reach until I no longer need to illustrate the desperate need our children face to escape such mediocrity.
Until then, it’s essential that resources such as Boyack and DeAngelis’ book continue to point out the inherent and continuing flaws in the American education system:
Like with corrupt banks mismanaging their resources, government schools are not, in fact, too big to fail. Their status quo should not be preserved, nor their mediocrity subsidized by taxpayers. They should be allowed to face market pressures that will reform them for the better, reallocate capital towards its best uses, and find efficiencies that actually help each individual child instead of striving so hard to shore up a failing system.— “Mediocrity,” Page 219
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