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The Same Thing Over and OverThe Same Thing Over and Over

How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday's Ideas

Frederick M. Hess

Narrated by Jeff Riggenbach

Available from Audible

Book published by Harvard University Press

In this genial and challenging overview of endless debates over school reform, Rick Hess shows that even bitter opponents in debates about how to improve schools agree on much more than they realize—and that much of it must change radically. Cutting through the tangled thickets of right- and left-wing dogma, he clears the ground for transformation of the American school system.

Whatever they think of school vouchers or charter schools, teacher merit pay or bilingual education, most educators and advocates take many other things for granted. The one-teacher–one-classroom model. The professional full-time teacher. Students grouped in age-defined grades. The nine-month calendar. Top-down local district control. All were innovative and exciting—in the nineteenth century. As Hess shows, the system hasn’t changed since most Americans lived on farms and in villages, since school taught you to read, write, and do arithmetic, and since only an elite went to high school, let alone college.

Arguing that a fundamentally nineteenth century system can’t be right for a twenty-first century world, Hess suggests that uniformity gets in the way of quality, and urges us to create a much wider variety of schools, to meet a greater range of needs for different kinds of talents, needed by a vastly more complex and demanding society.

Frederick M. Hess is Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and executive editor of Education Next.


“In this wide-ranging discussion, Hess, an education analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that education reform must be about finding a new path, not just arguing about today’s educational arrangements. He chides educators for failing to look outside the sector for fresh ideas and approaches. Agree or disagree with his remedies, he’s spot on about how frustratingly insular education remains in such a rapidly changing world. ”

—Andrew J. Rotherham,

“Half the time I’m agreeing with every word Rick Hess says, and wishing I had said it myself. The other half the time I’m provoked, stimulated, and arguing with him. He’s got it both all right and all wrong. Read him, argue with him, take him very seriously. ”

—Deborah Meier, author of In Schools We Trust

“As close as the feverishly productive Hess is ever likely to get to a genuine magnum opus. No one will be shocked that a scholar at [the American Enterprise Institute] has a lot to say that will infuriate liberal defenders of the educational status quo. The book’s real surprise is that he is perfectly willing to take on the sacred doctrines of conservative education reformers, arguing that some of them may actually be hampering the process of educational innovation… Hess is a refreshing change from many other analysts who hold forth on the subject of education. He is unafraid to take on flaws even in policies he largely supports… The most critical lesson from the book is Hess’s powerful theory about what makes schools succeed or fail. That theory, simply put, is that the basic components of schoolingparents, children, school leaders, and teachersare irreducibly diverse… Rather than aggressively imposing a single set of best practices on all schools, then, Hess argues for narrowing the scope of choices that are made by majorities, and increasing those made by smaller, self-chosen groups of common sentiment. ”

—Steven M. Teles, Washington Monthly

“Hess takes on virtually every convention of K–12 schooling, including grouping students in age-defined classrooms taught by teachers prepared in traditional schools of education and remunerated in highly standardized ways over long-term careers. He concludes that the current system of K–12 education is wholly inappropriate for the 21st century and argues that the system can probably not be improved to any significant degree by contemporary reforms such as experiments in merit pay, school-based decision-making, and/or mayoral control. Hess is no centrist and has little interest in compromise. Rather, he argues for a transformational reform in which new models replace, not modify, K–12 practices. He supports extended school days only if what occurs in schools radically changes from present practices. He makes a bold but controversial argument that educators need to be honest about the distribution of academic ability. Not all students, he argues, can achieve all subjects at high levels. This is a very-well-done book with rich descriptions of contemporary efforts at school reform and some initial suggestions about the paths toward transformative change. ”

—S.H. Miner, Choice

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University Press Audiobooks