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Schoolhouse Shams

Myths and Misinformation in School Reform

Peter Downs

Written by a parent and school board member, who first embraced many of the ideas of the modern school reform movement, Schoolhouse Shams lays bare much of the mythology and misinformation that underpin many of the failed school reform policies of the last decade. Many of the top strategies of the highly publicized school reform movement already have been tried out in St. Louis with disastrous results. Along with demonstrating the failure of school reform prescriptions to improve education, the experience of St. Louis demonstrates that the ideological premise of the reform movement, that a focus on providing opportunities for private profit-taking will necessarily improve schools, is both wrong and conflicts with the ideals of democracy, accountability, and justice. « less more »
R&L Education
Pages: 230Size: 6 3/8 x 9 3/8
978-1-61048-833-4 • Hardback • December 2012 • $69.00 • (£47.95)
978-1-61048-834-1 • Paperback • December 2012 • $34.00 • (£23.95)
978-1-61048-835-8 • eBook • December 2012 • $32.00 • (£22.95)
Peter Downs is a former member and president of the St. Louis Board of Education. He is a business writer and editor of a trade magazine. His children study in public schools.
In Schoolhouse Shams: Myths and Misinformation in School Reform, author Peter Downs, a business writer and former school board president in St. Louis, Mo., takes aim at what he calls “simplistic, easy-to-implement solutions” to complex education problems. Downs vigorously tackles some of the most prevalent education myths, among them the notions that schools are not as good as they used to be due to desegregation; large-scale assessments are precise and standardized; public schools are wasteful and outsourcing will save money; and privatization and parental choice make schools better and cheaper. The book’s claims are grounded in his experiences with the St. Louis Public Schools, and he doesn’t shy away from pointing fingers. In a narrative that reads like an exposé, Downs identifies the powerful organizations, companies and individuals that enrich themselves by selling false stories to the public, turning education from a public good to a private product.
School Administrator

Schoolhouse Shams by Peter Downs continues the exposure of corporate-led school reform by dissecting and systematically demolishing the top ten arguments — or shams — that these 'reformers' use to make their case, including the efficacy of high stakes testing, the focus on teaching reading skills, and the wastefulness of public versus privatized services. What's unique about Down's study is not so much the conclusions themselves, cogent as they are, but the way he gets there. . . .Particularly notable in this regard is Down's analysis of privatization of public services — both inside and outside of public education — from municipal trash pickup, to school building and grounds maintenance and food services, to publicly funded charter schools. . . .Downs also does a good job of demonstrating how, despite reformers' claims to the contrary, poor education could not have accounted for the growing white-Black income gap between 1970-2000, given that African Americans made substantial progress in closing the educational attainment gap over the same period.
Against the Current

Downs's should serve as a warning to all elected school board members that political considerations and privatization efforts are a threat to democratically elected boards of education. What happened in St. Louis could easily happen in any community.
William Purdy, sixteen year elected member and former president St. Louis Board of Education

Peter Downs has written a provocative, informative and timely book about school reform in St. Louis. Its lessons apply to many cities undergoing similar reforms today.
Diane Ravitch, Research Professor in Education at New York University and Brown Chair in Education Policy at Brookings Institution, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Written from the unique perspective of a citizen, elected school board member and parent who has been deeply involved in the struggle for educational reform, Schoolhouse Shams offers a vantage point that has often been silenced in the scholarship on educational reform. Peter Downs takes the reader into the heart of the school reform debate – the people, the policies, the decisions – to understand the complexities and contradictions of what is really at stake in the school reform debate. Drawing on a decade of evidence, Schoolhouse Shams provides a serious warning about the costs of neoliberal educational reforms, a critique important for urban school districts around the nation. Downs connects local, state and national educational policy in a readable and accessible manner, making the book appealing to critically mind educators, scholars in educational policy and reform, school board members, parents and others seeking to understand the complexity of educational reform.
Rebecca Rogers, Ph.D, associate professor of Literacy and Discourse Studies, University of Missouri St. Louis