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Review: Breaking Free

In his book, Renewal: Remaking America’s Schools for the Twenty-First Century, Harold Kwalwasser, former general counsel of the L.A. Unified School District, offers a comprehensive examination of what it takes to move America’s school systems into the 21st century. He urges a shift away from remnants of the Industrial era (seniority, tenure, single salary schedule) to more flexible environments. His call for “ending a system designed to lose track of kids” resonates with efforts in the reform movement to put children first and do what it takes to put quality in the classroom. Kwalwasser uses examples from traditional public schools, charters, parochial and private schools he visited to explain his recommendations for building an effective and efficient school. Renewal is structured to focus on school leaders (superintendents, principals), teachers, and customers (student and parent). His Six Beliefs, along with the Eight Practices that stem from them, sound like the how-to plan for some of the nation’s most successful charter schools, including KIPP, Success Academy, Harlem Children’s Zone. That’s not surprising since Kwalwasser argues that charters are a “powerful push toward decentralization” that will drive not only reform and best practices, but put us on a new road to education in the future. We think so, too.

We only question his title, Renewal. Although Kwalwasser means renewing our pledge to teach every child, it’s hard not to think of renewal as a way, for example, to update a driver’s license. American education requires much more than an update to get on the right path and Kwalwasser’s recommendations suggest more than a renewal of old-time education. Breaking free of Industrial era thinking, based on the factory model of mass production that led to teacher contracts being more industrial than professional and children being treated more like widgets than individual learners, better describes Kwalwasser’s philosophy. All schools – traditional public schools, charters, private, parochial, homeschool, online academies – need to renew their pledge to bring high quality to their teaching and to break free from the chains of the past to teach and prepare the children of today for the work world of tomorrow.

–Barbara Pape, Newswire Editor

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