Book Review                                      Online Exclusive


Customized Schooling 

Beyond Whole-School Reform 

edited by Frederick M. Hess and Bruno V. Manno, Harvard Education Press, 2011, 236 pp. with index, $29.95 softcover


This is the third volume from Harvard Education Press to focus on education reform. While previous volumes emphasized the value of new providers in education and suggested what it would take for them to succeed, Customized Schooling: Beyond Whole-School Reform turns the lens onto the beneficiaries of reform efforts.

The book specifically builds on two distinct bodies of work — first, “to understand the role and preconditions for educational entrepreneurship,” and second, to examine “the transformative potential of educational technology.” It draws on papers first presented at a December 2009 conference at the American Enterprise Institute by a select group of practitioners, researchers, entrepreneurs and policy analysts.

Customized Schooling surveys the current landscape of entrepreneurial activity in education by addressing persistent concerns that arise. Contributors provide a compendium of cutting-edge innovations that they believe will enable today’s schools to transition into the 21st century.

Essay contributors consistently ask (and more importantly answer pragmatically) what it will take to ensure such a shift takes place.

Their suggestions include parental choice among and between schools; student access to global virtual schools embodying best practices from around the world; a strong focus on high school graduation; precise market segmentation for low-income students; and increased implementation of online courses based on interactive technology.

Rick Hess and Bruno Manno, the book’s editors, press for “substantial rethinking of the way we approach K-12 schools, such as freeing funding flows engaging in aggressive market research of consumer demand, rethinking the parameters of the classroom and removing barriers to entry.”

The fundamental challenge to educators remains, regardless of whether the innovative examples cited by the contributors become the norm. While the authors give rise to fresh hope that such a transition has begun, the reality is that the status quo remains pervasive in education.

Reviewed by Valerie A. Storey, director of graduate programs in educational leadership, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.


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