Peter Greene read and enjoyed Andrea Gabor’s book “After the Education Wars.”

Andrea Gabor is a business journalist by trade, and it’s our great good fortune that she followed the thread of business-style reform into the world of education. Her recent book, After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, is an invaluable addition to the literature of ed reform– not the faux reform that has been foisted on us for the past decades, but actual improvement of schools and education. With a journalist’s keen eye for detail and gift for story-telling, Gabor delivers compact, fair and gripping tales of education reform in four cities, showing both what worked and what didn’t. The book combines thorough research with sharp insight and– well, there are plenty of books about ed reform that are “interesting if you’re into that sort of thing.” Gabor’s book is just plain interesting and hugely readable. If you’re afraid this review is too long to read, let me cut to the chase– read this book.

Gabor is a fan of W. Edwards Deming, the American engineer who helped Japan create their post-war industrial boom but who was long ignored in this country. The story she finds in business-driven ed reform is the story of businessmen who keep learning and applying the wrong lessons, and whose distrust of educators combine with their arrogance about their own expertise result in repeated versions of the same mistakes. They keep returning to a topdown, hierarchal, siloed organization driven with carrot-and-stick incentives “about as successful,” says Gabor, “as a Ford Pinto or a Deep Water Horizon drilling operation.” But the debates about industrial management in this country were largely won by the Taylorites, who put their faith in sort-of-scientific data and a view of workers as rats in a Skinner box. The Deming systems approach, valuing an atmosphere of trust and empowerment.

This may all seem very esoteric, but it shakes out in some important ways. To oversimplify– a Taylorite approach says that individuals mess up the system, and you make the system better by rooting out the “bad” individuals, while a Deming approach says that problem individuals are signs of flaws in your system. You can see the Taylorite approach manifest in the long-standing reformer emphasis on finding bad teachers and firing them as a ay to fix schools. My favorite Deming observation is about deadwood in an organization. Deming asked if it was dead when you hired it or did you hire a live tree and then kill it? Either way, it’s your system (and management) are to blame.

Gabor uses five big chapters to tell the stories of four big systems; each story is fascinating and instructive in its own way.

Greene describes the five big chapters that show education reform done wrong and education reform done right.

I love her chapter on New Orleans.