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The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself [Hardcover]

Glenn Harlan Reynolds

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Book Description

5 Dec 2013 1594037108 978-1594037108
Economist Herb Stein famously said that something that can't go on forever, won't. For decades now, America has been investing ever-growing fortunes into its K-12 education system in exchange for steadily worse results. Public schools haven't changed much from the late 19th century industrial model and as a result young Americans are left increasingly unprepared for a competitive global economy. At the same time, Americans are spending more than they can afford on higher education, driven by the kind of cheap credit that fueled the housing bubble. With college graduates unable to secure employment or pay off student loans, the real-world value of a traditional college education is in question. In The New School, Glenn Harlan Reynolds explains how parents, students and educators can, and must, reclaim and remake American education. Already, Reynolds explains, many Americans are abandoning traditional education for new models. Many are going to charter schools or private schools, but others are going another step beyond and making the leap to online education--over 1.8 million K-12 students already. The New School does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution for education. Americans require a diverse system of innovative approaches--each suited to a family's needs and spending potential. But with the profusion of online education, school choice, and even a return to alternatives like apprenticeships and on the job training, Americans hold the power to lower costs and improve outcomes from the ground up.

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About the Author

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee. He blogs at and writes for such publications as The Atlantic, Forbes, Popular Mechanics, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He lives in Knoxville, TN.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, modern view of education from a producer and consumer 5 Jan 2014
By Johnny & Riza - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Heh. A blogger known for his brevity produces a substantive view of both K-12 and higher education -- in 103 pages.

I had read both of his Broadside books. Between that and reading Instapundit, many of the ideas in The New School are familiar. But I would still highly recommend buying a copy for yourself and one to pass around to parents you know and any open minded teachers.

Reynolds is an expert on the topic as he is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee, married to PhD Psychologist Dr. Helen Smith, yet the perspective of New School is much more about his role as a consumer of education for their daughter and for the bloggers' desire to assemble elements into social and political patterns. The joy of the book is its academic cred without the academic's diffidence (or turgid prose...)

I don't think I need post a spoiler alert that there are problems in education. But it is a huge, complicated, interconnected system with the distortions of more than a hundred years of government involvement. It is easy to choose one failed facet (for me it is Teachers' Unions) to hang all the deficiencies upon. New School broadens the concerns and adds significant new concepts.

Reynolds's Instapundit writings cherish modernity, and the "New" part of the "The New School" is to rescue 21st Century students from a 19th Century Prussian model which was imported to train good 20th Century factory workers.

"On his return, [Horace] Mann extolled the Prussian model in his seventh annual report. This met with some resistance, as "critics accused him of wanting to establish a 'Prussian-style tyranny' in the schools, arguing that the Prussian model was based on a presumption that the government was wiser than the citizenry, while in America the presumption was the reverse. There was considerable basis for this complaint. Prussian theorists regarded public education, and higher education as well, as an institution of 'police' and a way of making students 'useful as future tools,'" -- but Mann's idea ultimately caught on for the most part. Mann wanted to remake society, and he wanted to start with children. In his turn of phrase, "men are cast-iron, but children are wax." Just as the Prussian model had as much to do with political and social ordering as with teaching and learning, so it was with Mann's Americanized Prussian model."

Reynolds helpfully points out the Mann's children were homeschooled. But sitting still, forming orderly lines, and moving with bells prepared students for factory work. How much of that transfers to your job?

Another key insight is the comparison to a financial bubble. Consumers are so certain of a return that they use easy credit to pay ever escalating prices without carefully assessing the future value of the asset. Sound like anything? A story you heard? Bueller?

The escalating prices are never spent on instruction. Climbing walls, fancy dining halls take a byte, but the real culprit is administration which is more likely to impede instruction with paperwork and regulation. As the crown jewel California University system faces severe cuts, it seems "diversity" is untouchable:

"University of California system slashes programs and raises tuition, it has created a new systemwide "vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion." This is on top of the already enormous University of California diversity machine, which, as Heather Mac Donald notes, "includes the Chancellor's Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women's Center."

Not that my personal bÍte-noir comes out well:

"For a long time, the providers of education at all levels have enjoyed a sort of guildlike monopoly. And as economist John Hicks notes, as quoted earlier, "The best of all monopoly profits is a quiet life." Alas, the lives of education providers are likely to be less quiet and comfortable than they have been. When education was in the hands of guilds made up of educators, as it has largely been for over a century, educators unsurprisingly took advantage of their control to arrange things to their liking. That will change significantly in the years to come.
Neither higher education nor K-12 schooling will remain in the hands of the guilds in the future, though we can expect a significant rear-guard action on their part. But the vulnerability they face is that it will become easier and easier for people to avoid the guilds entirely thanks to the new alternatives that technology (and other changes -- but mostly technology) has made possible."

Here's hoping! The New School is full of hope without discarding a serious look at difficult issues. Five Stars.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If Something Cannot Go On Forever, It Will Stop! 13 Jan 2014
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, founder of Instapundit and writer of two other (brief) books on the necessity of education reform, has written a more comprehensive book explaining the how, why, and (kind of) the what next of the education bubble. Unlike some pundits, Reynolds suggests that there is a bubble not just in higher education, but in k-12 education too: a perfect storm of education becoming more expensive, the (economic) value of diplomas and degrees declining, and the technology that makes creating and using new educational forms more and more viable. As Reynolds likes to put it (in the words of economist Herbert Stein), "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." And that is what he sees for both higher education and k-12.

Simply put, the education bubble - like any bubble - bursts when the cost of an investment begins to outweigh the likely return on investment. And, at this point, the cost of college degrees is proving to outweigh the rise in earning potential one gets by getting one. (And if anything, some have argued that increases in earning potential of college degrees owes more to the value of the certification - the degree itself - than the skills gained in obtaining the degree. So, what happens when employers start to question whether they are putting inflated value on the piece of paper and start hiring more people without degrees? Can you hear the bubble bursting?)

Oh, you say; well, education should be about personal growth and not increasing one's future earning potential? Well, sure, but not when it carries a five-figure price tag! (How many consumer services carry that steep a price... and still have willing consumers?) Or, maybe the government should subsidize more? Well, the problem is that like when anything is subsidized, the most likely result is that costs rise to absorb the subsidy. And if we start thinking the rising expenses and diminishing returns of k-12 education isn't terribly problematic because it is tax funded, then it is best to remember who is paying those taxes; answer: all of us. And how is it that we are teaching young people in the 21st century with a public school system that, very sadly, hasn't adapted terribly much in terms of teaching methods from its 19th century roots? Is that sustainable? If something can't go on forever....

The first half of the book or so is devoted to explaining why these bubbles in higher education and k-12 have formed and providing evidence that they've formed (and that more and more people are looking for ways to bypass traditional educational channels, often with the help of technology). The second half or so is a fairly vague outline of what Reynolds thinks will happen next. In fairness, Reynolds is vague because he (correctly) notes that no one really knows what will happen next, and the best we can do is to have some broad ideas of what might have to happen next. Vaguely, Reynolds suggests that both new forms of (what we now know as) k-12 and higher education will have to be less expensive and more adaptable to individuals, and probably something that embraces new technologies in a way that neither existing higher or k-12 education seems terribly interested in doing. (Reynolds seems quite taken by the idea - at least for higher education - that universities maintain their certification and degree-granting role while becoming more open about allowing students to learn materials on their own or at their own speed, possibly even without taking classes in favor of self-study.)

Those who have read Reynold's other books on education will find little new here, and as I mention, Reynolds's prescriptions and predictions are somewhat vague; while that may be disappointing in some way, it is also to his credit. Where Reynolds shines is in explaining (with a fair degree of historical accuracy, I think) the k-12 and higher education bubble and the evidence that it is either bursting already or, where it isn't, it will soon burst. And, also to his credit, he describes all this with a surprising tone of optimism (even though he is an academic).... which gives me (also an academic) a bit of hope that, if we all read and play our cards right, we can come through all of this with something better and stronger than what came before.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hope he's right... about saving US education from itself... 5 Jan 2014
By hodge001 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
But imho he's right about everything else. This is a must read for parents, and it'll be a scary read for folks in the industrial/governmental educational complex. It's quick and concise, but packed with documented info and keen insights. The response he got from his dean, when he mentioned that he hadn't gotten as much flak as expected, was enlightening. "Everybody knows there's a problem; they just don't want to talk about it because they don't know what to do about it, and they're afraid of what they might have to do if they did."

We're in uncharted territory here but, as the author says (with attribution), something that can't go on forever, won't. He doesn't offer a one size prescription, but acknowledges that there will be many possible solutions, based on the needs of the kid and resources of the parent. And now there are a much wider array of tools and resources available to us all. With apologies to Homer, I, for one, welcome our brave new school.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solving the Edu-Bubble Trainwreck 13 Jan 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Glenn Reynolds is a constitutional lawyer and long-time blogger who works harder than just about anybody, and it shows in this book. He started writing about the "bubble" in higher education years ago, long before anybody else took up the cudgel, and more or less single-handedly moved the issue into the forefront of public attention.

His dissection of the ills currently afflicting American education is as sharp as one would expect from a highly-trained and talented legal mind, but his prescription for those afflictions could only come from an observer equally familiar with the potential offered by the myriad products of Moore's Law.

If you've been feeling depressed about the current state of American education, buy this book and read it. It is a hopeful take on a seemingly hopeless situation, and you're feel considerably more cheerful after reading it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're only going to read 1 book about what's wrong with US education 13 Jan 2014
By Lily's pet human - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
... read this one. Do not be fooled by its length: "Instapundit" is a very concise writer who can make a cogent point in a fraction of the space others would need.
People familiar with the blog and with Prof. Reynolds's op-eds (in USA Today, the WSJ, and elsewhere) will be very familar with the observations and ideas set out in this book. For others, it will be an eye-opening read.
This really cannot go on forever, and it will not.
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