Common Sense School Reform

Frederick M. Hess

Palgrave Macmillan Trade

Forget everything you think you know about school reform. Cutting through the cant, sentiment, and obfuscation characterizing the current school reform debate, Frederick M. Hess lacerates the conventional "status quo" reform efforts and exposes the naivete underlying reform strategies that rest on solutions like class size reduction, small schools, and enhanced professional development. He explains that real improvement requires a bracing regime of common sense reforms that create a culture of competence by rewarding excellence, punishing failure, and giving educators the freedom and flexibility to do their work. He documents the scope of the challenges we face and then provides concrete recommendations for addressing them through reforms to promote accountability, competition, a 21st-century workforce, effective school leadership, and sensible reinvention. Engagingly written and drawing on real world experiences and examples, Common Sense School Reform will generate debate and help set the agenda for the future.


Praise for Common Sense School Reform

Common Sense School Reform delivers exactly what it promises: a no-holds-barred, sensible approach to school reform, stripped bare of the utopian rhetoric and pie-in-the-sky promises that so many school reformers prefer. School leaders should read this book!"--Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police and Research Professor, New York University

"This is a refreshingly direct and stimulating look at competing visions of educational reform and a passionate argument for radical change. Informed by Hess' experience as a teacher, teacher educator, and scholar, this book will help crystallize key disputes while it unapologetically calls some questionable assumptions out into the open for debate."--Andrew J. Rotherham, Director, 21st Century Schools Project, Progressive Policy Institute

"[Hess'] ideas on how to improve schools are welcome relief from the romantics and ideologues who dominate the national education debate."--Tom Loveless, Senior Fellow and Director, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution

"Rick Hess has brought a rare intellectual gift to the subject of school reform: plain common sense. He knows American education, he knows how effective organizations work, and that knowledge has shaped a radical vision of the fundamental structural change that real school improvement demands. Common Sense School Reform is a gem. It should become a handbook for all who are seriously committed to educating America's children."--Abigail Thernstrom, co-author, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning

"Common Sense School Reform prescribes with unblinking realism what must happen for public education to give children the education they need instead of adults the employment they want. This is a book no one concerned with American education should miss. Absent common sense reforms, urban public education as we know it today is bound to disappear."--Alan D. Bersin, Secretary of Education for the State of California

"An important contribution that will challenge school reformers."--Ronald F. Ferguson, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

"With an insider's knowledge, and an outsider's vantage point, Hess questions old assumptions and prods the conventional wisdom on school reform. His arguments for radical change may leave some feeling uncomfortable, but you needn't agree with all of his characterizations to find his provocative observations an important contribution to the dialogue on public school improvement."--Kim Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund

". . . he is a forceful and effective writer whose views challenge the education establishment. A parent or teacher who wants to know why our schools are in such bad shape should find 'Common Sense School Reform' an excellent guide to the problems that American education faces today."--Martin Morse Wooster, Sunday Times

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Frederick M. Hess

  • Frederick M. Hess is Director of Educational Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Executive Editor of Education Next. He is known for his scholarship on educational issues including: the politics of school reform, urban education, district governance, accountability, professional licensure, school choice, and the nature of public education. He is the author of books including Common Sense School Reform, Revolution at the Margins, Spinning Wheels, and Bringing the Social Sciences Alive and the editor of volumes including School Choice in the Real World and A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom. His work has been published in scholarly forums including Phi Delta Kappan, Urban Affairs Review, Educational Policy, Teachers College Record, and Social Science Quarterly; general education publications including Educational Leadership, Education Week, and American School Board Journal; and more popular outlets such as Policy Review and Weekly Standard. Dr. Hess currently serves on the Review Board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education, as a research associate with the Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance, and as a member of the research advisory board for the National Center on Educational Accountability. Dr. Hess is a former high school social studies teacher in Louisiana and professor of education at the University of Virginia. He earned his M.Ed. from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the Harvard University Department of Government.


Available Formats and Book Details

Common Sense School Reform

Frederick M. Hess

  • Trade Paperback