Book Discussion Guide for A Parent's Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century




Book Group Discussion Guide for A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century by Russ Walsh (Garn Press, 2016)

This guide is intended for discussion groups made up of parents, teachers, pre-service teaching candidates, school board members or anyone interested in the public schools and the children who attend them. The guide should be used flexibly to meet the needs and interests of any particular group.

Introduction and Bill of Rights for School Children

Look over the Bill of Rights for School Children.
  • Do these 10 principles make sense?
  • What do you see as the problems that may keep children from enjoying these rights in school?
  • What rights would you give highest priority?
  • What rights would you add?
Read the Introduction
  • What are your own memories of school?
  • To what extent was your schooling a positive experience?
  •  How do you see public schools as different from other school choices (parochial, private, charter) that were available to you?
Chapter 1: Education Reform in the 21st Century
  • What are the factors that seem to be driving the education reform movement?
  • The author states that “education is not a cure for poverty. In fact, poverty directly interferes with the ability to get a good education.” Do you agree? In what ways does poverty interfere? In what ways can education overcome poverty?
  • What are the problems in public schools you would like to see addressed? To what extent is education reform addressing them?

Chapter 2: The Qualities of a Good School
  • Look at the qualities of a good school discussed on pages 32-34. Do these align with your own thinking on quality schools? What would you add?
  • What is the role of standardized testing in ensuring quality schools?
  • Based on the criteria outlined in this chapter, how do the public schools in your area compare?

Chapter 3: Readiness for School
  • What does the author mean by stating that “schools should be ready for children”? In what ways do you feel your schools are ready for children? In what ways are they not ready?
  • How does the author’s vision of “developmentally appropriate” schools square with your own vision? What would you change? What would you add?
  • What are some ways that you can be actively involved in ensuring that your schools are ready for your children?

Chapter 4: Meeting Your Child’s Learning Needs in Literacy and Mathematics
  • What are some ways that you currently support your children in at-home literacy? What are some activities you would like to add?
  •  Look at the benchmarks for literacy discussed on pages 74-82. Do these make sense to you? What needs to be clarified?
  • The author attempts to de-emphasize concerns about young children and spelling. Do you agree with this perspective? What would you add to the discussion?
  • What are some ways you support your child’s developing mathematical ability? What are some strategies you would like to add?

Chapter 5: Meeting Your Child’s Social and Emotional Needs
  • To what extent do you think a school is responsible for meeting your child’s social and emotional (as opposed to intellectual) needs?
  • Does your school have an effective anti-bullying policy? Does your school appear to be providing a safe physical and emotional environment?
  • The author offers steps to follow when faced with bullying in school. Do these steps make sense to you? What would you change or add?

Chapter 6: Technology and Learning
  • What do you see as the role of technology in your own child’s schooling?
  • Using the checklist on pages 112-113, how well do you think your public school is using technology for learning?
  • What kinds of technology do you provide for your children at home and how do you ensure it is used safely?

Chapter 7: Getting a Good Teacher in Every Classroom
  • In your own experience, what constitutes a good teacher?
  •  Looking at the checklist on pages 121-122, how well do your child’s teachers measure up?
  •  How good a job is your school district doing in attracting and retaining high quality teachers
  • What is your thinking about teacher job protections such as tenure and seniority? Do the author’s arguments on these issues make sense to you?
  • What do you think of the author’s advice on dealing with a teacher who is not a good match for your child?

Chapter 8: The Common Core
  • How and why were the Common Core State Standards created?
  • What do you think are the positive aspects of the standards?
  • What do you think are the negative aspects of the standards?
  • What would you like to see changed about the Common Core State Standards?

Chapter 9: The Uses and Abuses of Standardized Tests
  • After reading the chapter, what is your general view of standardized testing?
  • Testing is a part of schooling. Understanding this, what is the role of standardized testing? What are some alternatives to standardized testing that you would favor?
  • After reading the chapter, what are your continuing concerns about the impact of standardized tests on your school program and on your children?

Chapter 10: The Standardized Test Opt Out Movement?
  • Have you or do you know of anyone who has opted their children out of testing? What were the reasons?
  • What would make you consider opting your child out of testing?
  • Do you think that opting out is a reasonable response to concerns about the impact of standardized tests on children?
  • What are your district’s policies and procedures for opting out?

Chapter 11: School Choice
  • What do you think of the author’s argument that choice is not always a good thing and that school choice has the potential to do great harm to the public schools?
  • How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
  • What is your view of the “innovations” that charter schools have brought to public education, especially in the inner city?
  • What factors would cause you to send your child to a charter school?
  • Do the charter schools in your experience meet the criteria outlined on pages 205-206?

Summing Up
  • What stood out most for you about this book?
  • How has this book contributed to your understanding of the issues facing public education in the 21st Century?
  • What aspects of the book did you find most helpful/informative?
  • What aspects of the book did you find least helpful/informative?
  • If I could talk to the author, I would tell him….