My review of ‘Test and Punish’

If ‘Reign of Error’ were to meet ‘The DaVinci Code’ the result would John Kuhn’s ‘Test-and-Punish: How the Texas Education Model Gave America Accountability Without Equity’.   Kuhn is the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt school district in Texas.  I first learned of him when I marveled at his show-stealing speech at the Save Our Schools rally back in July of 2011.

In addition to being an incredible orator, John Kuhn proves to be one heck of a writer.  His text flows with punchy wit and turns of phrase to keep this narrative constantly moving.

The book traces forty years the history of education reform in Texas, beginning with the first of a series of trials about equitable finance in 1971 in the Edgewood district.  Throughout the book, Kuhn demonstrates the key moments that led to the concept of using standardized tests as the measure of a school’s quality.  This eventually led to the ‘Texas Miracle’ and the rise of Pearson as an education empire.  The cast of characters included people who I had known a little about, like Sandy Kress, an architect of No Child Left Behind, and also key people who I had never heard of before, like the former CEO of Pearson Marjorie Scardino.  And for all the Diane Ravitch fans out there, Kuhn offers a detailed summary of her career before and after her ‘conversion.’

When I talk to my friends about ed reform, their eyes quickly glaze over.  It is tough to make this topic seem interesting, despite how important it is.  But Kuhn manages to produce a page turning thriller out of it.  I don’t know how he did it, but I’m grateful that he did.

I learned so much from this book and also simply enjoyed it as a well written story.  I’m sure I’ll read this again, and I recommend this book highly.

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