Class Warfare

  • by Steven Brill
  • Narrated by L. J. Ganser
  • 16 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In a reporting tour de force, award-winning journalist Steven Brill takes an uncompromising look at the adults who are fighting over America’s failure to educate its children and points the way to reversing that failure.
Brill’s vivid narrative, filled with unexpected twists and turns, takes us from the Oval Office, where President Obama signs off on an unprecedented plan that will infuriate the teachers unions because it offers billions to states that win an education reform “contest”; to boisterous assemblies, where parents join the fight over their children’s schools; to a Fifth Avenue apartment, where billionaires plan a secret fund to promote school reform; to a Colorado high school, where students who seemed destined to fail are instead propelled to college; to state capitols across the country, where school reformers hoping to win Obama’s "contest" push bills that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It’s the story of an unlikely army - fed-up public-school parents, Ivy League idealists, hedge-funders, civil rights activists, conservative Republicans, insurgent Democrats - squaring off against unions that the reformers claim are protecting a system that works for the adults but victimizes the children.
Class Warfare is filled with extraordinary people taking extraordinary paths: a young woman who goes into teaching almost by accident, then becomes so talented and driven that fighting burnout becomes her biggest challenge; an antitrust lawyer who almost brought down Bill Gates’ Microsoft and now forms a partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates to overhaul New York’s schools; a naive Princeton student who launches an army of school reformers with her senior thesis; a California teachers union lobbyist who becomes the mayor of Los Angeles and then the union’s prime antagonist; a stubborn young teacher who, as a child growing up on Park Avenue, had been assumed to be learning disabled but ends up co-founding the nation’s most successful charter schools; and an anguished national union leader who walks a tightrope between compromising enough to save her union and giving in so much that her members will throw her out.
Brill not only takes us inside their roller-coaster battles, he also concludes with a surprising prescription for what it will take from both sides to put the American dream back in America’s schools.


What the Critics Say

"Education in America is THE national imperative of the 21st century and Steven Brill has done a brilliant job of taking us through the complexities, trials and triumphs, failures and food fights that define the struggle to get it right. We all have a stake in the outcome and owe it to succeeding generations to get involved. Class Warfare is the road map to what that means." (Tom Brokaw, journalist and author of The Greatest Generation)
"Steven Brill’s Class Warfare is hard-hitting, illuminating, and inspiring. It’s also as fast-paced and gripping as a thriller. His vivid accounts of great teachers at work - and his play-by-play of the battle to remove the obstacles put in front of them by their own union - opened my eyes and changed my outlook about the possibilities for American education. A must-read call to action for all thinking Americans, especially parents.” (Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall)
"Class Warfare inspires! This is a unique and critically important story about true heroes in America who, against great odds, are making a real difference. More than this, Brill's work sheds important light on the savage educational disparities faced by low-income communities across the country, and through his work he trumpets what should be a call to action by all of us. Brill is brilliant in his writing and his work will inspire and fortify all those struggling with the challenges of education in America." (Cory A. Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Unions are Evil

The attack on unions continue. Initially, this book was a wonderful balanced approach to American schools, but somewhere in the second third of the book it got stuck on the Union issue and just never let it go. It went from detailing and analyzing problems to harping on the teacher unions. Yes, unions become a problem when they resort to their lowest common denominator, e.g. really bad teachers, but that happened for a reason.
As a former teacher in Pasadena, California and current university professor in Tokyo, Japan, I have two things to say: First, the grass is not greener on the other side. Education in Japan is not better than education in the US, from my 9 years of public/private experience here. Secondly, as a former teacher, I remember ignoring my union president and principal's orders and doing my own thing, with the result that all of my students' reading and math scores improved. It is about the person in the front of the class and their dogged determination to succeed.
This is one of those issues that touches almost every single American and, having been in a classroom, we all have some ideas of what should or should not happen. As I listened to this book I saw the logic of what was being asked, but then realized that the hard-liners are in control. Union leaders who feel the need to protect every single teacher against every possible offense, and union busting bureaucrats/administrators who want to rule with iron fists.
In the end Mr. Brill presents a brilliant, though one-sided, case about the reform issues in our public education system. It is too bad he does not present a more balanced approach to problem solving.
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- Elton "I teach business, economics, and English at a university in Tokyo. I love economics, politics, and philosophy. I hold an MA in Political Science and BA in English Literature."

A Good Place to Start

If you are interested in the history and current status of the efforts to reform the public education system in the U.S. this is a good place to start. This book outlines all the political, education, and union players in the reformers vs. unions vs. government battle for the hearts and minds of our children.

A number of interesting programs are detailed including: Teach For America, Race to the Top, Charter Schools, Gates Foundation, KIPP Schools, No Child Left Behind, etc. The book goes into detail on all the individual players and the battles they waged and are still waging.

If you are unfamiliar with the fight here is a quick synopsis: U.S. student test scores have been falling rapidly and rank in the bottom third globally even though we are one of the top countries in spending per student. The reformers believe this is because there are no measurement tools related to teacher performance and student outcomes. The unions vehemently deny that those tools have any value and think there are too many student variables to effectively measure teacher performance.

The reformers are fighting to change the laws and create outcome based performance measurements and incentives. Most of the recently published data supports the reformers position and they are locked in a battle with the largest union in the US, the national teachers union - NEA, who has a tremendous amount of political clout and money.

Worth the read if you are interested in this complex issue.

The book is biased on the side of the reformers.
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- Wade T. Brooks

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-20-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios