“No One Way to School” Review

Berner, Ashley Rogers. No One Way to School: Pluralism and American Public Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 185. $22.00.

Dr. Ashley Berner’s No One Way to School presents a unique approach to solving the dilemmas of American education. While debates continue over vouchers, charter schools, and Common Core, No One Way to School suggests that a model of educational pluralism would succeed in achieving academic success and promoting democratic values that the traditional public school has largely failed to instill in its students (1-3). Berner suggests that American schools are failing students not necessarily because of inadequate resources or poor personnel, but because the uniform public school could never accommodate all the needs and beliefs of a diverse, democratic society like the United States. Rather than contest school choice, America should wholeheartedly embrace educational pluralism and that the federal government should fund a variety of schools as they arise in the communities they serve.

In such a system of education, the government funds a variety of schools, including religious ones, and holds those schools accountable for academic standards without necessarily operating those schools (3; 141). In a plural system, a wide variety of school choices can arise organically from the diverse range of socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic groups that, with proper oversight and accountability, would provide higher quality education in place of the traditional, one-size-fits-all public school. In a democratic society like the United States, such an educational system is more likely to succeed because it is already more authentic to our shared democratic values (85-87). Berner notes that a society with a “rich ‘spiritual, economic and social ecology,’” is healthier and more vibrant, and an educational schema that both reflects and promotes this diversity is more likely to produce the kind of success that America needs from its schools (44; 144).

Berner’s treatise sets forward a unique solution in plural schools and adequately defends her thesis in the rest of the work. First and foremost amongst these objections would be the public funding of religious schools, an act which many individuals believe would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Berner adequately refutes this objection in chapter 4, as direct government funding of religious schools is unconstitutional (51), but the Supreme Court has upheld other mechanisms for indirect funding of religious schools, particularly when it is a matter of parent and student choice to attend religious schools (58-60).

Berner does not intend to propose a blueprint for legislative wide reaching changes to the public school system. Rather, Berner’s treatise promotes a unique and stirring vision of what the school system could be if the United States implemented educational pluralism. In clear and effective prose, Berner proposes that a plural school system better reflects the diversity of the American landscape and would subsequently achieve the kind of academic success rates the United States needs from its schools and has not yet received from the traditional public school. As a result, No One Way to School is a thoroughly rewarding book ideal for both professionals and laymen looking for solutions to improve America’s school systems.

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