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


Book Discussion Guide: A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century

“Russ Walsh’s book is a distillation of years of experience and wisdom from an actual expert in the field. This is essential reading for any parent, teacher, school board member, administrator or anyone who cares about the U.S. education system.” – Steven Singer, author of “Gadfly On the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform”


Author: Russ Walsh
Book: A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century: Navigating Education Reform to Get the Best Education for My Child
Garn Press (248 pp.) | ISBN: 978-1-942146-33-9
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Books-A-Million | Indigo Books | Waterstones 

About the Book

What is a parent to make of the current narrative about public education in the United States? We hear that our public schools are mediocre at best and dysfunctional and unsafe at worst. We hear politicians and pundits arguing that the country will fall behind economic competitors like China and Japan, if our schools do not improve. We hear education reformers, well-funded by corporate lions like Bill Gates and the Walton family, suggesting a smorgasbord of solutions from school choice to more rigorous standards and from increased standardized tests to test-based teacher accountability.

What is education reform and how will it impact schools, children and parents? What are charter schools and should I send my child to one? What is the impact of standardized testing on my child? Should I opt my child out of standardized testing? How can I make sure my child gets a good teacher? What does good reading and writing instruction look like? How should technology be used in the schools and at home?

A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century is written to answer these questions and help today’s parents sort through the weeds of educational reform to make informed decisions designed to get the best possible education for their children. The book starts from the point of view that public education is a vital institution, central to our democracy and economic independence, and then suggests ways that parents can not only get the best of education for their own children, but also support policies that will make the institution of public education stronger for future generations.

Book Discussion Guide 

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.

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…

Book Reviews

“Russ Walsh’s Parent’s Guide is a must read for any parent who is trying to make the best educational decision for their children. It is a clear, thoughtful response that will give parents wisdom, confidence and ease. Walsh is not only a professional, life-long educator, he is a beautiful writer whose style is thoughtful, clear and easy to read. A Parent’s Guide is the best guide for anyone who cares about public schools.” – Carol Corbett Burris, Executive Director of the Network for Public Education.

Extremely well-written, extremely organized and understandable, A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century is essential for every parent. – Feathered Quill Book Reviews

“Russ Walsh is a knowledgeable, insightful critic of the dogmatic school reformers who are driving American education back toward the 19th century instead of ahead into the 21st. His analyses are on par with those of Diane Ravitch, David Berliner, Yong Zhao … “- Dr. Don Ambrose, Editor, the Roeper Review

“A clear, concise parent’s guide to school in the age of education reform. In a discussion that has been characterized by a great deal of heat, Russ Walsh sheds some light and cuts through the fog of propaganda and PR. This is a clear, fair guide to what is in the best interests of your child, and what is just baloney. Best of all, in a discussion that is filled with questions about what’s best for the nation, Walsh helps parents answer the most important question—what’s best for my own child?” – Peter Greene, Author of the bookCurmudgucation: What Fresh Hell, Author of the “Curmudgucation” andEducation Week Teacher “View from the Cheap Seats” blogs

“Russ Walsh’s new book is a distillation of years of experience and wisdom from an actual expert in the field. This is essential reading for any parent, teacher, school board member, administrator or anyone who cares about the U.S. education system.” – Steven Singer, Pennsylvania educator and public school advocate.

“Russ Walsh’s book arrived today by special delivery. That’s just what this book is: a special delivery to parents everywhere who want to be advocates for their kids in this confusing climate of so-called school reform. Mr. Walsh has touched a nerve! I thank him for showing up and speaking up to provide measured perspective and important research. This book is a winner!” – (five stars) Amazon

“This book is what is needed in education right now. It is a parent friendly book that explains all the ins and outs of the school system and helps parents advocate for their children. It is a great read for teachers too and can be a great resource to share at Back to School Night or parent meetings. A great read that I highly recommend!” – (five stars) Amazon

“The book begins with a Bill of Rights for School Children…which should be posted in every public school in the nation. For teachers, he identifies best practices. For parents, he describes what a good school and good instruction ought to look like. He includes informative chapters on standardized tests, the privatization of public education, and the Common Core. A must read.” – (five stars) Amazon

More 5-star Amazon Reviews

For more great 5-star reviews visit A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century on Amazon