At last, a fix-it kit for the schools, How to Fix What's Wrong with Our Schools, by Bertha Davis and Dorothy Arnof. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields. 216 pp.
The ''how to'' genre of literature is perennially popular in a nation of tinkerers, as America has been called. Now a fix-it kit for would-be school reformers has been added to the category of marriage mending, home repairs, moneymaking, and other do-it-yourself books.
This book, to be published Oct. 10, begins where the analysis of school problems ends. The reader is not asked to wade through much-publicized analyses of what's wrong with American schools; instead, it shows, step by step, what concerned individuals can do to remedy the situation.
The book does not address political and economic remedies for the school's shortcomings; it is basically a manual for interested parents. It assumes that the persons who can have the most direct impact upon education are parents, teachers, and administrators. Authors Davis and Arnof believe that intelligent parental questions will cause school administrators and teachers to focus on better methods of classroom instruction.
Example: A parent at a high school PTA meeting might ask ''What was the average verbal SAT score in this school in each of the last 10 years?'' Or a parent in an elementary school could inquire ''What are the reading levels of the social-studies and science textbooks used in the sixth grade?'' The authors explain in lay language, not pedagoguese, what possible responses to these two questions mean and what steps parents should take next to get the scores and levels raised.
When I taught social studies, I was urged over and over again to teach reading in my subject area. But I never knew how to do this. From this book I now see what I could have done. So the book is a how-to for teachers also.
A parent who asks for the showing at a PTA meeting of a videotaped lesson in which children in grades 4-6 are learning the skills of problem solving, is, according to the authors, initiating a chain of events with probable positive effects on the teaching of problem-solving skills, one area of needed improvement for many schools. The teacher who is to be videotaped will certainly carefully plan that lesson, at least, to accomplish its objective.
The children will respond to such planning positively, thus reinforcing the idea that planning for specific objectives is a useful practice. Perhaps other teachers who see the tape will compare it with their teaching practices.
That the book offers ideas, not alibis, is its strong feature. But there was one aspect that troubled me as I read it: Would responding to parents' requests of this kind be the ''straw that broke the camel's back'' for teachers and principals who are already conscientiously committed to school improvement? These people can't help but feel that the the barrage of criticism presently leveled at schools fails to recognize their positive endeavors.
This, too, occurred to the authors, perhaps as an afterthought. In the epilogue, they quote a young teacher to whom they explained why they were writing the book and what they hoped it would accomplish. '' 'You will have to be very careful,' '' she told them, '' 'not to emphasize an adversary situation between parents and teachers. Making parents angry at teachers, or teachers angry at parents, isn't going to help children. They're caught in the middle and what they really need is for parents and teachers to work together to get them the best possible education.' ''
Bearing in mind this caveat, readers can attack school problems with attitudes and techniques that can fix at least some of what's wrong with our schools.