In the Spotlight

News & Features
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Yecke book attacks middle-school 'mediocrity'
Larger view
Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke argues in "The War Against Excellence" that high-ability children in public schools are slipping compared to their international peers. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

Roseville, Minn. — (AP) She freely acknowledges it won't make anybody's best-seller list, find its way into neighborhood bookstores or be of great interest to many people outside of academia.

But Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke is out with a new book sure to rub some people the wrong way. It faults America's middle schools for feeding a "rising tide of mediocrity" by not doing enough to challenge gifted and talented students.

Seven years in the works, Yecke argues in "The War Against Excellence" that high-ability children in public schools are slipping compared to their international peers. Yecke blames it on a philosophy she calls "coerced egalitarianism," which she contends has discouraged academic competition and emphasized teaching that keeps all students on the same pace.

While much of the education focus lately has been on lifting the achievement of struggling students, Yecke makes the argument that upper-tier students lack the attention they need.

"If high ability students are not being adequately challenged they are being left behind," Yecke said Monday. She released a book summary, but not advance copies, to reporters.

Yecke isn't the first scholar to express these views. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett, who wrote the foreword to Yecke's book, also have seized on the theme.

She said the book wasn't intended to bash public-school education; instead, she said it was aimed at highlighting and addressing a problem she considers a threat to the integrity of public schools.

The book speaks broadly about the nation's middle schools and isn't specific to Minnesota, Yecke said. But her sentiments are reflected in a new report card her department is releasing annually on every school in the state. One section evaluates schools based on gifted-and-talented program offerings.

Yecke's two daughters, both of whom are now adults, were considered gifted while in public school, and she taught classes for high-achieving children years ago.

Yecke, who formerly worked at the federal education department and was secretary of education in Virginia, wrote the book before taking the job as Minnesota's education chief in January, but she has spent her weekends since going through final edits.

The commissioner said she doesn't plan a promotional tour and she expects her primary buyers to be college professors and parents of gifted students. It sells for $50. Yecke's contract didn't include an advance, but she will get royalties.

On Monday, the online bookstore was taking orders for the book, published by Praeger Publishers of Westport, Conn., a publisher of general interest titles in the social sciences and humanities.

She said she won't talk about the book while on the state's clock, and she has barred her staff from discussing it.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects