© 2017 Inside Our Schools

Inside Our Schools: 

Teachers on the Failure and Future of Education Reform 

In the past fifteen years, a group of politicians, media makers and leaders in business, philanthropy and non-profit organizations have created a particular brand of education reform dependent on measuring learning through test scores. They have named themselves stewards of a new civil rights movement and claim that their policies around issues like tenure, charter schools and school closures can solve our country’s rampant inequality. But behind the speeches and glossy magazine covers exists a vastly different story.

Inside Our Schools is organized around the recurring buzzwords that the mainstream education reform movement uses to define their policies: accountability, quality, failing, choice and equity. Chapter introductions explain today’s hot-button education issues, providing the context necessary for any reader to have a clear sense of the state of education policy and research in each of these areas. But the testimony of teachers makes up the bulk of the book by design. In each section, five teachers share their personal accounts of how these policies have played out in their schools and offer an alternative vision for a more equitable and holistic form of education alongside a set of concrete practices that can get us there.


For all the time that we’ve spent talking about teachers, Inside Our Schools offers a much needed platform for their stories and experiences to be included in the conversation. As states consider significant policy changes under the Every Student Succeeds Act, this timely collection comes at a critical moment for shaping the future of public education.


In this powerful collection, Brett Gardiner Murphy has gathered together an impressive group of teachers to reflect on the day-to-day challenges and joys of teaching within the current difficult sociopolitical context. Inside Our Schools provides sobering reflections of how our public schools have lost their way, and what needs to be done to restore hope and confidence in them. The book is a poignant reminder of the crucial role of public education in a democratic society. 

Sonia Nieto, professor emerita, language, literacy, and culture, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

What a relief—and how sadly unusual it is—to hear about education and reform from the people actually doing the educating. This book provides twenty-five sobering and enlightening accounts of teaching in our time, organized under five masterfully summarized themes. A valuable book for policy makers, practitioners, and parents. 

Mike Rose, author of Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America. 

Accountability. Quality. Choice. Failure. Equity.  These are all terms that have been distorted by billionaire education reformers and used to undermine public education, attack teachers, and punish students. Inside Our Schools empowers educators to reclaim these five terms and speak back to the education establishment about what truly works to
support and transform teaching and learning. We need this book in the battle to save the public schools.

Jesse Hagopian, teacher at Garfield High School, editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing, editor at Rethinking Schools magazine, and education fellow at The Progressive magazine 

A breath of fresh air in the complicated and contentious world of education debate...I have always felt that the story of the classroom is most compelling. Murphy allows us to experience the overarching contradictions through close-in, on-the-ground examination of the teaching life. This is the best way to understand the issues deeply.

Rick Ayers, Associate Professor of Education at the University of San Francisco in the Urban Education and Social Justice cohort

Without a doubt, this book is a significant and valuable contribution.  The editor is absolutely correct in her assertion that with all the talk ‘about’ teachers, their voices are rarely at the table when discussing school reform. It’s very wise to organize the book around the school reform buzzwords such as choice and equity, but then to show the reality of what actually happens “inside our schools.”  The section introductions are clear, easy to read and comprehensive overviews of very complicated concepts. Having the voices of teachers then expand upon these concepts by showing how they play out on the ground provides a perspective not often heard within educational debates. The way in which these two organizational schemas are woven together is very compelling for both those that have experienced school reform and those that hope to learn more about the realities of how it plays out. 

Bree Picower, Associate Professor of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Literacy Education, Montclair State University, founding member of the national Teacher Activist Groups network

Inside Our Schools collects rich, engaging, often painful and enraging, but sometimes hopeful stories of surviving, resisting and occasionally transcending the destructive test and punish policies implemented under No Child Left Behind. Editor Brett Gardiner Murphy has arranged these gripping local narratives in five sections: high-stakes testing, teacher accountability, competition, NCLB-mandated sanctions, and fighting for educational justice. She frames each with a clear summary of the national situation and a thorough review of the research evidence.  

Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest

Murphy and her contributors provide sobering analyses offering hope and grassroots responses to the current neoliberal reform machine...this book itself is an important contribution to the ongoing effort to challenge market-driven reforms. It should be read by all concerned with the future of public education and the struggle for a socially, politically, and economically just society. The book is also a great companion text for those in teacher education. In the end, the book invites us, policy makers, politicians, practitioners, academics, school leaders, and parents to take a step back and look at another perspective on the future of public education.

Sheila L. Macrine, Associate Professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Montclair State University (in a review for Teachers College Record)