Addicted to Reform

A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education

The prizewinning PBS correspondent’s provocative antidote to America’s misguided approaches to K–12 school reform

“Nobody reports on the treasures and traumas of public education better than John Merrow. He is, quite simply, the leading education journalist in America.” —Jim Lehrer, former anchor for the PBS NewsHour

During an illustrious four-decade career at NPR and PBS, John Merrow—winner of the George Polk Award, the Peabody Award, and the McGraw Prize—reported from every state in the union, as well as from dozens of countries, on everything from the rise of district-wide cheating scandals and the corporate greed driving an ADD epidemic to teacher-training controversies and America’s obsession with standardized testing. Along the way, he taught in a high school, at a historically black college, and at a federal penitentiary.

Now, the revered education correspondent of PBS NewsHour distills his best thinking on education into a twelve-step approach to fixing a K–12 system that Merrow describes as being “addicted to reform” but unwilling to address the real issue: American public schools are ill-equipped to prepare young people for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

This insightful book looks at how to turn digital natives into digital citizens and why it should be harder to become a teacher but easier to be one. Merrow offers smart, essential chapters—including “Measure What Matters,” and “Embrace Teachers”—that reflect his countless hours spent covering classrooms as well as corridors of power. His signature candid style of reportage comes to life as he shares lively anecdotes, schoolyard tales, and memories that are at once instructive and endearing.

Addicted to Reform is written with the kind of passionate concern that could come only from a lifetime devoted to the people and places that constitute the foundation of our nation. It is a “big book” that forms an astute and urgent blueprint for providing a quality education to every American child.


“Finally someone has the courage to bar the door, stare them down, and do an intervention on the stumbling school reformers still clinging to their cocktail of privatize, standardize, and de-professionalize. John Merrow reveals the destructive truth behind these toxic reforms, and his twelve steps lead to the sacred purpose of education: to humanize connections; to deepen understanding; to know how to form a fine question and question your own conclusions. This is a good book. You should read it. Twice.”
—Lilly Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association
“If you think you’ve read all you need about education reform, think again. Addicted to Reform is brilliantly written and contains an insightful analysis of the chronic failure of education reforms in the United States. With a book that is enjoyable, inspirational, and important, John Merrow reclaims his place as a leading proponent of change in American public education.”
—Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons
“As a lifelong advocate for progressive, child-centered education, I feel strongly that twenty-first-century schools must equip all students to participate in our great democracy and in today’s changing world. John Merrow sets forth twelve sensible steps to accomplish that goal, and his clear blueprint also contains entertaining and inspiring stories from his distinguished career.”
—Richard W. Riley, former U.S. secretary of education
“John Merrow’s twelve-step program provides a sober, thoughtful, practical way to revitalize public education and, in doing so, strengthen our democracy.”
—Herbert Kohl, author and educator
“John Merrow cuts through the mythologies surrounding school reform and the madness of the testing craze, as well as the dangerous privatizing drive, with a sharp edge of seasoned insight and delectable irreverence. A valuable book from a guy who’s seen it all.”
—Jonathan Kozol, author of Fire in the Ashes and Savage Inequalities
“Pulling no punches, John Merrow lays out the deficiencies of American efforts at school reform and explains what needs to be done—provided we have the wits and the will to do so.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Addicted to Reform is a wise set of lessons that will inform parents, educators, and policy makers about the challenges facing American education.”
—Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error

Goodreads Reviews