Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, 2008) argues that non-cognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life.
Building on reporting for his magazine, the author interviewed economists, psychologists and neuroscientists, examined their recent research, and talked to students, teachers and principals to produce this fascinating overview of a new approach with “the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net.” At a time when policymakers favor the belief that disadvantaged kids have insufficient cognitive training, Tough finds that a new generation of researchers are questioning the cognitive hypothesis. Foremost among them is Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist James Heckman, who since 2008 has been convening economists and psychologists to discuss significant questions: Which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? What interventions might help children do better? Tough summarizes key research, such as the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, which revealed a stunning correlation between traumatic childhood events and negative adult outcomes. Others have shown that the effects of childhood stress can be buffered by close, nurturing relationships. Assessing such evidence, Heckman says policymakers intent on closing the achievement gap between affluent and poor children must go beyond classroom interventions and supplement the parenting resources of disadvantaged Americans. Families, he says, “are the main drivers of children’s success in school.” Heckman’s thinking informs the book, which includes many examples of failing disadvantaged students who turned things around by acquiring character skills that substituted for the social safety net enjoyed by affluent students.
Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America.
A call-to-action book on how to close the racial achievement gap in the American educational system.
Despite having an African-American as president, MacArthur winner Delpit (Education/Southern Univ.; Other People’s Children, 1995, etc.) writes that African-American students are still not being treated as equal to their white peers. Using numerous examples from school situations and her own daughter’s experiences, the author shows that stereotypes and racial prejudices still abound, with many teachers teaching “down” to their black students. To counteract this negative effect, teachers need to understand the cultural backgrounds of their students and connect the curriculum to this background so that learning has relevance to the student. Instead of asking “do you know what I know?” Delpit says the question to ask is “what do you know?” “This is the question that will allow us to begin, with courage, humility, and cultural sensitivity the right educational journey,” she writes. When good teachers incorporate this method and learn to identify with each individual child, test scores and self-esteem rise and disobedience and absenteeism fall. Delpit feels her work in education is two-fold: She is “charged with preparing the minds and hearts of those who will inherit the earth…as a sacred trust…and the second purpose…is to build bridges across the great divides, the so-called achievement gap, the technology gap, class divisions, the racial divide.” If all teachers adopted these ideas, the American educational system would be vastly improved for all students. Covering age groups from preschool to college, Delpit offers advice to new and veteran teachers, advice that applies not only to African-American students but to all ethnic and minority groups.
A much-needed review of the American educational system and an examination of the techniques needed to improve the teaching methods of all involved in that system.
A philosophical, well-structured argument for viable progressive education from one of the movement's most prolific and well-regarded authors.
In the introduction to his 19 succinct essays, Kohn (The Homework Myth, 2006, etc.) lays out 12 points that he thinks should be “Well Duh” moments for educators: essentially what he considers to be irrefutable tenets that somehow get lost in practical application. The points radiate around the same theme—that students are humans, and humans learn through participation, interest and engagement, rather than memorization of facts and recitation of those facts through standardized testing. The material that follows, which is broken up into five major sections (“Progressivism and Beyond,” “The Nuts and Bolts of Learning,” “Climate & Connections: How Does School Feel to the Students?” “The Big Picture: Education Policy” and “Beyond the Schools: Psychological Issues & Parenting”) is not a step-by-step plan, but rather a carefully considered interrogation of the way we teach and how we might inject some of the "Well Duh" concepts back into classroom learning. Despite the comprehensive references that end each chapter, Kohn’s arguments are, in keeping with his classroom philosophy, hardly recitations of his research, but rather ideas, often with his own experience as a teacher as the backing evidence. He is unapologetic for some of his unconventional philosophy, advocating that teachers give less homework, for example, that they seek out students that challenge them in the classroom, that they think outside the rubric in planning lessons and evaluating students, and that test preparation and quantified reading assignments and report writing are killing student motivation. In the title essay, he tackles the fundamental and so often overlooked concept of happiness in education, asking not only when schools became places so devoid of joy, but why getting it back became such a low priority.
A vital wake-up call to educators.
In a series of up-close stories, Rose (Education and Information Studies/UCLA; Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us, 2009, etc.) explains the necessity of secondary education for nontraditional students.
The author supports second-chance education programs, believing that "when well executed they develop the skills and build knowledge that can lead to employment but also provide a number of other personal, social, and civic benefits." Whether the students Rose interviews are attending school for retraining, for the social interaction or for a second chance at a better life, his prose pulls readers into becoming cheerleaders for them as they struggle to master basic reading and writing skills or learn the complexities of welding. From adult education programs to community colleges, Rose explores the need for a reassessment of the post–K-12 educational system, noting that growing sectors of the labor market require a four- or even two-year degree. The author calls for a system that allows for a wide variety of students: single parents, workers who can only attend school part-time, those coming from rehab programs or jail, and those just interested in learning something new or in need of a social life. These are the students who often fall through the cracks in the traditional straight-from-high-school-to-college system, and it is to these students that Rose's book will ring true. Even though they "carry more than their fair share of hardship and sorrow," they have the same hopes and aspirations as those fortunate enough to attend one of the top universities in the country and should not be neglected or looked upon unfavorably because of their circumstances.
Inspiring stories of older Americans attending secondary schools.
Educators Falk and Blumenreich (The Power of Questions: A Guide to Teacher and Student Research, 2005) present case studies of kindergarten and elementary school classrooms that, although located in economically stressed urban areas, have found creative and intelligent means of making education effective.
Few cultural and social arenas have managed to dodge the divisiveness that has overtaken modern political discourse, and education is not one of the exceptions. Standardized testing, long proven to be ineffective at best and incredibly damaging at worst, remains the driving force behind assessing student progress; the distractions of technology and social media continue to spread further into kids' lives; the promise of a decent, reliable job based on academic performance is no longer taken for granted. The difficulty in crafting a solution is that one solution won't suffice. Falk and Blumenreich compile case studies that approach some of the problems from a micro, rather than macro, perspective. Whereas educational policy might suggest that one particular methodology is superior in a majority of situations, these case studies provide a more eclectic set of approaches to dealing with issues. A handful of the case studies, and the conclusions from those studies, overlap each other in content; this ties into the overall thrust of the book. Issues of immigration sensitivity in children just starting school tie into the importance of drawing from the strengths of a multicultural classroom. The authors take the studies further than standard liberal boilerplate issues, however, wading into the animosity of parent-teacher relationships and providing constructive insight into the failings and strengths of both groups. Flying in the face of national standardized testing, three studies explore the strengths of differentiated teaching. As often happens with thoughtful consideration of a problem, the solutions raise more questions, which the authors strive to explore without getting lost down a rabbit hole.
In today's society, most students learn a variety of subjects primarily by lectures, with the goal of passing certain standardized tests before moving on to another series of subjects. Former hedge fund analyst Khan questioned this educational model, believing it did nothing to show true mastery of a topic. Candidly and enthusiastically, he details how he originally started what is now known as the Khan Academy by creating a series of YouTube videos to help his cousin with her understanding of math. Supported by Google and The Gates Foundation, those videos have evolved at the Khan Academy website to cover math, science, history and art, among other subjects. They have been used by millions around the world. Khan believes in using modern technology via individual video learning with assessments based on a solid understanding of a theme. Students spend classroom time among peers and talented teachers, who help them reach certain levels of comprehension before progressing to the next level of learning. The author stresses the concept that all subjects are interrelated and that learning should be self-paced and self-motivated with mixed age groups helping one another. He includes in-depth analysis of the most common educational models (lectures and testing for certain topics) and compares it to his methods. Khan's excitement is palpable as he imagines future schoolrooms as sources of "true creativity" where "mistakes are allowed, tangents are encouraged, and big thinking is celebrated as a process.” His hope is that modern technology and his videos will allow access to a free education to anyone, young or old, around the world.
A fresh, provocative analysis of the debate on education and employment.
Up-and-coming economist Moretti (Economics/Univ. of California, Berkeley) takes issue with the “[w]idespread misconception…that the problem of inequality in the United States is all about the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99 percent.” The most important aspect of inequality today, he writes, is the widening gap between the 45 million workers with college degrees and the 80 million without—a difference he claims affects every area of peoples' lives. The college-educated part of the population underpins the growth of America's economy of innovation in life sciences, information technology, media and other areas of globally leading research work. Moretti studies the relationship among geographic concentration, innovation and workplace education levels to identify the direct and indirect benefits. He shows that this clustering favors the promotion of self-feeding processes of growth, directly affecting wage levels, both in the innovative industries as well as the sectors that service them. Indirect benefits also accrue from knowledge and other spillovers, which accompany clustering in innovation hubs. Moretti presents research-based evidence supporting his view that the public and private economic benefits of education and research are such that increased federal subsidies would more than pay for themselves. The author fears the development of geographic segregation and Balkanization along education lines if these issues of long-term economic benefits are left inadequately addressed.
A welcome contribution from a newcomer who provides both a different view and balance in addressing one of the country's more profound problems.
A cogent exploration of the struggle to balance equity and excellence in America's most academically selective public high schools.
Finn (Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, 2009, etc.), former assistant U.S. secretary of education and a current fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and educational consultant Hockett focus on public, self-contained, college-preparatory high schools that have a competitive admissions process. Within those parameters, the authors found 165 that met their criteria, in 30 states plus the District of Columbia, as the country's most elite, out of more than 22,000 public high schools in the country. They surveyed these schools on a range of issues including teacher selection and the diversity of the student body. The authors visited 11 of the schools, observing classes and interviewing teachers and students, and they offer detailed profiles of each and examine the qualities (serious and purposeful learning environment, eager and talented pupils) and practices (low teacher turnover, "overwhelming advocacy from the parents of their students") they have in common. Instead of merely being schools chosen (or not) by parents and children, these public schools can select their students, which raises the incentives to meet their standards. Along with selectivity, Finn and Hockett examine thorny issues such as purposeful diversity and demographics, political support and the emphasis placed on exam scores. One fact of note: “Asian pupils are found in these selection schools at four times their share of the larger high school population.” Throughout the book, the authors return to the question of whether the public-education system has "neglected to raise the ceiling" while struggling to lift the floor, looking closely at how schools can meet the needs of students at vastly different levels.
A fact-driven, clear text that will be of interest to educators as well as parents of students at selective public high schools.
A longtime educational advocate and public speaker praises the noble art of teaching.
Incensed by a flippant remark from a young attorney at a party, teacher and poetry scholar Mali channeled his anger into a poem on the virtuosity of teachers. He posted it on his website, and the verse has been circulating ever since. The author has become a renowned public speaker in recent years with podcasts, a blog and a flashy website. He also undertook an unprecedented journey from standardized classroom instruction to launch his ambitious “New Teacher Project,” an initiative seeking to direct 1,000 people into becoming teachers. In channeling their ability to “see a child’s potential objectively, untainted by family history and parental expectations,” Mali believes teachers energize their students to excel beyond what’s routinely called for; starting this reinforcement process at a young age is imperative, he writes. Obviously passionate about his career as an educator, the author extols the importance of routine calls to parents when children shine. He also encourages a “question authority” mindset in his students while personally remaining humble and progressive with electronic grade books. Through anecdotes, poetry and classroom examples, Mali proves himself a dedicated, caring teacher within what he considers a hobbled American education system. The author’s slim, appealing book delivers a powerfully positive message, but it’s also a valentine to teachers everywhere, as well as a healthy dose of reality to parents who may misguidedly consider their child’s teachers as little more than educational stepping stones.
Big, bright life lessons in a pocket-sized package.
An enjoyable look back at the history of higher education in America and the startling new ways it might develop in the future.
The author and CEO of test-prep powerhouse Kaplan is willing to doff his mortarboard to the Ivy League—but only because Rosen is absolutely convinced that one day, often maligned private-sector institutions like his will rule the day. Incredibly, his argument never comes off as self-serving; the author’s thorough exploration of “Harvard Envy” and the rise of “resort” campuses is both fascinating and enlightening. He cites spiraling costs, dwindling budgets and improved technology as some of the many reasons behind this inevitable changeover. If America is going to compete with the global brain trust, the author argues, it will have to be done from behind a computer screen. The prestige that Ivy League schools command is largely due to their exclusivity, a fact that runs counter to the growing need to expose increasing numbers of people to higher education. Thus, somewhere in America, there is a college campus contemplating the highest rock-climbing wall in an effort to woo new students. That’s just about as ridiculous as online distance learning—what might be thought of as the successor to old “correspondence courses”—becoming as viable as Yale or Duke. But both are happening. The U.S., writes Rosen, has no other choice but to look to virtual for-profit learning outlets like Kaplan and the University of Phoenix to boost the number of college graduates.
Presently, this may be the subject of snide editorials and contemptuous hearings, but Rosen envisions a day when for-profit learning centers step up and fill the education gap much in the same way “land grant” and community colleges did in years past. The alternative, he fears, spells trouble for American supremacy in education.
A leading agitator for reform of the American school system outlines what needs to be done now, and why.
CNN commentator Perry (Raggedy Schools, 2009, etc.), a former school principal in Hartford, Conn., has been on the front lines of education reform since the 1990s. He calls himself a “functionalist”—i.e., “In my mind, if it works it's right”—and endeavors to employ functionalism in all of his projects. Secondary schools work if their students are qualified in the way their certificates represent, he writes, and are properly prepared for college. More than $2.5 billion is spent yearly in remedial education at the college level, repeating what should have been accomplished before they arrived on campus. Perry examines the responsibilities of teachers and teaching, parents and parenting, administrators and superintendents and the teacher’s unions (“the worst thing that ever happened to education”). The author’s first priority, however, is the children. He is a strong opponent of those who contend that funding disparities between inner-city and suburban districts are a cause of the failures in the system, and he insists that schools and school districts fail because of low expectations and poor teaching skills. He argues that teachers who do not like their students cannot teach them, because the students will not trust the teachers. He discusses how he finds and recruits teachers who will match his outlook, and what he expects from parents. Throughout the book, the author displays an admirably action-oriented approach, with plenty of advice for parents and others on how to get involved effectively.
Perry views his “functionalist” approach to education as a part of what needs to be done for the country to succeed. Many of his arguments are controversial, but they are crucial to the debate.
A comprehensive, community-based plan for education and child development.
It's been 15 years since Hillary Clinton said that it takes a village to raise a child, but so far, no one's been able to figure out how to make that happen. Kirp (Public Policy/Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics, 2007, etc.) provides five concrete action items for society to adopt to ensure that children don’t fall through the cracks. This isn't strictly an education book—in fact, as the author writes in his first point, starting in schools is too late. Rather, we need to equip parents with the tools they need to care for their children from birth. His second point focuses on early-childhood education, a crucial time in child development that Kirp argues is often overlooked. His answer to the traditional school model is a more community-based structure in which schools are fully integrated into a student's life. Fourth, the author argues for the value of volunteers and the impact that mentors and other adults can have on a child's life. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Kirp stresses the necessity of making sure children have a nest egg or savings plan to finance higher education. The author backs his theories with countless examples of successful private and publicly funded programs that have taken on separate pieces of this plan, from Big Brothers Big Sisters to the I Have a Dream Foundation. While these programs have proven fruitful for certain tenets of the plan for certain groups, the key to Kirp’s treatise is uniformity: All children should have access to all of these opportunities—without that, success is almost arbitrary.
Skeptics will argue that this is a pipe dream; despite a carefully outlined budget in the appendix, it’s a valid point. However, the author provides an important, well-researched wake-up call, and any part of it that educators and lawmakers take into account is worthwhile.