Filmmaker Shyamalan makes his nonfiction debut with this engaging presentation of the results of his research into methods for closing America's education gap.
The author begins with his visits to two Philadelphia high schools: the top-performing magnet school Masterman and its neighbor Overbrook, where only 54 percent of students got their diplomas. These differences prompted Shyamalan to begin an extensive investigation of common beliefs about the problems with American education and how they can be fixed. He interviewed experts nationwide and toured schools where leading-edge work is being done. Many believe that smaller class sizes are a key to success; others take up the cause of parental choice and vouchers. The state of Tennessee's STAR program has been promoting smaller class sizes since the 1980s, while Milwaukee has been sponsoring voucher-paid programs, which increase parental choice about which school their children attend. Shyamalan finds evidence that the Tennessee program “has a minimal positive result,” while the biggest measured effect of the Milwaukee program has been on parental satisfaction, which Shyamalan considers “a poor proxy for improved student performance.” Two of the five keys the author found are tied to fostering the positive impact of good teachers. The author claims that those who defend the concept of tenure have the problem “completely upside down.” It is not possible to know what kind of teacher someone is going to be until they have been on the job for at least two to three years. The tenure system can therefore serve to protect the positions of bad teachers whose earlier departures would strengthen the longer-term contributions better teachers can make. The author also wants principals to be engaged directly in improving classroom quality.
A lively, provocative contribution from an outsider with his own way of addressing the problem.