Published by Brunsell on 02 Jan 2010 at 03:08 pm
Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine Our Future, is a candid and brutal critique of U.S. education policy. Darling-Hammond shows how our educational policy and reform efforts at the state and national level are incoherent, misguided and inequitable. She also provides a roadmap for reform that focuses on teacher development, equity, and ‘21st Century Curriculum.’ This book is a must read for anyone that cares about the future of education in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the book is “Temporarily out of stock” at Amazon.com, so here is a summary:
In a landslide of data, Chapter 1 chronicles how our education system was developed for an industrial age and has remained stagnant as societal demands have changed. The U.S. is falling behind other countries as they make significant investments in education reform, including removing rigid centralized structures and increasing investments in teacher education and development. The reforms undertaken by high-performing countries involve long-term commitments (not a “Race to the Top”). In contrast, reforms in the U.S. are focused on evaluating students on discrete pieces of knowledge and not on addressing significant inequities in our education system. Schools in low-socioeconomic areas (which also serve a large population of minority students) are often underfunded and have the least experienced teachers.
Chapter 2 focuses on “opportunity gap” by chronicling how inequities in resources and teacher quality impact low-socioeconomic schools. One aspect of this is the differing quality of supports for English language learners, which often involves segregating them into ‘ELL ghettos.’ Chapter 2 closes with a glimmer of hope from small school reform efforts, but also cautions how most educational policies are unfriendly to any structures that are different from traditional schools.
Chapter 3 begins with an overview of standardized testing and the resulting negative impact on instructional practices. In most cases, high-stakes standardized testing in the U.S. has lead to teachers rushing through the curriculum instead of focusing on quality teaching and students who can answer test questions, but can not apply their knowledge and skills. In addition, these accountability reforms have lead to policies that punish low-performing students and schools instead of providing the supports they need. The chapter closes with a detailed debunking of the “Texas Miracle.” Texas is often used as a poster child for using standardized testing for improving student performance. However, these improvements disappear quickly when subjected to rigorous analysis. Comparisons are made to how standardized testing has also decreased opportunities for low-income students in Massachusetts.
Chapter 4 focuses on inequitable funding and the relationship between funding and quality. The chapter details legal efforts and challenges related to arguing for equitable funding. Darling-Hammond provides evidence that builds a relationship between funding and equity and describes how investments in quality pre-school experiences and quality pedagogy have demonstrable impacts.
Chapter 5 contrasts policy in three states by showing that investments in improving teacher quality, development of quality standard, and early-learning experiences has improved achievement and narrowed achievement gaps in North Carolina and Connecticut over the past 20 years. However, a focus on reducing property taxes in California has decimated investments in education and has been devastating for its education system. Chapter 6 compares the inconsistent and often incoherent education reform policies in the U.S. to efforts in Finland, North Korea, and Singapore. These three countries made significant long-term efforts in a number of areas over the past thirty years. Although the efforts in each country are unique, they share these comonalities:
- Equitable funding
- Eliminated tracking systems
- Focused learning standards/outcomes on higher order thinking skills
- Developed national teaching policies to develop stronger teacher education programs
- Supported ongoing teacher learning, including providing 15-25 hours per week for collaborative planning and improvement.
- Pursued consistent, long-term efforts.
Chapter 7 focuses on improving teacher preparation and quality by overhauling teacher preparation, fixing teacher recruitment and retention, and creating opportunities to share teacher knowledge and skill to create widespread expertise that can improve schools.
Chapter 8 provides a vision for what quality schools should look like. Our system should move towards smaller schools that keep students and teachers together for multiple years. This will allow for building strong communities of learners. In addition, inquiry and project-based structures should be used to promote intellectually challenging, personalized and relevant instruction that is assessed through performance-based measures. Teachers and administrators should be collaborative learners as they focus on continual improvement.
Chapter 9 provides a policy roadmap in three key areas to create a high-quality and equitable school system. First, coherent and meaningful learning goals must be created. These learning goals should be complemented by appropriate state and local assessment systems that evaluate students’ abilities to solve problems, and explain and defend their ideas. Second, policies must be enacted to equalize funding. Third, policies should be enacted to improve teacher quality. Increases in funding for recruitment and retention of quality teachers in high-need areas and mentoring programs are needed. Additionally, a reconceptualization of teacher education and professional development is needed to ensure that quality teaching is the “norm,” not the exception. Finally, these reforms for improving teacher quality must be done in concert with reforms to school cultures and structures to focus on collaborative learning.
Linda Darling-Hammond ends the book with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.
I said to my children, “I’m going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s Children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.”
The Flat World and Education provides an exhaustively researched call to action for educators and policymakers. However, what sets this book apart is the focus on a coherent and comprehensive policy vision of how to get to where we need to be.