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What we Americans can do for our education system(s)
on February 15, 2010
This is Linda Darling-Hammond's magnum opus, and it is a magnum opus--complex, thorough, well-written, complete, and thoughtful. Her thesis is that until we in the U.S. do the following, our country will produce hollowed-out children who cannot compete in the global economy: (1) Make a serious, long-term commitment to educational equity by funding all districts equally; (2) Use "thinking curricula" that require students to work together on projects of intellectual import, rather than on meaningless "seatwork"; (3) Professionalize the teaching profession by increasing its status, pay, training, professional development, and requirements for entry, especially in the sciences, mathematics, foreign languages, and so forth; (4) Use a 15- to 20-year timeline for improvement; (5) Stop the yo-yo curriculum innovations that swing U.S. curricula all over the block in unproductive "innovational" oscillations; (6) Stop punitive de-funding or punitive control of "failing schools" through Annual Yearly Progress reports, which have the unintended consequence of over-valuing the results of standardized testing.
Darling-Hammond gives both positive and negative examples of educational innovation. On the positive side in the globe: Singapore, South Korea, and Finland. In the U.S. Connecticut, North Carolina. These are extremely well-written case studies of how to improve education well. On the negative side: The U.S. as a whole, and California in particular, which gutted the #1 public school system in the world over the last 30 years.
In regard to educational equity, Darling-Hammond is particularly passionate, especially since the poor districts are also the immigrant districts are also the most-needy districts and the least well-funded districts. Such disparities in Massachsetts, for example (not mentioned in her book): Newton, MA, just built a $170 million high school; Chelsea, MA, twenty miles away, is bankrupt. Guess where the poor immigrant groups live.
I finished the book by wanting to ask Darling-Hammond questions. For instance, if we created a national action plan to improve education in the U.S., how long would she want it to run, and how much would it cost? What would she do about the multi-tiered political offices that control local education (federal, state, and local)? What would be her #1 curriculum priorities? Would she dispose of useless courses? How would she handle the problems of parent rage and disrespect of teachers? What would be the impact of her reforms on special education and bilingual education, which have poor track records for re-integration or fast integration of students into the overall curriculum?
On my part, I have suspicions about both special education and bilingual education that lasts for six or seven years. Also, Darling-Hammond does not mention that U.S. students study about 50% as much as students in well-functioning countries such as India and China. This lets our students off the hook of improving themselves (see the movie, 2 Million Minutes, which is the amount of time students in the U.S., China, and India spend in high school).
Nevertheless, her overarching conclusion is valid: until and unless we build an equitable, well-funded, comprehensive, across-the-board reformed educational system, U.S. children will never be able to compete in the world economy. That's the nice way of saying our children will come out dumb.
The measure of a good book: one wants to continue the dialogue. Nicely done, Dr. Darling- Hammond!