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No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning Hardcover – October 7, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The Thernstroms, senior fellows at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, deliver "a tough message" about how "to close the racial gap in academic achievement." Although the 48 graphs and tables, 566 footnotes and statistics galore may muffle the work's polemical aspects, the Thernstroms produce a case for standards-based testing and charter schools. Despite caveats (e.g., "Not all Asian parents and their children fit the stereotype... and Asian Americans are not actually one `group' "), the authors' assessment of success and failure attributes much to ethnic cultural factors. Family expectations and hard work lead to success for Asian-Americans, who embrace "the American work ethic with life-or-death fervor," while "the limited education of many Hispanic parents" and "their propensity to work in unskilled jobs that don't require a knowledge of English" underlie the poor performance of Latino students. African-American failure rests in "the special role of television in the life of black children and the low expectations of their parents." "Conventional wisdom" about improving schools (more money, improved cleanliness, smaller classes, etc.) is inadequate, they say. Title I and Head Start appear to have accomplished little, they lament, but Bush's No Child Left Behind (and its mandatory testing program) gets high praise. For the Thernstroms, ideal schools break from tradition and are liberated from such "roadblocks to change" as "hands-tied administrators" and unions. Enter vouchers (implicitly) and charter schools (quite explicitly), where the Thernstroms seem particularly taken by students chanting "answers-with claps and stomps and fists held high" and reciting "rules in unison."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Authors of America in Black and White (1997), the Thernstroms take on the troubling and stubborn gap that persists in academic achievement between white students and black and Hispanic students, a gap that translates into a lifetime of uneven opportunities. They begin by citing statistics based on standardized test scores that verify the woeful achievement gap, which has become the burning issue in the continued struggle for racial justice. In separate chapters, the authors look at the historic and cultural factors at work in the low academic achievement of blacks and Hispanics and the high achievement of Asians, compared with white students. But the heart of the book focuses on several inner-city schools across the nation that have succeeded in educating minority children and provide models for educational reform. The success factors include independence from district control, discretionary budgetary power, and latitude in hiring nonunion teachers. Although it is sure to provoke some controversy, this book provides a thoughtful look at a pressing social problem. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
In short, if facts and data about racial differences in student achievement "trigger" you, this book is not for you. However, for those genuinely interested in why these differences exist, and more importantly, what can be done about them, this is a well-written and insightful piece of work.
As befits a pair of Harvard PhDs, the book is well-researched and annotated. While an anecdote might set the tone for a chapter, years of historical data and research always back up major points. It is also worth noting that the Thernstroms are respected by both sides in our political landscape, have been lifelong activists in the Civil Rights movement, and have the bona fides to compliment their analysis. Collectively, theirs is a voice that should be heard and listened to.
By way of background, I currently work as a special educator in a middle class high school that is 98% black. While I am not a fan of relying on anecdotal evidence, many of the statistics and arguments in this book encapulate well the things I see every day. A main piece of the authors' thesis is that, according to surveys, black students spend less time on homework, more time watching television, and experience less parental accountability than do their white and asian counterparts. Well, I see this every day; this book just confirms that this experience is not limited to my high school, but is happening on a national scale.
The purpose of this book is not to play the blame game, and not to spout off any political viewpoint. Rather, the book takes a very detached tone, and nothing said is said without the backing of statistics. AS others point out, the book is laden with graphs and charts demonstrating the distressing phenomenon of our widened racial gap in educational achievement (and educational effort).
Also, the authors are not "doom and gloom." Much of the book profiles minority schools that ARE achieving, and often achieving higher than their "white" counterparts. Most of those schools are private or charter schools (like the KIPP schools).
The authors' conclusions are ones that several people do not want to hear, but need to hear. The solution to all of this is to, quite simply, become aware of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that we put on kids - particularly minority kids - and be conscious to hold all students to the same standards. If the black population wants to experience the same deserts as the white population, then the only way is to do the things they are doing; equal results only comes from equal output and effort.
As to the reviewers below that paint this book is over-generalization and stereotype, I mentioned before that nothing said in thes pages is said without the backing of statistics. Some of the authors' statements allign with existing stereotypes, but never unjustly so and every conclulsion in the book can be justified statistically.
In conclusion, this book speaks candidly about a real problem - a problem that I, a special educator at a black high school, see every day. The only way we can close the racial gap is to set, and keep, standards. Kozol may be right that equal money can help achieve equal results (and this really is statistically debatable) but the Thernstroms are equally right to suggest that equal effort is the other half - so far, the missing half - of the equation.
Kelvin L. Reed, Author of "Rookie Year: Journey of a First-Year Teacher" (Peralta Publishing, 1999)