Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: The Flat World and Education

The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond

Reviewed by Susie Berry

Linda Darling-Hammond is well known for her work as an educator, researcher, and author. She began her work as a public school teacher (with a B.A. degree from Yale in 1973) and now holds an Ed.D. from Temple (1978). She has just been named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy and has served as the leader of President Barack Obama’s educational policy transition team.

This book compared (through many graphs and statistics) the math, science, and reading scores of students around the world. The discouraging information for anyone in the United States who cares about our children and our schools is that the last two decades have shown a substantial drop in our scores while the scores in many other countries have steadily improved.

Darling-Hammond is most concerned about the inconsistencies in both funding and academic achievement in the schools in this country. She notes that the emphasis on high-stakes testing (which was pushed in “No Child Left Behind”) correlates with the drop in our scores. She writes about the success of performance assessments using open-ended questions in the state of Connecticut and problem-solving assessments implemented in North Carolina.

Details about schools in Finland, Korea, and Singapore show how these countries have improved their scores for all students. Even with higher numbers of immigrant students and many in poverty, learning (particularly in the areas of problem solving and critical thinking) has continued to improve. Aggressive recruitment of bright, committed teachers and support of these teachers through on-going training consistently is a priority in these successful countries. Finland says that teachers are ranked highest in importance; Korea’s curriculum focuses on development of the whole child; and Singapore focuses on “thinking schools” with much less emphasis on testing.

How can the United States learn from countries that place a high priority on the education of their children? Darling-Hammond contends that the classroom teacher is “key.” Teachers need to be prepared through a strong pre-teaching curriculum, with strong skills in child development and educational pedagogy. They need to be prepared to expect all children to succeed. The inequality in funding between wealthy and poor districts must be remedied. Darling-Hammond also supports smaller schools – no more than 1,200 in high schools with an ideal of 300 – 500 students.

This book does not paint a pretty picture of education in this country, but the author did give specific suggestions on how we can learn from the success of other countries. She contends that an aggressive plan that would rapidly solve teacher shortages and dramatically upgrade teaching in all communities would cost $5 billion annually – far less than 1% of the cost thus far of the War in Iraq! Is this country ready to make that commitment?

Linda Darling-Hammond: The Flat World and Education - Video

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