New And Noteworthy
"I take no satisfaction in having an excellent track record for predicting failure of all past efforts to improve schools generally," writes the Yale University scholar Seymour B. Sarason in Parental Involvement and the Political Principle: Why the Existing Governance Structure of Schools Should Be Abolished. Likening the current stage of school reform to the 1787 constitutional convention, he says that the role of parents in their children's education is often mired in "empty rhetoric." Public schools will continue to get worse, he predicts, until parents and other community members tackle the problem of school-governance systems, specifically school boards and state departments of education. This sequel to his book The Predictable Failure of Education Reform is designed, the professor of psychology emeritus explains, to stimulate a national debate about the decisionmaking and legitimacy of these governing bodies and the individuals who control them. He urges parents to examine school-governance alternatives and to risk exercising their democratic rights. Though he concludes by recommending the abolition of school boards, he offers no blueprint for achieving such proactive governance reform, leaving that process to the discretion of local communities. (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco)
Could anyone imagine students taking a course in poetry without reading poems, asks the University of Vermont sociologist James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Yet history textbooks, he asserts, are not only boring students, but also misinforming them about the unfolding of American history. In the process, he says, they are dulling students' ability to analyze and stifling any form of imaginative thinking. Based on his study of 12 American-history textbooks, Mr. Loewen examines how textbooks, in his view, distort and homogenize U.S. history by eliminating primary references, downplaying controversy, and skimming over details. "Students need not be protected from [the] material," he writes. "They can just as well read one paragraph from William Jennings Bryan's 'Cross of Gold' speech as read American Adventure's two paragraphs about it." Interspersed with his criticisms are dozens of colorful tales from history as well as a pointed commentary about the publishing business and the textbook-adoption process. Mr. Loewen's goal in writing the book seems best summarized in his dedication: "To all American history teachers who teach against their textbooks." (The New Press, New York City)
The founder of Princeton Review, one of the country's leading test-coaching concerns, suggests in a new book that eliminating standardized tests would improve the educational process. In Class Action: How To Create Accountability, Innovation, and Excellence in American Schools, John Katzman, writing with Steven Hodas, a former Princeton Review colleague, sets forth an alternative testing proposal: Multiple National Curricula. Using the lively language employed in Princeton Review study guides, the two authors call for the development of hundreds of different curricula from which school districts, parents, and teachers could choose the one that best meets the needs of the children in their community. This "solution," they argue, is apolitical. Each curriculum would have its own nationally administered test, meaning that all children would be assessed in the same way, regardless of the content of their curriculum. The authors acknowledge, however, that such a transformation would require not only local support but also national support, specifically from leaders of higher education in the form of adapted admissions requirements. (Villard Books/Random House, New York City)
A License To Teach: Building a Profession for the 21st-Century Schools proposes, among other reforms, a performance-based-licensing approach to answering the question of whether teacher-candidates are competent enough for the classroom. The book is the work of three leading educational researchers: Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University; Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education; and Stephen P. Klein, a senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation. It lays out a three-part assessment model for new teachers, including a test of the common core of teaching knowledge, a one-year supervised internship in a professional-development school, and a performance assessment of teaching skills. Drawing on their extensive research with Minnesota school districts, the authors suggest that that state's experiences with reforming the teacher-licensing process can be replicated nationwide. An "outcomes based" professional-licensing system--one based on what teachers can actually do, rather than how many courses they have taken--would boost public confidence in the profession, they maintain. It would also, they say, alter how teachers are recruited, increase their salaries, and enhance the list of responsibilities they are given. But achieving this kind of reform, the authors caution, will require both time and money. (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo.)
David Perkins, the co-director of Harvard University's cognitive-sciences research group, Harvard Project Zero, believes that people can learn to become smarter. "[W]e are not so boxed in by our genetic heritage," he writes in Outsmarting I.Q.: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence. "On the contrary, intelligence is something that can be cultivated and acquired." Mr. Perkins examines the research surrounding intelligence and I.Q. and proposes a new theory that details how three types of intelligence--neural, experiential, and reflective--function simultaneously. Neural intelligence, which can be measured by I.Q. tests, is tied to the efficiency of the neurological system, whereas experiential intelligence depends on the individual's acquired knowledge and experiences. Reflective intelligence, that is, being able to recognize and alter one's problem-solving processes, is, Mr. Perkins says, the easiest of the three kinds of intelligence to enhance, especially for students. To do so, he proposes a "metacurriculum" that would teach both content material and how to improve the thinking processes. He also suggests specific strategies to help individuals improve their overall intelligence, which would allow them to better cope with what he sees as daunting challenges in the next century. (Free Press, New York)
For many reasons, a good man--particularly a good father--may be hard to find these days, laments David Blankenhorn in Fatherless in America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem. Mr. Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the New York City-based nonprofit organization Institute for American Values, argues that the country must retrieve and revive the concept of married fatherhood if it is serious about salvaging its children's future and society's well-being. He paints a broad portrait of an American society that has become morally laissez-faire, and suggests that the cult of personal choice, aided little by contributing economic or political pressures, is the chief culprit in the decline of fatherhood and the rise of violence. In particular, Mr. Blankenhorn calls for a radical cultural shift from a divorce culture to a marriage culture. He writes: "The good news, largely ignored in today's script, is that married fatherhood is a man's most important pathway to happiness. Being a loving husband and committed father is the best part of being a man." Several measures might help this cultural revival, Mr. Blankenhorn suggests, including efforts to get young men to take a pledge of fatherhood, the formation of local Fathers' Clubs, and academic efforts that would include, in his words, "a few prominent family scholars [writing] new textbooks for high school students about marriage and parenthood." (Basic Books, New York City).