Education Book Review

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October 30, 2007 3 min read
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CULTURAL EDUCATION

‘When I Was a Little Cuban Boy’

—Richard Blanco, a poet raised in the United States by Cuban exiles, reflects on his early years of schooling in Miami for a collection of essays, How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life. The book’s contributors, a diverse group including politicians, artists, writers, athletes, and entertainers, describe their common struggle to master the English language, and highlight the teachers, both formal and informal, who gave them their first instruction.

Eight Latino teachers with mostly Latino students weigh in on bilingual education, high-stakes testing, tracking, and other controversies in this book based on interviews.

A profile of the “sweet 15” celebration from the author of the best-selling novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Education, particularly higher education, is one of the primary means by which enterprising young people can climb the socioeconomic ladder, at least according to the modern vision of the American dream. But in reality, admissions offices for the nation’s elite colleges and universities do more to perpetuate privilege than encourage upward social mobility, contends Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University. This book stems from the 18 months he spent as a participant-observer in the admissions office of an unnamed, reportedly prestigious liberal arts college. That experience, he relates, showed him the preferential treatment given to applicants whose parents bought houses in good school districts, enrolled them in extracurricular activities, took them on trips abroad—in short, structured their own lives around their children’s education and edification. Such favoritism, he writes, solidifies an upper-middle-class social system that uses academic credentialing as a way to pass wealth and status from one generation to the next. And because society’s privileged members tend to dictate its mores, he concludes, the end result is a revolution in child-rearing that further cripples the disadvantaged. Merit may have displaced money as the primary calling card for admission to an elite college, but readers of this book may wonder if much has really changed.

Entreats the humanities to resume their role in pondering life’s basic questions.

Walks families through the financial-aid process.

URBAN SCHOOLS

Across the nation, big-city mayors increasingly are claiming a role in public education, bringing district management under their purview with the aim of reforming entrenched systems and furthering student achievement. But has mayoral control shown success as a turnaround strategy? Based on an analysis of more than 100 school districts in 40 states, the authors, three university faculty members and one doctoral fellow, answer yes. Focusing on cities with mayor-appointed school boards, they assess standardized-test results, district finances and staffing, and district-community relations to determine the impact of switching to such a system. They find that it can lead to higher reading and math scores, greater fiscal discipline, and more public attention on education issues, among other positive effects. The authors caution, however, that mayoral control is not a cure-all for every city district, and they point to places where the change in governance has been tried and abandoned.To lessen the chance of failure, they also offer guidance for evaluating whether an attempt is likely to succeed in a particular location. The stakes are high: Both students’ futures and mayors’ political prospects may depend on getting mayoral control right.

Race, class, and immigration intertwine in this account of Chicago’s public schools from 1900 to 1960.

A comparative analysis of school culture in four small schools in Boston and Oakland, Calif.

ALSO OF NOTE

Indiana’s state-champion high school marching band works to defend its title in this nonfiction narrative.

A reference book profiling the education systems of 17 East Asian countries.

Recounts Ellery Schempp’s 1956 refusal to participate in his public school’s mandatory Bible-reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and the course of the U.S. Supreme Court case that bears his name.

Instructions for implementing ideas from the best-selling book and recent movie.

A coffee-table book featuring more than 500 artifacts, drawings, and photographs from Colonial times to the present.

An illustration-filled history of the picture-book publisher whose “poky little puppy,” “saggy baggy elephant,” and “tawny scrawny lion” have delighted children for 65 years.

A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2007 edition of Education Week

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