Education Opinion

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By Anne E. Das — June 07, 2005 7 min read
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The Evolution-Creation Struggle
by Michael Ruse (Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138; 327 pp., $25.95 hardback)

A philosopher of science traces the history of the current controversy and reveals surprising similarities between evolutionist and creationist thinking. He views them as rival religious responses to a crisis of faith during the Enlightenment, and declares that a comprehensive knowledge of evolution must take into account its religious context before and after Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Not an attempt to prove either evolutionists or creationists correct, this book instead aims to provide a history that both can draw upon to understand the present.

Supertest: How the International Baccalaureate Can Strengthen Our Schools
by Jay Matthews & Ian Hill (Open Court, 140 S. Dearborn St., Ste. 1450, Chicago, IL 60603; 240 pp., $29.95 hardback)

An education reporter for The Washington Post and the deputy director general of the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva examine the history of the ib program, its expansion to more than 100 countries, and its effect on one ethnically and economically diverse public school in Virginia. Topics explored include the program’s recognition by universities, how it compares with the Advanced Placement program, and charges against it of political bias. Also included are an overview of the program’s testing methodologies, an appraisal of how well it prepares students for college, and statistics on the prevalence of its use among the nation’s best high schools. The authors contend that the ib program transforms both students and schools for the better, and assert that it has the potential to revitalize American education.


The Birth of Head Start: Preschool Education Policies in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations
by Maris A. Vinovskis (University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637; 205pp., $29 hardback)

Published 40 years after the inception of Head Start, this comprehensive political history of the program’s formative years offers new information that may help reframe current discussions of the program’s purpose. Written by a historian and former federal education official, the book draws on previously unexamined files at the National Archives and Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries, and brings to light hitherto neglected contributions of key participants, such as federal education officials and members of Congress. Its sustained consideration of how politics and policymaking have shaped the program may be of particular use for policymakers and legislators who invoke the history of Head Start to make the case for future reforms.


Press “One” for English: Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity
by Deborah J. Schildkraut (Princeton University Press, 41 William St., Princeton NJ 08540; 264pp., $35 hardback)

Why does legislation declaring English the official language consistently enjoy widespread support among the American people? The author examines survey data, focus groups, and other sources to show that people’s conceptions of what it means to be American play an integral role in how they form and explain their views on language-policy issues. One notable exception, she finds, is bilingual education. She attributes this difference to a haze of confusion encompassing the bilingual debate: While most people agree that schools should do whatever they can to ensure that students learn English, most disagree over which method is most effective, and a surprisingly high percentage do not understand the differences between them.


Improving Literacy in America: Guidelines From Research
by Frederick J. Morrison, Heather J. Bachman, & Carol McDonald Connor (Yale University Press, PO Box 209040, New Haven, CT 06520; 240 pp., $35 hardback)

Frustrated by quick-fix solutions and reforms debated in isolation, the three authors of this volume draw on more than 20 years of research to outline the complex and interrelated sets of factors that shape children’s learning. Topics addressed include socioeconomic and ethnic differences; day care and preschool; the role of parenting; how age, gender, and temperament affect school readiness; and teacher qualifications and training. They argue that equal attention must be given to the years before kindergarten, and analyze the impact of significant shifts in parenting and teaching over the last half-century. The book concludes with seven recommendations for improving literacy.


Ethics for School Business Officials
by William T. Hartman & Jacqueline A. Stefkovich (ScarecrowEducation, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield publishing Group, published in partnership with the Association of School Business Officials International, 4501 Forbes Blvd., Ste. 200, Lanham, MD 20706; 128pp., $22.95 hardback)

This guide for school business officials highlights the importance of ethical behavior in their professional lives and helps them incorporate ethical considerations into education decisionnmaking. To deal with the complexity and range of issues that confront such professionals, the book offers multiple frameworks to manage different and often competing perspectives and expectations. These include models based on what is just, caring, and inclusive, as well as community expectations and standards set forth by professional associations. Features include help for school business officials in developing their own personal and professional codes of ethics, and real-life case studies of ethical dilemmas, written by school business officials themselves.


Inside Teaching: How Classroom Life Undermines Reform
by Mary M. Kennedy (Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138; 332 pp., $25.95 hardback)

A professor of teacher education poses two major questions: Why do American teachers—well educated, motivated, and with ample resources at their disposal—engage in practices that receive so much criticism, and why are reformers, who have labored for decades to improve practice, largely unsuccessful? Through interviews with teachers and classroom observation, she finds that teachers are very aware of reform ideals, but that routine conditions of classroom life dictate teaching practices. Pedagogical reforms that do not take these demands into account are bound to fail, she writes.

Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers
by Daniel Moulthrop, Ninive Clements Calegari, & Dave Eggers (New Press, 38 Greene St., New York, NY 10013; 368pp., $25.95 hardback)

Interweaving with statistical analysis the personal accounts of both teachers and those who left the profession, this book exposes the harsh realities of public school teaching. The three authors—a teacher turned journalist; a veteran teacher and founding director of a nonprofit writing center; and the acclaimed author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius—delve into the problems of recruitment and retention, myths of short workdays and plentiful vacations, hardships resulting from low wages, and societal perceptions of teaching. Schools that have successfully implemented changes are highlighted; the authors conclude that salary reform and innovative compensation plans are key to overhauling the profession.


The Elusive Ideal: Equal Educational Opportunity and the Federal Role in Boston’s Public Schools, 1950-1985
by Adam R. Nelson (University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637; 352pp., $27.50 paperback)

In this ambitious study, an education historian investigates the wide range of interconnected policies that dramatically reshaped Boston’s public schools during the postwar years. Most famous for its busing crisis and other struggles with racial desegregation, Boston also proves an example of policy implementation for special education, compensatory education, bilingual education, school funding, and student testing. How the quest for greater educational equity unfolded amid often-contentious relations between local and federal government has resonance for other urban systems today.

Urban School Reform: Lessons From San Diego
edited by Frederick M. Hess ( Harvard University Press, 8 Story St., Cambridge, MA 02138; 375 pp., $29.95 paperback)

This collection looks at the full range of issues facing urban school systems through the lens of recent improvement efforts in San Diego. The scholars and practitioners capture the San Diego experience and use their analyses to provide lessons, instruction, and guidance for urban reformers across the nation. Contributors include Michael D. Usdan, Amy M. Hightower, Milbrey W. McLaughlin, and Alan D. Bersin.


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