Golden, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal, investigates what he sees as preferential treatment given by college-admissions offices to the children of alumni, donors, politicians, celebrities, and faculty members. He finds that such students, most often wealthy and white, greatly outnumber minority students benefiting from affirmative action, and estimates that at least one-third of students at elite universities and one-half at liberal arts colleges received special consideration during the admissions process. Middle- and working-class applicants suffer the most, he writes, with the bar for admission set highest for Asian-Americans. To make college admissions more equitable, Golden recommends that schools eliminate “legacy” preferences, scholarships for traditionally upper-class sports such as horseback riding, and tuition assistance for children of faculty; refuse donations from parents of children applying or wait-listed for admission; and give Asian-American applicants and international applicants requesting financial aid equal consideration.
A journalist and former child prodigy, Quart explores how gifted children are identified, the ways that parents cultivate and manage their children’s giftedness, and what the long-term effects of being labeled “gifted” are. She writes that parents’ obsession with giftedness is fueled in part by what she terms the “baby-genius edutainment complex,” a new industry of products, classes, and services that claim to promote children’s intelligence as early as in the womb. Quart supports the idea that children can benefit from educationally enriching activities when they are young, but warns that excessive training and overscheduling can result in psychological and social problems that may last into adulthood. The challenge for parents and educators, she concludes, is to help children discover and develop their talents in an age-appropriate manner. To that end, she suggests that the definition of giftedness be broadened, calls for schools to strengthen their gifted-education programs, and reminds parents to allow time for unstructured play.
Government and Education
To explain what he views as the U.S. government’s increasing involvement in K-12 education, Manna, an assistant professor of government at the College of William and Mary, presents a general theory of federalism and agenda-setting he calls “borrowing strength.” It states that policymakers at one level of government who are seeking to advance a specific agenda can further their cause by making use of the arguments, resources, or structures of other levels. He traces the United States’ education agenda over the past 40 years to demonstrate how it has been shaped by this style of interaction between policymakers, giving particular attention to the framing and implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. Manna cautions against seeing gains at one level of government as losses for the other, however, affirming that states continue to be a source of innovative education policy even as the federal role in schooling has expanded.
A collection of firsthand accounts from teachers, school administrators, and students, this book tells what happened in New York City schools on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the months following the World Trade Center attack. The authors recall not only the struggles they faced—hurried evacuations, classes relocated to crowded rooms in shared school buildings for weeks on end—but also the moments that uplifted them, such as watching students paint a mural celebrating their school’s cultural and religious diversity. Their stories illustrate the part that educators can play in helping children cope with tragedy while at the same time teaching them the meaning of such events. As Carole Saltz, the director of Teachers College Press, writes in her preface, “[T]eachers who can teach children through difficult times may turn adversity into understanding.”
In 2000, after giving up a promising career as the Microsoft Corp.’s director of business development for the greater-China region, Wood founded Room to Read, a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering literacy among children in developing nations. Currently operating in Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, Room to Read has donated 1.2 million books and worked with local communities to establish more than 200 schools and 2,500 libraries, having an impact on the lives of some 875,000 children. In this book, Wood recounts the backpacking trip in Nepal that prompted his career change, as well as the obstacles and successes he encountered in starting up a nonprofit. He also explains how business practices he learned at Microsoft, such as keeping overhead costs low, help him manage the organization. Wood’s unfailing belief in the transforming power of education, together with the stories of children affected by his work, make this an inspiring read.
The son of an evangelist preacher and a mother from rural Appalachia, Jennings describes how he overcame a childhood of poverty in the South to become the first in his family to attend college and later went on to found the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. He credits his mother, who was forced to leave school to get a job when she was 9 years old, for his academic success: When Jennings threatened to drop out of high school, she ordered his school’s administration to enroll him in a gifted-and-talented program instead. After graduating from Harvard, he taught in elite private schools, where he disagreed with administrators over nondiscrimination policies and whether he should make his sexuality known. His struggles as an openly gay teacher, and the harassment he endured growing up, led him to organize GLSEN, whose early years he outlines in the book. Jennings’ story is both a personal one and a history of an education movement.
Drawing on her experiences as a teacher, principal, and now superintendent, Tingley dispenses practical advice on resolving parent-teacher conflicts with a light-hearted but informed tone. She profiles nine parent types—“Pinocchio’s mom,” for example, never doubts her child’s truthfulness, while the “uncivil libertarian” disputes any rule his child is caught breaking—and gives strategies for dealing professionally and effectively with each. Tingley also provides guidance on when to turn to a principal for assistance, and offers recommendations for collaborative, productive parent-teacher conferences. Most parents are easy to work with, she writes, but learning communication skills can help a teacher avoid becoming one of the many who cite difficult parents as a reason for their departure from the profession. A good selection for new teachers especially.
A version of this article appeared in the September 06, 2006 edition of Education Week as New In Print