Monday, September 08, 2014

A book not to recommend

I read Crooked Timber's enthusiastic write-up of Paying for the Party so decided to read it as part of my recent foray into education themed book (another blog also reviewed it positively - Hullabaloo?).  To be honest, I could not flog myself through it - somewhere around chapter 3, i started skip/skimming chapters until the end.  Unlike Smartest Kids in the World, where the author followed three students, so you had some sense of their character and travails, by contrast, the multitude of students followed in PftP were reduced to cultural stereotypes - Middle Class/under achiever/procreation.  That last column description seemed odd to me - did all the women label procreation really get pregnant/have babies so soon?  Or did marriage count as procreation.  I never to get a sense that the authors thesis was correct - college reinforces inequality - though given that I only read perhaps 20%, maybe there was some basis.

In the end, it's still personal choice that matters.  I had a friend who was also in engineering and had a good co-op job, but when his funding ran out, he dropped out of school & then lost his job.  Later he found out that the school would have given him retroactive credit for the semester & if he had one more semester under his belt, he would have kept his job.  Circumstances were against him, but his personal choices also mattered, so putting the blame on the college party/greek system lets the students off the hook.

Back to the general debate about education.  Several themes are clear in most (all?) of the discussion that I've read.

  1. Too much testing.  Obviously some benchmarking is needed, but with "No Child Left Behind" it reached an excessive level.  (Personal note - since Taryl Jr is just starting 3rd grade, we haven't had any standardized testing to date).
  2. Teacher training.  A critique from Smartest kids is that NCLB has the idea backwards.  No screening of teachers, just toss them out if they're no good once they are in schools.  To wit - product not process.  This aspect is changing as the schools all have teacher development - especially our current charter school.
A couple of negative trends that I have witnessed are:
  1. Too long a school year - mid-June to mid-August is summer vacation now.
  2. Too much homework - who thinks homework in kindergarten is a good idea?  Additionally, our local elementary school's principal forced the teachers to give homework the last week of class after the teachers had stopped.  1st grade teacher had an old teaching assistant, who gave ~45 minutes/day of homework.  Have always believed that was so she would have something to do since she was physically unable to perform other classroom duties.  Am happy that the current teacher subscribes to the "10 minutes per grade" (30 minutes for 3rd graders) rule of thumb this year.
Back to NYTimes  magazine section on education.

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