Book Alert: The Flat World and Education

By 05/27/2010

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Linda Darling-Hammond
The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future
Teachers College Press 2010
394 pages

One doesn’t have to agree with Linda Darling-Hammond (LDH as she is widely known in ed-reform circles) to be impressed with this major work, which draws together many strands from her work, her research, and her worldview about education and education reform. Indeed, one might well describe this as a comprehensive introduction to her thinking and priorities.

Those matter more than a little in contemporary American K–12 education as she is (a) close to the Obama administration, (b) the intellectual and spiritual leader of one of the two major “consortia” of states that are going to develop new assessment systems to accompany the new “common core” standards, and (c) she is at the epicenter of much work on multiple fronts—with big bucks from major foundations—to transform how the country views assessment and how states engage in it.

The dominant theme of this book (and much of her work) is educational equity and how to advance it, but these pages range far and wide, across state case studies, international comparisons, and quite a lot of research.

I don’t much agree with major elements of it. I believe she relies overmuch on school inputs, overmuch on “formative” assessments, overmuch on “21st century skills,” etc. She doesn’t view standards and accountability as I do (or as I think much of the country does) and is overly impressed by the achievements wrought by some big-spending interventions (such as New Jersey’s “Abbott districts”). She views schools primarily through the lens of educators—producers, one might say—rather than what they accomplish for their consumers (and taxpayers). She’s got scant enthusiasm for most forms of school choice (and the Palo Alto charter school with which she was closely involved has so weak a record of student achievement that its charter is not being renewed). On the other hand, she’s insightful about the workings of education systems in several other countries and dead right about most of what’s gone wrong in California.

Agree with it or not, this is a book to be taken seriously, written by a very likeable, very smart, very influential person.

Comment on this article
  • Barbara Mckenna says:

    To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the Stanford charter’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Yours is not the first blog to report that the charter is closed, but maybe with a correction here it can be the last. The Stanford charter is not closed. In April, 2010, the school board renewed a modified charter citing the high school’s strong graduation and college-going rates, which have turned around a pattern of high dropouts in one of the state’s poorest communities. The success of the students includes a graduation rate last year of 86% — well above the state average of 80% for all students and approximately 65% for African American and Latino students. And 96% were accepted at college, with 53% accepted to four-year colleges, more than twice the rate for California students as a whole. Happily the rumors are false and East Palo Alto High School students will continue to receive an education that connects them to a successful future.

    Senior Writer, Center for Teacher Education and School Reform, Stanford University

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