The Book of the Week is “Saving Schools” by Paul E. Peterson, published in 2010. This book tells the history of education in the United States. It presents some inconvenient facts many politicians and even education “professionals” do not want to acknowledge.
Sociologist James Coleman did extensive longitudinal studies on thousands of students in the early 1960’s. He found that “within regions and types of communities (urban, suburban and rural), expenditures per pupil were about the same in black and white schools… students did not learn more just because more money was spent on their education.” Students’ reading ability was not affected by the following factors: class sizes, teachers’ credentials, textbook newness, number of books in the school library, or any other “material resource of a school.” It was affected by the students’ home lives. Another interesting finding was that low-income African-Americans read better when placed in classes with higher-income Caucasians, but the latter did not do worse when placed in classes with the former.
During the era of desegregation of the schools, Caucasian families moved from cities to suburbs at a higher rate than did African-American families. Suburban schools therefore became more segregated, and thus there occurred less integration than otherwise in all kinds of communities overall.
One of LBJ’s anti-poverty programs gave billions of federal dollars to schools to provide intensive tutoring to disadvantaged African American students. Unfortunately, this singled the students out, and made them targets for bullying. Besides, the tutors “often had less training” than regular classroom teachers. Research has yet to prove that the tutoring was significantly helpful.
Some education reformers have called for hiring of teachers who lack a master’s degree, as extra schooling is no guarantee of better teaching. Teachers earned master’s degrees in droves in the 20th century only because they were paid more for earning one. Teacher-training schools and unions have vehemently opposed removing this teaching credential.
“…relative to other employees who hold college degrees, teachers today are not as well paid as they were in 1960.”
In 2008, federal education officials and a team at UCLA proposed national education standards. However, the portrayal of the United States in historical accounts, and the selectivity of curricular contents turned out to be too controversial.
The book also exposes the flaws of George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law. It covers the pros and cons of school vouchers, and the system that has been widely implemented as an alternative to vouchers – charter schools.
The author obviously favors the use of technology with regard to education. For, the table of contents bears the headings for parts 1, 2 and 3: “The Rise,” “The Decline” and “Signs of Resurrection.” The third part contains a chapter on technology.
The author speculates that the future of education will involve online learning for all students, even declaring: “Each student, each household, each family will pick and choose among the endless variety of options entrepreneurs can produce.” The use of the word “entrepreneurs” is disturbing when used in the context of education. The author makes other assertions with which I do not agree, but he does provide extensive documentation on matters of “fact.”