More re: what to do about educational prospects for rich and poor

In his book Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education, Peter Sacks thoroughly documents how much more difficult it is for low-income students to get the best out of school and from there get to the best colleges. He offers some ideas for helping the system change. Probably to win over those who expect it, Sacks does update the age-old international and economic competition argument as an incentive to change, but the reader senses that down-deep he believes the incentive is a simpler, and dare I say moral, one: we are all better off when we are each well-enough off.

And let’s face it, I recently read that foregoing college leads to an average of $260,000 less in earnings over the course of a lifetime. (I will try to find that citation.) Of course college costs about half that much…Anyway back to the main point, here are two more things I found surprising and intriguing in the book:

1. Many colleges use Early Decision or Early Admission (apply early and get the decision around December) to fill up to a third of their next entering class. Still they recruit heavily for the spring admissions round, in part because having lots of applicants means they accept a smaller percentage–means they get more people to reject!–and so they look more “selective.” Sure, you never do know, but just choose one or two “stretches.” It costs money even to apply and you want to be careful not to pay for the privilege of being a chump.

2. I sense some real (commercial?) potential in Dayle Mazzarella’s binder system and his distillation of various learning theories. Mazzarella ported his coaching strategies into the classroom. In this way he sees everyone as having potential, but also he says people don’t learn “holistically.” By this I think he means both they don’t learn the whole thing at one time, but also that we don’t learn deductively (give a definition or rule then an example, badabing you learned it)–we learn inductively (encounter things, and encounter similar ones over and over until we build our own definitions and rules).

Mazzarella has teachers who work for him distill their best instruction into collective, shared binders. So what each teacher has learned in their inductive way is available to all teachers in the department. I would think this strategy also makes it more likely for each student to get “good” teachers. Of course, much of the value is in the collaboration itself, in the sharing, in the method of making the binders. That could be a professional development course. (I am not suggesting just copying and sellling the binders as is!)

One more point Mazzarella shared, on p. 203, is that students need an emotional attachment to their school as a gateway to their futures. That’s what helps them tolerate a subject they might not enjoy for its own sake, like algebra or Milton…
Glean much more at the book’s own blog.


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