CHAPTER ONE: “The Flat World, Educational Inequality, and America’s Future”
The author demonstrates how our present school system is based on an antiquated model designed for students who would eventually work in factories. Providing basic skills to young pupils might have been sufficient by the turn of the twentieth century, but it is definitely not adequate in the twenty-first. The multiple and cumulative effects of a broader base of knowledge and rapidly advancing technologies require expansion of access to education and overhaul of curricula, teaching styles, and learning assessments. Darling-Hammond explores creative changes in Finland, South Korea, Singapore, and other places that have kept up with the growing needs for educating school children. She poignantly shows how California pales in comparison to these places.
Clearly, the United States is lagging behind other nations, especially in mathematics and the sciences. Moreover, that gap is steadily increasing. In addition, the rankings are worse among people of color who are still largely educated in segregated and ill-equipped school systems. With regards to reading, the United States fares better—primarily because of focused efforts on building literacy and improving teacher preparation in reading for comprehension and learning styles.
One major mistake in educational policy is the politicization of reform and the overlooking of best practices gleaned from peer-reviewed research. The author indicates that policies do matter and gives examples of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the Elementary and Secondary Assistance Act and other Great Society programs. During the Reagan administration, cuts in federal programs decimated the gains in educational achievement experienced through the 1970s, and those losses have never been regained since. Hardest hit are students of color who no longer can acquire the basic skills necessary to achieve because of inadequate facilities, unequal investments, incarceration over education, and increasing low socioeconomic levels.
Darling-Hammond insists we need to educate all our citizens well if we are to compete as a so-called First World nation. She concludes with a list of components of a successful, i.e., equitable, school system: the meeting of all existential needs for students; parity in school funding; duly compensated teachers; 21st-century learning goals; and healthy teacher and learning environments.
CHAPTER TWO: “The Anatomy of Inequality: How the Opportunity Gap Is Constructed”
Much of what is discussed in this chapter has been mentioned in the previous one. In the second chapter, the author seeks to give further historical references as to how the educational system developed to be so imbalanced and stultified. She reiterates the argument that education should be disbursed widely—ideas lifted up by the quotes from Thomas Jefferson and W. E. B. Du Bois at the outset of the chapter. It is not a linear chronology; she jumps back in forth in time. But this dialectic strengthens her perspective that the system has not changed since the evening of the nineteenth and the dawning of the twentieth century.
Since its inception in the United States, the system of education has been racially discriminatory. Some people want to blame the children, but Darling-Hammond asserts poor educational outcomes is as much a product of resource inaccessibility as it is because of race, class, or culture. In the process of analyzing the inequities, the author highlights a number of obstacles: poverty; few social supports; limited early childhood development; re-segregation; unequal access to quality teachers; disproportion of inexperienced, underprepared, and uncertified teachers; low-quality curricula; differential learning opportunities; differential placements in honor and college preparatory classes; tracking of students into low-achieving areas, or learning “ghettos”; dysfunctional learning environments; and poor interrelations between teachers and pupils.