CHAPTER FIVE: “A Tale of Three States: What Happens When States Invest Strategically (or Don’t)”
In this chapter, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond utilizes three states to emphasize further how good uses of resources can lead to successful student achievement. Connecticut and North Carolina exemplify the effective utilization of resources, while California demonstrates the consequences of mismanagement and neglect. When school systems invest in early childhood education, make improvements in quality teacher preparation, and develop teaching-and-learning standards, including the environment, over time, real growth in skills appropriation, comprehension, and application of knowledge occur and markedly increase students’ persistence to graduation. However, when there is a reduction in the tax base that significantly contributes to investment in education, the end results are devastating: exacerbating the achievement gaps and debilitating the system’s overall ability to instruct, mentor, and equip its students.
The success in Connecticut and North Carolina, for example, is remarkable given the fact that their populations of low socioeconomic levels as well as of English Language Learners increased. The failures in California point to the enervating results of poor funding structures combined with inadequate teacher preparation, stagnant curricula, and unreasonable expectations. Contrasting the two assists the reader in discriminating between constructive and destructive school policies and muddling through the intricacies of governmental mandates that may benefit or incapacitate students—especially the traditionally and historically underserved. Long-term commitments to performance assessments, making teacher salaries more equitable, professional development for teachers and administrators, and solidifying a statewide infrastructure enhanced Connecticut’s ability to improve; similarly, investments in early learning and K-12 education, in raising standards for students, teachers, and school leaders, and in providing man and sundry supports for professional learning contributed to minimizing the achievement gap over a twenty-year period in North Carolina.
CHAPTER SIX: “STEADY WORK: HOW COUNTRIES BUILD STRONG TEACHING AND LEARNING SYSTEMS”
Darling-Hammond shows in this chapter how Finland, South Korea, and Singapore managed substantively to improve their fledgling educational systems “from the ground up” over the course of two decades and beyond. Finland shifted from a centralized to a localized system that emphasizes resources for the most needy, high standards and supports for special needs, expert and inexpensive teacher preparation and professional development opportunities, and ongoing evaluation to profit from the interplay of theory and practice. In South Korea, curricular development and refinement occurred at the regional and local levels, albeit national standardized testing is still in force. Again, like the Finnish system, investment in quality teacher preparation was essential in overhauling Korean educational infrastructures. There is an oversupply of teachers in South Korea; those who teach spend less time in the classroom and more time grading, meeting with parents and students, performing administrative tasks, and sharing their professional work and development with their peers. Singapore emphasized its human resources more than its natural resources, thereby focusing on the educational system as central to the prospering of the nation. Improved school conditions and curriculum resulted in greater accessibility by lower-income students to both public and private schools. Subsidies for higher education also amplified access, and a byproduct of these radical reforms was an amelioration of social cohesion and pluralism. Once the “thinking schools, learning nation” initiative burgeoned in Singapore, the learning environments, curricula, and motivation of the people broadened and improved. Critical thinking has become a central tenet in assessment redesigning and teachers are heartily engaged in observing and noting student achievement gains. In the final analysis, Darling-Hammond points to these six strategic commonalities to “leap-frog” educational systems.
- Fund schools adequately and equitably.
- Eliminate examination systems that unduly track students.
- Revise national standards and curriculum to accentuate higher-order thinking and technological integration.
- Develop national teaching policies stressing solid teacher preparation and professional development.
- Enhance continuing education and peer mentoring among teachers.
- Pursue consistent, long-term reforms and goals for expanding, equalizing, and improving the educational system.