Book Alert: The Flat World and Education

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.

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