Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Report: Whatever it Takes

Read this book. In these morose times it's refreshing to hear about something that could have a huge positive impact on society. I was pointed to Whatever it Takes by a NYTimes Magazine piece entitled "The Big Fix"

I've long been interested in our country's education challenges, but I'm an armchair quarterback on the issues and have little direct experience with the problems faced in America's schools. I do know a few TFA folks and I've enjoyed talking to them about the challenges they've faced in trying to educate disadvantaged students. 

While we're always hearing in the media that America's schools are failing us (and I believe this is largely true) there are beacons of hope. Paul Tough takes you into Harlem for an up close look at an experiment in early intervention and education that really does look like it's working (Harlem Children's Zone). While I was left feeling like the work of HCZ will get many of the most disadvantaged students scoring as well as middle class suburbanites on standardized tests (and therefore into college), the final chapter is still to be written. The book highlights that early interventions (working with parents from the day their child is born until the kid is a late teen) and continual support (pre-kindergarten, etc) do appear to dramatically raise standardized test scores. We still need to wait for more complete data on how well children do when they are intensely aided through their entire youth and early adolescence, but I'm excited at the prospect that it might actually work.

The book reminded me of Malcolm Galdwell's point in Outliers that even small differences early on can lead to massive disparities later. It follows logically that deltas in a child's earliest years should have dramatic effects on a students ability to perform as a young adult.