I Got Schooled is an ambitious book about education reform. The author M. Night Shyamalan is not an educator, policy analyst or even a parent of public schooled children (his three girls go to private school); but a film producer—a successful one at that. Readers may be familiar with the “Sixth Sense” and “The Village”, two of many films produced by Shyamalan. He is in unfamiliar territory here. I admire Shyamalan willingness and tenacity to tackle the complex and gnarly issue of the achievement gap in U.S. public schools. His view on education reform is fresh and bold. The research backing up the five keys outlined in I Got Schooled is extensive. Though there is nothing really startling in Shyamalan’s book, he does frame the five keys quite well. I appreciate the scholarly research referenced, and the extensive personal interviews Shyamalan conducted for the book. His interviewees are eclectic, teachers of public and charter schools, principals, economists, professors, students, and student teachers. Each provides a thought-provoking perspective on education. For these reasons alone it’s a worthy read.
I also appreciate Shyamalan’s neutral viewpoint on U.S. public education; he approaches the book without any baggage, or with an axe to grind. His purpose for writing the book seems to be to jolt readers into caring about education, to shock them with the numbers on the United States’ public school performance for example (which are quite depressing), “My goal is to systematically awaken every part of us that cares” (p 17) —another reason why I found myself liking the book, and Shyamalan. He appears genuine, smart, and passionate about improving education.
Myths Uncovered – Class Size
Though not all readers will find Shyamalan’s five tenets pleasing, nor the myths he debunks. He addresses numerous misconceptions about education which many hold dear. ‘Myths’ as Shyamalan calls them that he even admits to adhering to until digging into the research. One contentious issue addressed is class size. Shyamalan interviews an expert on public education, Professor Eric Hanushek, economist, professor of education, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute. Several pages in the book describe Professor Hanushek views on class size, as well as results from numerous studies, for and against.
All kinds of people believe in smaller class size. I did, and I had a lot of company. According to the Gallup Organization’s survey “The Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” the number-one choice for a change that would improve American education was reducing class size. I don’t usually go with the crowd, but this one was common sense. (pp. 43-44)
Finding out just how much it would cost to reduce class size in the United States by a third was a wake-up call, but not because of the expense. After all, we’re spending more than $ 500 billion every year on primary and secondary education, so spending another $ 10 or $ 20 billion or so isn’t as crazy as it sounds— as long, that is, as it actually closes the achievement gap. The real problem with class-size reduction isn’t that it costs so much but that it buys so little: barely a fifth of the difference between the bottom quarter of America’s schools and the top quarter. (p. 53)
Other myths Shyamalan ‘busts’ are teachers salaries and education. He outlines that paying teachers more does not produce higher [and better] student achievement, and teachers with advanced degrees do not prove to be more effective teachers. There is no question that Shyamalan claims will rankle many. However, the topics do provide for discussion, consideration, and perhaps may be a catalyst for change, big or small.
Shyamanlan’s five keys to closing the education gap
1. No Roadblock Teachers
2. The Right Balance of Leadership
4. Smaller Schools
5. More Time in School
I agree with four of five of the keys; I disagree with number five, more time in school. Starting with using school time more efficiently, is the place to begin rather than lengthening the school day as Shyamanlan suggests. I’ll use my children’s public high school here as an example, cut out the daily brunch of twenty minutes (recess), shorten lunch hour and reduce teacher collaboration time at least change the timing so that it doesn’t shorten the school day. In our district collaboration times translate to ‘late start Wednesdays’. I suggest scheduling full days for collaboration throughout year and extend the school year by these days [this last point is updated based upon a comment from a reader]. Another option which some districts are implementing is year round schooling, which means shorter break periods, avoiding the summer break.
Overall the book is an enlightening and fresh read, highly recommended for parents and educators. However the downside, is that the barriers to implementing the ‘five keys’ are such that another book would need to be written on how to dismantle them.