Book Reviews

Book By: Martin Patchen
Review By: Wesley Boyd
Academic Advisor, Student Advising and Mentoring Center
Sam Houston State University

Martin Patchen takes a comprehensive look at crucial factors affecting K-12 education, articulately summarizing the latest research assessing the efficacy of how schools operate.  Topics broached include, among many others, the composition of the student body, the relationship of community to schools, the role of teacher unions, the use of computers in the classroom, and the achievement of minority students.

Much of the research proves enlightening, particularly the topical chapter on assessment describing the emphasis placed on standardized testing and its reflection of, and impact on, student achievement, teacher preparation and performance, and changes in curriculum.  Also engrossing are the findings about charter schools, magnet schools, and vouchers.  However, some of the conclusions seem unmistakably self-evident.  For instance, those schools that emphasize core academic courses generally produce students who perform better on achievement tests (p. 20); students in high-ability (college-preparatory) classes are more likely to find subject matter more interesting, stimulating, and pleasurable than those in lower-track classes (p. 35); and students who find school activities dull and irrelevant are more likely to exert minimal effort (p. 51).  Nevertheless, Patchen succinctly, but lucidly, raises all of the necessary questions about the state of K-12 education today, providing just enough research evidence to support a point without bogging down the reader with overwhelming minutia.

Each chapter begins conveniently with an overview of major points and ends satisfyingly with a summary and conclusions.  While any of the chapters could be expanded into a book, the reader, understands that the book’s objective is not to exhaust all of the research on a particular topic, but rather to explain coherently the critical points and how they correlate to the other issues addressed.  Patchen deserves tremendous credit for the lean, robust, and deft treatment he gives to challenging topics such as bilingual education.  However, the book is a broad report on the overall state of public schools rather than, as the title may suggest, an action plan providing a quick fix to educational ills.  While of little practical use for advisors, it nonetheless, serves as an excellent primer for advisors seeking to understand what encumbers and accelerates K-12 student progress. As such, it should be read by teachers, principals, parents, and any citizen with the slightest interest in education.

Making our schools more effective: What matters and what works. (2004). Book by Patchen, Martin. Review by Wesley Boyd. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas. 336 pp. $69.95 (hardcover). ISBN #0-398-07490-9.

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