In a sequence of one-step-leads-to-another reading too indirect to be worth the column-inches for description here, I ended up with a dog-eared and previous-reader-annotated copy of "Beyond the Classroom" in hand. It's one of hundreds of books which target, with greater or lesser success, what is and isn't going on in K-12 public education, a 13-year process which is supposed to (and once did) metamorphose illiterate and innumerate little savages into civilized and knowledgeable citizens. Without reservation (pun intended) I can testify that the 1995 Laurence Steinberg 223-page effort (the Washington Post called it "an important book with important truths" so it must be so) the best-I've-yet-seen analysis of the Students-Who-Won't-Learn question, and it makes its points without charts, tables, or Hindu ("borrowed" by the Arabs, who then put their name on it) numerology and symbols. It's good, not because, like most books on the SWWL subject, it devotes a lot of ink to the racial achievement pattern -blacks and Hispanics worse than Whites, Whites worse than Asians-and to the parental guidance -or lack thereof-and to the "disengaged-student" question; but because it goes into a subject wherein, unlike other books on the SWWL subject, it devotes a lot of ink to student-peer-pressure -to pursue or disdain learning-and how it prevails, not only in the usual-suspect inner-city schools, but similarly in suburban and rural schools, and across the entire socio-economic spectrum. If you credit Steinberg with accurate representation of all the statistical studies he's run and referenced (but not re-printed) then his findings are as applicable to what's going on in East Overshoe, VT, Central School as in Harlem, NYC's PS 7, a 3-out-of-10 quality-scoring school which was never 10-10, and in Boston's highly-gentrified Longwood neighborhood, Boston Latin School, which once was 10-10 but was pushed from educational grace in the 1970's.
Maybe the best summary sentence in Steinberg (p,137) is this one: "The factor that undermines the positive effect of effective parenting in Black homes is the same one that counters the adverse effect of ineffective parenting in Asian households -the peer group". Previously he had reported his research finding that, after all the usual adjustments for socio-economic status, all racial groups practice about the same level of authoritative (his label for really-good) parenting, and in the following chapter he makes the case that student peer pressure trumps it all because, (p. 141) "...there is a specific period in [adolescent] development roughly from age 12 through 16 when...peers begin to play an enormously important role in influencing achievement". On p.146 he writes that "the prevailing norm in most high schools is to "get by without showing off" and there are pockets within each school in which academic achievement is admired and others in which it is actively discouraged". Observers of both VT and non-VT schools can't honestly disagree. His italicized p.148 conclusion: "by high school, the influence of friends on school performance...is more substantial than the influences of parents' practices at home". He then devotes a modest amount of ink to parental neighborhood selection (middle-class flight, both White and Black, although he doesn't call it so) as the best way for parents to control the circle of their teens' friends, presumably to install them in a more old-fashioned social environment like the now-vanished ones where most of the teens were enthusiastic about getting good grades, and being part of the in-group meant internalizing those academic expectations.
If you find Steinberg's research findings and conclusions more persuasive, you have to find the current focus on booting out teachers-who-don't-teach less persuasive. You also have to question one of the new themes in the pre-K argument, the one which says that parenting is so poor that, for Head Start to work successfully, government will have to remove the kids for large blocks of non-school time from mom or, more rarely, from mom and dad. Under the Steinberg thesis, parental failure to wield books at home doesn't matter; getting kids into groups which think an after-school jaunt to the town library beats basketball is the key factor. He doesn't say where such teen groups are more or less likely to be found, but I'd guess that the odds favor the neighborhood around PS 7 somewhat less than the neighborhood around, say, the Chicago-suburb New Trier High School. Boston Latin is in a separate Brown-v.-Board-and-bussing classification; high-SES neighborhood from which local kids are shipped by their parents to non-neighborhood schools, and BL itself enrolls mostly bus-ins from elsewhere in Boston. It has a lot of SWWL problems it didn't have when enrollments were local.
Reinforcement for the Steinberg thesis comes from an unexpected and more recent source: Ludwig von Mises Institute writer Gennady Stolyarov, who opines (this year) that schools which devote so much more effort to "school spirit" than to individual achievement are cultivating the worst aspects of little-savage tribalism in the young: the unwarrantedly high levels of group- and self-esteem which say, in effect, "we're a really great tribe, we don't do math, and we're a lot better than those nerds who can".
If there's a questionable part, it's the Steinberg explanation of his research finding that Asian students from non-authoritative families do better in school anyway than B's, W's, and H's. His theory: they're the victims of B, W, and H gang rejection-discrimination, and, denied entry into the anti-achievement peer groups, they have no choice but to form their own, pro-achievement, ones. Are the Pacific Coast urban-Asian gangs figments of Hollywood imagination?
Finally, there's the unasked unanswered question not in Steinberg's pages: what can powerful forces like public schools, typically the weightiest institutions in small-town and suburban areas, do to help parents in shaping the mostly pro-achievement adolescent attitudes as were dominant in the good old-fashioned teen peer groups of years gone by? Neither the author nor the academics nor the edu-crats have chosen to address that subject.