How to spot a ‘good school’

Peg Tyre’s new book, The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve tells parents how to “look under the hood” of schools. Parents have choices these days, Tyre, an education journalist and mother, tells NPR. Parents should look for “a very well-thought out curriculum around reading, around math. . . . You want teachers who are experienced, and if not experienced then well-mentored during the school day so that they’re not learning to be teachers to the detriment of your child.” Children should “get downtime and free play as well as direct instruction.”

In an interview with The Browser, Tyre named five education books parents should read, in addition to her own.

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, a child development professor, explains the  major role parents play in their children’s language and reading development.

Neurocognitive scientists have built a consensus. They know that the way we naturally learn to read is the way reading was taught in the 1950s – sounding words out, understanding the sounds that letters make and how to blend those sounds through phonics. Phonics allies closely with how our brains learn to read. If your child is not getting phonics, it’s a problem.

About a third of kids learn to read spontaneously, a third need some phonics instruction, and another third need systematic instruction. What third your kid falls in is not necessarily an indication of whether they’re smart or not. It’s just that some kids need a certain kind of instruction and unfortunately a lot of kids do not get it.

The Number Sense, by mathematician-turned-neuropsychologist Stanislas Dehaene, argues that math teaching “must be better aligned with the way we naturally absorb arithmetic.”

E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy explains why phonics isn’t enough: Students need general knowledge to understand what they read.

A student who sees the word Everglades may be able to divide up that compound word into ever and glades but if they don’t know about the swamps in Florida no amount of sounding out will enable them to understand its meaning. They could read the word, but they couldn’t comprehend it.Cultural literacy is critical to the health of our democracy. ED Hirsch reminds us that we shouldn’t let schools teach our children to be mere accountants of information. He reminds us it is as important to know Greek mythology as PowerPoint. Content continues to matter, a lot.

Mindset by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor,  “can help you learn how to raise motivated and compassionate children and help them become adults with grit, resilience and compassion.”

The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine warns about overparenting, “creating a generation of overpressured and overprivileged kids who don’t know how to thrive on their own.”

About Joanne


  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I highly recommend Proust and the Squid– It really makes one question why we’re moving to hyper-academic pre-K and K when sight reading too early can lead to huge problems later on…. It definitely made me take a look at my own homeschooling plans (read it when my DD was in pre-school) and take a step back from forcing the reading issue.

    • All of my kids went to Montessori preschools as late 2s or barely-3s and to Montessori kindergarten – four different schools and two of the kids went to several different ones – and all were academic programs. Reading was taught with phonics and all were fluent enough readers by kindergarten entry that none remember learning to read. My experience leads me to think that it may be as much the HOW reading is taught as the WHEN, at least for kids of the kind of people who read education blogs. In their schools, it just wasn’t a big issue for either the teachers or the parents; everyone learned how to read, write and do math. The kids had lots of playground time, as well; mine were exceedingly active and high energy.

      Just recently, I read about a preschool that had all their kids reading by kindergarten entry – Westchester County, NY, I think – and the public kindergarten made such a stink that the preschool stopped teaching reading! The school made it very clear that they didn’t want to deal with fluent readers entering kindergarten, which I find well beyond appalling.

      • That is very appalling. I think most places kindergarten is not mandatory, so skip kindergarten. And yes, I know I’m being too glib here.

  2. Wow, how elitist is Ms. Tyre? The only parents today who have a choice about where their child attends school are the affluent.

    In my area, there is ONE charter elementary school, and it gets more than 3 applicants for every available slot. There are two district magnet schools, but parents have to put their child on a waiting list at age 3 (tough luck if you move to the district when your child is 4 like we did) and then be selected in a lottery. The “good” neighborhood schools have housing prices over $1M or rents in the $2700+/mo. range. Private schools charge ~$6500+ per child per year for church-affiliated and $20k+ per child per year for secular private school. We’re fortunate enough to be in a position where I can homeschool our children, but what about those families who need two incomes to cover basic living expenses?

    Sorry that I can’t have more sympathy for those poor little rich parents overwhelmed with educational choices for their children….

    • No, no, we’re supposed to “stay with our public school and support it” so that their test scores are raised by our children (whom we then have to teach academics to at home). (My mom, a former early grades schoolteacher, fought to many losing battles to properly educate children within the schools; I learned from her and homeschool, too, except for some part-time charter schooling.) Don’t you realize that school choice is so undemocratic that we have to restrict it to rich people only? (LOVE Colorado’s school choice law!)

  3. No, no; it’s the duty of kids at the upper end of the spectrum to be in school to inspire (and peer tutor) the kids at the other end. Take a look at the latest Class Struggle (link at left) post; no more tracking in HS; all kids should be in honors and AP classes. It really doesn’t matter if they can’t read the book; the other kids (yours) will stimulate them – or something. Most likely the top kids will acquire a lifelong resentment that their academic needs were ignored. It’s one thing to go to a school too small to offer several levels of each class but quite another to have that option and not exercise it.

    • Silly me. Of course, those more-advanced high school students should be happy to have the chance to tutor their peers. They’ll never waste time off-subject or develop unfounded pride in their unchallenged abilities. They will only exhibit compassion to their less-advanced tutees. And the students who need the tutoring will benefit so much from being tutored by their fellows, who have such great experience, motivation, and conceptual knowledge. And as for inspiration, everyone knows how inspiring it is to always be at the bottom of a class and never have the subject matter set to one’s own level….

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Exactly, and since High School kids are famed for their compassion and patience, the tutors will all grow up to be the next incarnation of Mother Teresa and will NOT be secretly reading the Fountainhead under their desks while thinking about how only Ayn Rand secretly understands their misery!!!

        (I think a lot of snotty-smart-kid behavior could be eliminated if we just put them in situations where they AREN’T always the smartest kid in the room….)

        • Former Houston ISD Teacher says:

          Yes, I will say that there is nothing like being in a class of equally or more intelligent people to teach a gifted kid humility. Yet another of the many reasons for homogeneous classrooms.