Last night I finished reading The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins, whic I have been wanting to read since it came out. In it, Robbins documents the lives of a group of high school juniors and seniors (along with one college freshman) . While I accept the validity of her basic argument: that track of a college-bound student is unnecessarily and unhealthily weighted by intense competition for class rankings and high test scores, she is blind to a couple of important issues.
First, she rarely includes the parents' point of view, and I recall no interviews at all with teachers. While I understand that the particular teachers of the students in the book might be unwilling or unable to participate (for legal reasons), she includes profiles of people and events completely unrelated to the main narratives, and I think that teachers in similar situations to the students in the school could have provided important information. I'd be especially interested in what they have to say about the grade negotiating. Robbins also seems to forget that the teachers probably have between 125-150 students, not just the group she profiles.
She also missed the educator's perspective on how to make improvements. She is opposed to "No Child Left Behind" because of the test pressure, but she doesn't seem aware that this initiative has actually helped low-income schools with badly needed extra funding. She also doesn't seem aware of block scheduling in high schools, which helps students by making them responsible for fewer separate subjects each semester although she mentions a similar scheme as being a benefit of a particular college.
I would also like to have seen at least one student who was facing serious financial pressures in addition to academic pressures. I sometimes got a little impatient with students who ONLY had to worry about getting in an Ivy or other prestigious school and not at all about paying for it. Only one student came from a family not able (apparently) to shell out serious amounts of money for college. I realize that she has to establish her boundaries somewhere, but I think the lack of attention to the finances of colleges are a major shortcoming of the book.
In the end, if a book is judge by how thought-provoking it is, well, this one makes the grade.