A Reading List

I’m curious about what books about education others are reading these days.  Here’s what I am reading now or intend to read before the end of the year. (Armchair detectives will figure out that I went to a conference at the Hoover Institution on campus at Stanford.)

Sweating the Small Stuff

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Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner City Schools and the New Paternalism, by David Whitman. Published in 2008 by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the book is conservative in its angle of entry. Whitman is now a speechwriter for Arne Duncan.

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Paradoxes of High Stakes Testing**
The Paradoxes of High Stakes Testing: How They Affect Students, Their Parents, Teachers, Principals, Schools, and Society
, by George Madaus, Michael Russell and Jennifer Higgins. (Information Age Publishing, Charlotte NC, 2009) I know and admire George, who is a clear thinker and writer, but I am puzzled by the title. Paradoxes are apparent contradictions, but in our interviews George has pointed out a number of actual ones. So I will find out when I read it. All three authors are from Boston College.

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NO Challenge Left Behind

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No Challenge Left Behind: Transforming American Education through Heart and Soul, by Paul D. Houston, published by Corwin Press and AASA, Paul’s old employer, in 2008. One reviewer called it a “funny, uplifting page-turner.”
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Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us

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Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us, by Mike Rose (The New Press, 2009). Anything Mike writes is worth reading, and that includes this personal book.

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Learning from No Child Left Behind: How and Why the Nation’s Most Important but Controversial Education Law Should be Renewed

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Learning from No Child Left Behind: How and Why the Nation’s Most Important but Controversial Education Law Should be Renewed, by John Chubb (Hoover Institution Press, 2009). A short and strong argument by Chubb, one of the brains behind Edison. (funny typo on page 4 as well)

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Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics and the Future of American Education

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Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics and the Future of American Education, by Terry Moe and John Chubb (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Here’s Chubb again, this time with long time colleague Terry Moe. Their argument for the power of technology goes beyond anything I have read elsewhere, including Clay Christensen’s Disrupting Class. Too much of the book, however, is Terry’s familiar anti-union screed.

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why cant u teach me 2 read?

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why cant u teach me 2 read?, by Beth Fertig. This book by the duPont Award-winning reporter for WNYC and NPR has a subtitle (with capital letters), “Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test.” (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009). Beth tells the story of three learning disabled students who sued the schools for failing to teach them to read—and won. I haven’t read it yet but am taking it on the plane with me.

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Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut

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Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, by Chester E. Finn Jr. (Education Next Books, 2009) is lively and argumentative. It’s Checker’s effort to derail what he sees as a costly and ineffective approach to early education. It’s persuasive, even though Checker admits that he did very little on-the-ground research; he has not visited the Chicago Public Schools project, one of the shining lights in the opposite camp, for example.
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Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses

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Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools, by Eric Hanushek and Alfred Lindseth (Princeton University Press, 2009). I haven’t read this yet, but Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has gushed over it. “I love this book,” he told a recent gathering. Jay’s recommendation means something.

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Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities

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Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, by William Bowen, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson (also Princeton University Press, 2009). The latest examination of important aspects of higher education from former Princeton President Bowen (and a changing team of colleagues), this book will no doubt have an impact comparable to The Shape of the River, Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, and Reclaiming the Game.

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The Making of Americans
But the one I am now enjoying is E. D. Hirsch’s The Making of Americans: Democracy and our Schools (Yale University Press, 2009). I am an unabashed admirer of Don Hirsch, who has backed up his insights and critique by developing a comprehensive curriculum that works wonders. “What Every (insert grade here) Needs to Know” is an exciting and challenging course of study that lays out about half of each grade’s material, leaving lots of room for choices but doing away with the mindless idiosyncratic stuff that has plagued elementary schools for years (remember how your kid studied the pyramids two or three years in a row!).

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So that’s my list.  What are you reading?  What have you read that you wish you’d skipped?  I’m eager to see your answers.

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5 thoughts on “A Reading List

  1. While not could be thought of as education books all have or promise to have strong messages for education.
    I belatedly read “Outliers” by Gladwell recently and am now reading an older book “Why We Do What We Do” by Deci with Flaste. Both definitely have messafes for education.
    I eagerly await the publication of “Drive” by Daniel Pink – whose comments suggest a strong message for education.

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  2. Super helpful. Thanks for posting these, John! I have some of the same ones on my list–also reading Paul Tough’s book about Geoffrey Canada’s work at the moment. I saw you across the room at the Hoover dinner on Thursday night–sorry didn’t get to make it across to say hi!

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  3. John — Liberating Learning is mainly about education technology and its politics. Along the way, John Chubb and I go into painstaking detail to document how the teachers unions have used their power to resist and weaken education reform over the last quarter century. The “Politics of Blocking” chapter alone has eight and a half pages of footnotes. You may not like what we have to say. But we have tried to provide an analysis that is entirely accurate, that squares with the best facts available. If you disagree with it, you should indicate where it is factually incorrect, and why. To call it a “screed,” and thus to dismiss it out of hand, is to avoid the facts entirely. Maybe someday you can use your command of the facts to explain to us, and to everyone, how the unions have actually used their power to support productive reforms, and to do what is best for children. Good luck with that.

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  4. I’ve read and enjoyed Paul Tough’s book and have Gladwell’s on my list too. I should have included ‘non-education’ books.
    My issue with Terry’s harsh criticism of unions is one I have expressed to him personally: he lets too many others off the hook with his unbalanced (to me) analysis. Public education has a pervasive culture of mediocrity, in my view, and an awful lot of organizations, institutions and individuals benefit from mediocrity. Follow the money trail, and see where it leads! Every one of those ‘awful’ contracts that mean teachers don’t have to come to work until 3 minutes before the opening bell, can leave at 3, and don’t have to lift a finger–EVERY ONE was signed by someone on the other side of the table from the union! And the union wasn’t holding a gun! The sort of progressive relationships that were created in Seattle when John Stanford was Superintendent are still possible. I know Steve Barr and Green Dot are trying, and there must be others.

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