Summer Reading for Wonks

Time Magazine has give us its list of what it calls the 12 greatest summer reads of all time, but summer is for more than “beach blanket blockbusters.” It’s also a good time to relax with a well-written wonkish book or two about education. Below is my list. Please feel free to add your own.

Hope Against Hope, by Sarah Carr. (Bloomsbury Press, 2013)
The distinguished journalist gives us the inside story of schooling in New Orleans since Katrina and the flooding in 2005. She focuses on three schools and the people inside them. It happens to be a wonderful companion to our film, “Rebirth,” which will be available on Netflix in the fall.

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
One of the most important education books of the past decade, in my opinion. If you haven’t read this book, I suggest you start your reading with it.

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, by Salman Khan (Twelve: Hatchett Book Group, 2012)
Not to be missed. Not to be missed. Not to be missed.

Trusting Teachers with School Success, by Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager, with Amy Junge (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).
The subtitle tells it all: “What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots.” A hopeful book that I gladly blurbed.

Improbable Scholars, by David Kirp (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Anyone who suspects that change is impossibly difficult must read “Improbable Scholars.”

California high school teacher David B. Cohen also recommends”Improbable Scholars.” Here’s what he wrote: “Kirp uses a detailed study of Union City, NJ, along with some shorter profiles of other districts, to argue that there’s no great secret to successful education reform. There are a few predictable common elements in successful districts, and they don’t require lots of think-tank engineering and experimentation: early childhood education, stability and patience within the system, commitment to a viable and cohesive curriculum, strong supports for teachers and students.”

Closing the Opportunity Gap:  What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance, edited by Prudence L. Carter and Kevin G. Welner  (Oxford University Press, 2013)
This is an important book of essays because of the focus on the all-important and often overlooked opportunity gap.

Civic Work, Civic Lessons: Two Generations Reflect on Public Service, by Tom Ehrlich and Ernestine Fu (University Press of America, 2013)
Full disclosure: Tom and his wife are dear friends. That said, this is a very thoughtful book by a veteran public servant and an up-and-coming leader.

Multiplication is for White People, by Lisa Delpit (New Press paperback edition, 2013)
The author of the classic “Other People’s Children” provides new insights into continuing problems.

The Reading Workout, by Chris Beatty
I have not read this. It’s on the list because the author suggested–in a tweet–that I include it, and I believe that chutzpah should be rewarded, at least some of the time.

19 thoughts on “Summer Reading for Wonks

  1. I just ordered Khan’s books. Here are my recommendations. “Leaving to Learn: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates” by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowsk – The authors describe the eight reasons, the big four and the deeper four, students drop out or disengage even when they stay in school.

    “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal. McGonigal writes about how to use gaming to improve a wide range of social institutions including education.

    “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government” by Gavin Newsom. This book is packed with examples. I haven’t figured out how to use the information in this book to improve education, but I think it does hold the germ of how to change school’s and students’ relationships with their community. I did suggest that our school district put all public data into machine readable format.


  2. I really like Grant Wiggins’ new book on “Essential Questions”. Asking really good, thought-provoking questions is a real challenge for teachers. This book is a great start for developing those deep and searching questions that tantalize and energize student learning.


  3. Glad if my two-cents helps steer any readers towards Prof. Kirp’s book – and thanks for sharing, and encouraging more sharing in the comments. I’ll have a full blog post on “Improbable Scholars” in the next few days hopefully.


  4. Let me suggest two books that I have recently reviewed, although the 2nd review is not yet up.

    Mike Rose of UCLA has an important book, Back To School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education (here’s the link for my review). [and I hope the html does not mess up] The subtitle of Mike’s book is “An Argument for Democratizing Knowledge in America” and he explores how those who don’t “make it” in the normal processes of K-12 education can have their real educational needs and desires addressed. This is an important part of educational policy that is too often ignored.

    One of the real revolutions in education has been the Maker Movement. Perhaps the best single book on this is by Silvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and engineering in the Classroom. The authors provide terrific background on the development of the maker movement, place it in the broader context of progressive education, and provide both many practical suggestions and links for further exploration.


  5. John, I have just finished reading the most amazing non-fiction book named Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katerine Boo, a writer for The New Yorker. The parts about education are poignant.


  6. Interesting list, pretty good overall. One book you missed that I would strongly recommend is Sarah Garland’s outstanding book Divided We Fail. It’s about school desegregation in Louisville and how a lawsuit by a group of African American parents and educators led to the awful Parents Involved Supreme Court decision in 2007 that has pretty much destroyed the idea of desegregating schools by race.


  7. I am adding a book I wish I had read when it came out, Slavery by Another Name, by Douglas Blackmon. I would also put it at the top of this list, or any other list. It’s a life-changing, paradigm-shifting experience, a gripping story that upends much of what you probably learned in school and have believed about America, if you are white and perhaps if you are black or brown. That is was written by a reporter from America’s most conservative (serious) newspaper and in fact began as a story for that paper adds to its credibility.


    • “That is was written by a reporter from America’s most conservative (serious) newspaper and in fact began as a story for that paper adds to its credibility.”

      OK, now I get it. I wondered why someone with a doctorate in education would seem to have absolutely no problem with the neo-liberal agenda to privatize public education. You think conservative business types add “credibility.” Never mind the fact that the business model in education is a faith-based approach implemented by politicians in mayoral controlled cities, like Chicago and New York, despite a lack of proven success for decades already. So, you are intent on finding a miracle in Milton Friedman’s shock doctrine disaster capitalism model implemented in New Orleans, even if that means turning a blind eye to the thousands of students in Chile who continue to protest and demand free state schools, after decades of Friedman’s privatization model there resulted in an even more segregated and highly stratified society. No matter when you pray to and are rewarded by the almighty dollar. That’s just other people’s children. You are one of them. Stop pretending like civil rights really matter to you.


  8. I would recommend, “And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students” [ Miles Corwin]. Gives readers a front row seat to true stories of kids trying to succeed in an inner city high school. If it is this hard for “gifted” students, well, then…


  9. Thank you John. I’ve read The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan last month and I quite enjoyed it actually. I will take a look at the other suggestions as well. Thank you for sharing it.


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