Good Stuff

When my wife and I moved recently, the process forced me to dig through piles of stuff and discard what I didn’t care enough about to pack and then unpack. In the process I came across some really good stuff, and that triggered this list of books, organizations, films, and websites that I value. {{1}}

The Hechinger Report is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a reporting organization, after many years of focusing on training education reporters and editors. It’s first rate. Help them celebrate.

New Visions for Public Schools just celebrated its 25th Anniversary. What has it accomplished? Today roughly one in five NYC high school students has benefited or is benefitting from the educational opportunities provided by New Visions schools. Small schools, strong leadership, and a commitment to learning opportunities for all students drive this exceptional organization. New Visions embraced the idea of small high schools before they were cool, grew when the Gates Foundation started writing checks, flowered when Joel Klein was Chancellor, withstood the Gates Foundation’s sudden departure, and continues to create opportunities for thousands of New York City’s children.

CEI, the organization created when the Center for Educational Innovation and the Public Education Association merged in 2000, has been helping schools improve since–take your pick–1989 when CEI was created, or 1895 when the Public Education Association was founded. Either way, it’s a remarkable track record. I got to know its principal, Sy Fliegel, in the late 1980’s when he was running District Four, the NYC school district that put school choice on the national map.

Reach Out and Read, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library….and every other program that puts interesting books in the hands of children. Click on this link to learn what’s at stake and what can be done.
Here’s our NewsHour piece about Reach Out and Read.
We profiled Dolly Parton’s program as well.

Speaking of reading, Readworks is a wonderful resource for teachers who want their students to become better readers. (That’s just about every teacher I’ve ever met.)

“The Game Believes in You,” by Greg Toppo, is a mind-changing book by an outstanding reporter. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, it carries the subtitle “How Games Can Make Our Kids Smarter.”

I have Sir Ken Robinson’s new book, “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education,” in my books-to-read pile.

Also awaiting me is Freeman A. Hrabowski’s “Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement.”

Speaking of books, “Cage-Busting School Custodians” is Rick Hess’s newest effort in his franchise series. Write Rick directly at to order the sequel to “Cage-Busting Leadership” and “The Cage-Busting Teacher.” Rumor has it that the prolific author has a contract for yet another in the series, (working title) “Cage-Busting School Crossing Guards.”

The Education Writers Association, which seemed bound for oblivion when the number of newspapers with education reporters declined precipitously, has reinvented itself under the leadership of Caroline Hendrie. In the mid 1970’s the tiny, disorganized organization {{2}} kept its financial records in a shoebox. EWA grew under Executive Director Lisa Walker’s leadership, floundered when newspapers began to go under, and then bounced back. Today EWA is an invaluable resource for anyone attempting to report on education. It’s there for us, every day, 24/7.

“Education Week” has been required reading since forever and remains so.

Blogs from Diane Ravitch and Whitney Tilson make my list of Good Stuff. is published by Mr. Tilson, who views education from the right. He notes, “I sometimes don’t have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) emates, please email me at” (I read his email, not his blog.)
At one time Diane Ravitch also viewed education from the right. Now easily the blogosphere’s most influential person on the left, Dr. Ravitch posts many times every day. Signing up for her email feed allows you to glance at everything and then read whatever you find compelling. She’s had more than 20,000,000 pageviews!

The Harmony Program puts musical instruments in the hands of school children who might not otherwise be exposed to serious music, and then provides excellent lessons taught by professional musicians.  You can watch our NewsHour report about this wonderful New York City-based program as well.

Investigative reporters Marian Wang and Heather Vogell, whose work for ProPublica is shocking readers and waking up lawmakers. Marian Wang exposed the machinations of Baker Mitchell, a North Carolina charter school operator whose ‘non-profit’ charter school has fattened his personal bank account.
Before moving to ProPublica, Heather Vogell blew the whistle on Atlanta’s school cheaters.

The Khan Academy: free learning opportunities in easily-digestible chunks. Did I mention that it’s free?

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The remarkable Ron Thorpe has revived this organization, blending into it the “Celebration of Teaching and Learning” that he created when he was at Channel 13 in New York City. Teaching is a profession that should be harder to enter but easier to practice, and the National Board is doing everything it can to make that a reality.

KIPP. The Knowledge is Power Program had to do something with the powerful knowledge that most of its graduates were not succeeding in college. Yes, KIPP has been growing, but it has also been reinventing itself.

Community Schools, Project-based Learning, and Blended Learning. They’re all significant, and, best of all, they’re not mutually exclusive.

“Most Likely to Succeed” is a new, as-yet-unreleased documentary that is ostensibly about project-based learning but that actually covers a much bigger topic: what we want for our kids. Look for it.

“If You Build It” is a terrific documentary about a refreshing way of learning.

And don’t miss “Brooklyn Castle.”

Our own “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom” makes my list, of course. This 1-hour film brings back our film noir parody detective, The School Sleuth, who’d been on hiatus since he solved “The Case of an Excellent School” in 2000. This film hasn’t been released, but I predict you are going to love it. It’s a light-hearted way of exploring a serious issue, the use and misuse of technology in schools.

That’s my list. What have I forgotten? What’s on your list?

[[1]]1. Because I have some sort of personal connection to nearly every item on this list, I am not going to go into detail. If you think I’d make recommendations based on friendships, then you probably still believe that I am on the Board of Pearson Education. Stop reading now….or keep reading until you discover the fake one.[[1]]
[[2]]2. My first reporting award came in 1974 from the National Council for the Advancement of Education Writing, which must have been the organization’s original name.[[2]]

26 thoughts on “Good Stuff

  1. Nice list. Thanks for including NBPTS which is one of the really good things going on in education right now. Ron Thorpe certainly deserves credit for job he has done and continues to do as CEO, but also note that NBPTS is now heavily teacher-directed. Teachers, particularly NBCTs, dominate the Board of Directors and many of the leadership positions within the organization. Of course the standards themselves are teacher developed as is the certification process. Took a lot of hard work by a whole lot of people to get to this point. Keep watching.

    I would add to your list, The Center for Teaching Quality ( out of North Carolina headed by Barnett Berry and Ann Byrd which has quietly, yet quite effectively advanced teacher voice and teacher leadership from an afterthought to given in the education policy/reform arena.


    • Thanks for the important information about NBPTS and for citing Barnett’s group. I’m sure if I had more time I would add more, but this is supposed to be a team effort….


  2. Leading the charge to transform education is the seminal book, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson. Continuing the advocacy and implementation work are Gov. Bob Wise, the Alliance for Excellent Education; Susan Patrick, iNACOL; Scott Ellis, The Learning Accelerator; and Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, champions all.


  3. Now that people are finally realizing how important Prek education is for young children, the NAEYC should be added to that list. The push for “Prek for All” is admirable but it’s all about quality rather than quantity.


  4. I’d put on the list the much-aligned “movement” called the Common Core which sets forth historically important substantive goals “for what students need to learn and be able to do” – and specifies the curricular programs that should guide the improvement of teaching and learning for the coming decade.


  5. This is a great collection of inspiration, John, and since you asked, I think the National Writing Project should be high on anyone’s list when it comes to transformative networks around teachers, teacher empowerment and writing as a core element of life.
    If you have not had the opportunity to experience the motto-made-real of “teachers teaching teachers,” you really should. I am always so grateful for NWP folks who have helped me along the way in my teaching career.
    Kevin Hodgson


  6. I’m surprised you didn’t list EdSource ( It’s an organization from California that does work in education and has great columns and commentary, too.


    • If I hadn’t moved from California to NYC five+ years ago, it probably would have been in the forefront of my mind. It’s a great source….


  7. John,

    Great list. You might want to check out The Right Question Institute as well. They believe that learning how to produce and improve your own questions is as fundamental to education as reading, writing and quantitative reasoning. And they have a shockingly simple and effective technique to teach it. Their work in education is beautifully presented in a book called “Make Just One Change” by Dan Rothstein which has been doing very well among educators lately.


  8. Thanks for this list, John. Glad to see project based learning, Sy Fliegel and his colleagues, the New Visions Network, KIPP, KHAN Academy and several others listed.

    You did a great show about the idea of encouraging high school students to take dual high school/college credit courses. It’s especially important to encourage students from low income families to do this. Research is powerful and growing on how this significantly increases the likelihood that such students will graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from a 1, 2 or 4 year form of college or university.

    I’d also add the insight and wisdom of Ted Kolderie, and the courage of Ember Reichgott Junge, who helped produce the nation’s first chartering law.


    • Great suggestions. I would like to add ‘dual language public elementary schools’ and effective ‘early college high school programs’ to my list.
      Re chartering, I’d love to add everyone who is pushing for transparency and accountability in the chartering movement, especially financial accountability and transparency. Who should make that list?


  9. How about a proven and simple way to teach students the foundational skill of asking questions, an approach now being used by about 100,000 teachers? It’s the Question Formulation Technique, which not only energizes students and teachers but also stays with students in the world beyond the classroom. Please visit and enjoy this article:


  10. Love your list, thank you John. Please don’t forget about your education policy teammates here at Education Commission of the States. We provide education leaders with unbiased information and opportunities for collaboration. We believe in the power of learning from experience and have our sleeves rolled up, ready to support strong education policy.


    • Thanks, Maria. I am a big fan of ECS. We had hoped to screen our new film about the uses and misuses of technology in schools at your annual meeting. Your boss liked the 55-minute film, but apparently your agenda is jammed. “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom” is the last item on my list. Let me know if there’s a last minute cancellation, and we will be there….


  11. If you are anticipating a move, a transition to less space, a more efficient and more economical life style, consider “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It’s about much more than materialism and doesn’t even come close to a Zen attitude. Learning what matters is what distinguishes the essential from the non-essential. Also, Atul Gawande’s latest, “Mortality: Medicine and What Matters in the End” is most worthwhile.


    • Strongly agree with you about What Kids Can Do.

      As for financial transparency & accountability in chartering; a group of us are working hard on this.
      Having acknowledged the importance of this, I wish there was as much careful scrutiny of how traditional districts are spending $. This is one of the reasons some of us are working on teacher led public schools, both chartered and in districts.
      Many teachers in traditional districts look at how $ are spent and would love the opportunity to develop the public schools they think make sense – and to have the power to allocate $ as they think make sense.
      Might there be smaller, more effective & efficient district offices if that happened?


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