Parent/Educator Resources
Parent/Educator Resources
Educational Trade Books
Book Reviewed: Bellanca, James and Ron Brandt, eds. (2010). 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? If your local school district is bantering around the phrase “21st century skills,” and you want to know what they are talking about, this book will help understand what they are talking about. This will also help you unravel the mystery as to whether or not they are selectively choosing which 21st century skills to adopt.

21st century skills mean different things to different people, but in the educational world, the definitions given in this book are widely accepted. The problem many schools are going to have in adopting 21st century skills—which collectively encompass creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving—is that the current state and national assessment policies don’t really attempt to measure any of these important skills. Most assessments used by states for compliance with federal oversight, are simple multiple choice exams. As most adults have learned, however, life is not a multiple choice test, in which possible answers are provided for our decision-making process. Unfortunately, teachers in America barely have time to play for 21st century skills, as compared with the 15-24 hour a week teachers in other high performing countries are receiving.

Why should teachers read this book? Teachers who hate standardized testing and the proliferation of low-level academic assessments in America will love this book. Unfortunately, reading it won’t change the fact that many state assessments will barely (at best) evaluate any 21st century skills. The good news, however, is that teachers who spend lots of class time on learning activities like projects, scenarios, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving, will also have students who score higher on the state assessments. It’s a proven fact.

Do what is right for your students and bring the 21st century skills into the classroom. Stop spending 90% of class time on low level intellectual activities which involve rote recall and basic comprehension. Force your students to work hard by raising expectations and spend more time on making connections between disciplines, divergent thinking, global awareness, entrepreneurial literacy, and financial and economic issues. Much of this will be done, of course, through cooperative work projects and problem-based learning involving essential questions and real world situations.

Overall evaluation of the book: A good primer on what 21st century skills are all about. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Bellanca, James, A. ed. (2015). Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? Have you ever wondered what schools, freed of tradition and political meddling, might look like if they were arranged and organized the way the world will require students to act, know, and do in order to be successful when they become adults? Well, read this book of assembled authors to find out.

If you haven’t thought much about the skills your middle school child will need when they reach the workforce, this book will be a real eye opener because many of the current educational and societal structures in place are actually going to prevent your child from thriving as well as they could in the future. This won’t be anything really new to informed individuals but may cause others who haven’t been paying attention to ask themselves, “How have I missed this important information?”

Fortunately, all is not lost because you can still influence local decision makers into transforming your child’s educational experience to that found in 1969 to what is possible in 2030. Fundamentally, the switch will be from your child learning and memorizing facts and knowledge to your child creating projects and demonstrations and thinking more critically about events and happenings around them.

Why should teachers read this book? Today’s modern world may reward those who teach to the test and focus on the minutia of knowledge which must be memorized on the local state-run achievement test, but the real rewards will go to the students who have had teachers who made them critically think, collaborate with others, solve problems they have never seen before, and communicate through writing and speaking. Unfortunately, it will be difficult for the progressive teacher to bestow their students with the gifts of skills they will really need in the future, because the current educational machine really does not reward forward-looking teachers.

Read this compendium to find out what skills and processes your students will really need to thrive in the future. Toss the mindless worksheets in the garbage and switch to projects, scenarios, and inquiry-based teaching.

Overall evaluation of the book: An important collection of articles on where education should be heading. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Berry, Barnett. (2011). Teaching 2013: What we must do for our Student and our Public Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? This is a great good book which presents a balanced view of how education can be improved in America. If you are a “big-thinking” parent, you will generally like this book and find many of the ideas useful. If you don’t care about the system of education in America and only want to know what time the bus arrives to pick up your child, you will find this a senseless waste of time.

The recommendations Berry promotes are so titanic that you could easily slip into despair. After all, what can one parent do? Here is what you can do; use some of the ideas on a local level to question decisions and advocate for a more professional teaching staff and for them to have the tools to accomplish that. If you are able to have this happen, the students in your local school will be well served and you may turn yourself into a local champion for real educational improvement. Most change begins on a small scale before it surges into a tidal wave of reform.

Why should teachers read this book? There are some very good ideas for reform in this book that can be implemented in the local level. For example, how can you go wrong by advocating for your local union thinking more about advancing themselves as professionals rather than clock watchers or to be constantly on the lookout for rule breaking principals? Barry and his team also believe that, to really improve education in America, we need to get school administrators out of the traditional role of managing the building, rethink the relationship between the union and school administration and school board, stop giving out alternative teaching licenses, revamp teacher education centers, stop the senseless bashing of teachers by members of the business and general community, have more parents and students stand up for the great teachers they come into contact with, and advocate for teachers to band together as professionals rather than clock-watching union members.

Overall evaluation of the book: I liked this book because it offered solutions to pressing problems on both sides of the table. Union representatives will find intriguing ideas which favor them and anti-union representatives will also find something to suit their taste. Best of all, the ideas in the book are doable if people have the courage to rethink relationships and ancient alliances. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Bracey, Gerald W. (2009). Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality: Transforming the Fire Consuming America’s Schools. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.

Why should parents read this book? You are either going to hate this book or love it. (I don’t believe there will be much middle ground territory.) However, if you are interested in learning all sides of the international testing argument, this is an important book to read. If you keep an open mind and consider the possibility there may be truth in what Bracey is saying, you may learn why educators are so angry and upset over accusations that American students are significantly behind other students around the world.

For the most part, Bracey says parents should stop worrying about whether or not their child is going to be able to compete with students from China, India, Mexico, Germany, Finland, Sweden, South Africa, Egypt and other places around the world. He believes parents are worrying about the wrong thing.

Bracey believes—and I agree with him here—that parents should focus on maximizing the educational opportunities and rate of learning for their own child and stop obsessing on how their child will score on the ACT and SAT when they take these tests in high school. There isn’t much of a correlation between the ACT and SAT and success in college or life anyway, so a focus on developing the traits of working hard, perseverance, dedication, sacrifice, humility, and resilience in their children will pay dividends. These are the skills which will matter in their lives, not their ACT score and how they compare academically with the Chinese.

The reality is that when today’s children are working on the job somewhere as an adult—wherever they are working around the globe—nobody will care about their ACT score, grades, or how they fared on tests of international comparisons. The only thing that will matter is whether they can get the job done and perform quality work.

Why should teachers read this book? This is a “feel good” book which will confirm many of your suspicions about the misuse of testing data by politicians, conservative think tanks, and state education superintendents. Here is the source for your data proving your local kids are doing better than all the doom and gloom prognosticators quote in the news. Fortunately, Bracy does extensive referencing so many of his statements can be backed up by research. While this book won’t help you delve into the tactics of improving your own teaching, it will confirm your resolve that public American education isn’t the quagmire of doom and gloom some prophets claim it to be.

Overall evaluation of the book: Bracey gets a bit polemic at times but he brings some good arguments and little-known information and data to the testing debate. The book is getting a little old with some of the data, but the trends Bracey talks about still continue today. Little has changed. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Calkins, Lucy, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. (2012). Pathways to the Common Core. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

Why should parents read this book? This book was written primarily for teachers and other educators and you may find some of the concepts a bit of a slog, especially when the authors delve back into the history of educational reforms and trends. If you can make it through the slog however, and if you are sincerely interested in helping your child, this is a good book to guide you in understanding the direction and trend in which the teaching of reading, writing, and speaking are heading. (Keep in mind, however, that the book was not written as a guide for parents.)

This book talks about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which have been developed over the past several years and which have been adopted (so far) by most of the states. The CCSS is probably the biggest reform to impact American Education since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act. Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been derided by many educators, the Common Core State Standards are being accepted by most math and language arts educators as something which is useful to education and which will actually help kids learn. This particular book talks about the primary impact of the Common Core State Standards and how they are different from what is currently being taught in most American school systems, K-12.

Why should teachers read this book? Apply the concepts in the book when you are helping your students with their school work. Focus on making sure they understand what they are reading, beyond simply regurgitating the plot line back to you. Have your students take a serious look at what the author is trying to say, rather than saying how the book made them feel. (Note: The Common Core spends a lot of time focusing the reader on trying to figure out what the author is saying rather than how the reader is impacted or reacts to the reading.)

If you really want detailed information on where your students skills fit on the k-12 framework on the common core, you can go to for additional information. This website will also give you recommendations for leveled reading and it also has some assessments.

Overall evaluation of the book: If your goal is to understand the Common Core State Standards, you won’t go wrong in starting here. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Conyers, Marcus and Donna Wilson. (2013). Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? For what is really an introduction to educational psychology—anyone who has been paying attention to educational psychology in the last five years will recognize almost every major concept and the supporting details—this book is understandable and avoids many of the jargon filled language which plague the field of education. (Sometimes it seems as though educators make up words just to sound more official.)

The five big ideas really are big ideas and if you understand them and can apply them with your child, they will be better off for it. For example, if you understand that your child’s level of intelligence really doesn’t matter and that what is really important is how hard they work to improve their skills, shouldn’t this be a sign to you that saying things like, “you are really smart,” to your child is a waste of time and not in their best interest? (Hint; praise their effort, not their “smarts.”) Or if you understand that thinking aloud about what you, as an adult, are thinking is very important in helping your child develop their own thinking skills—wouldn’t it make sense for you to do more talking out loud about what is going on in your head as your solve problems?

Why should teachers read this book? This book is a good reminder of the really important things in teaching. Many times we fall into the trap that certain kids in our classes are doomed to failure because of their history and that other kids are certain to succeed because, for example, their older siblings were academic rock stars. The biggest benefit of reading this book is a renewed sense of hope that we really do make a difference and that how we view our students and what we expect from them makes all the difference.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is a great book about important concepts we sometimes forget about. Keeping things simple by paying attention to the big ideas isn’t a bad strategy. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Cuban, Larry and Jane David. (2010). Cutting Through the Hype: The Essential Guide to School Reform. Boston, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Why should parents read this book? This is an important book. I also think all school board members in America should be required to read this book. (If they did, maybe they would stop making poor decisions that aren’t based on actual research.) Parents should read this book because it will give them important information when they are deciding whether or not their local school is effective or not and whether or not their school is headed in a direction which is actually supported by research. More importantly, parents should be able to glean some information about the practices of their child’s current classroom teacher to see if they are performing activities which are supported by research. You might be surprised at how often teachers continue to use failed teaching techniques that aren’t supported by research, just because “that’s the way we do things around here.”

Why should teachers read this book? This is one of the books you should reference when the principal or superintendent or director of curriculum launches a new reform designed to transform your school district or building. See what Cuban says about it and what the research actually says. (Imagine if schools actually paid attention to a semblance of research as to what works and doesn’t and designed their teaching methods, curriculum, and school structure around that? Wouldn’t that be something?)

Note: It’s really no mystery as to what actually works in educational reform—if only the policy creators and implementers were to look at the research. The lands are littered with ineffective reforms and their unintended side effects, but politicians, school boards, and school administrators keep trying them again and again.

Overall evaluation of the book: An excellent book that, if you excuse the pun, “cuts through the hype” of school reform as to what actually works. The data in the book is starting to get a little old but nothing new has surfaced to replace any of Cuban’s findings. The same patterns and results continue to hold true. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Dean, Ceri, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, Howard Pitler, and Bj Stone. (2012). Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Why should parents read this book? If you want to know exactly how successful your child’s teacher is with some of their instructional strategies, take a look at this book on what research says about effective teaching practices. Not surprisingly, some teaching tactics work better than others. Shouldn’t your child’s teacher be using tactics which research shows actually aids in helping students learn? Of course they should. This book will tell you what some of these important strategies are. Be forewarned, though, there are statistical references in this book which may initially make your head swim. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much about statistics to find the information useful and valuable.

Another purpose in parents reading this book will be to appreciate the complexities of teaching and to disturb the notion that anyone can teach. Not everyone can teach and not everybody should be a teacher. Great teachers are doing certain things with intention and deliberateness. There is method in their instruction, with no claim to madness.

Why should teachers read this book? It is critical that you know which specific teaching strategies will result in having your students learn the most in a short period of time. I am continually mystified at how many educators ignore these compendiums of educational research and simply go into classrooms and teach the way they were taught. Ironically, many classrooms can be devoid of much intellectual thinking on the part of the teacher, relative to slanting their instruction in ways that are proven to be successful. Teaching may be partly art, but it is also a good deal of science. Do your students a favor and lean heavily on teaching approaches which are high value and result in high learning by the students.

Overall evaluation of the book: An important book for those who really want to answer the question of…”research says…” A bit intellectual on a statistical basis but still very readable. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Dufour, Richard. (2015). In Praise of American Educators. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? For parents who want to wade into the American public education debate and defend public teachers and schools, this is a resource you won’t want to miss. The author, Richard DuFour, is one of the most respected educational authors to be found, and has been a spokesperson for years on school reform topics. What distinguishes DuFour’s writings from other polemic writers is that he doesn’t seek to improve education through a proliferation of charter schools and voucher plans—which the bulk of research clearly states does not result in an improved educational experience for the vast numbers of students. Instead, DuFour seeks to improve education by working within the current system, which he contends is performing far better than what some people believe.

Why should teachers read this book? For public school teachers and educators, this book is a godsend. It will reaffirm and uphold many of your beliefs about the benefits of public schools and debunk many of the myths surrounding the perceived horrors of public education. If you are forced to defend your local public school from charter or voucher advocates, this is one of the better books to use as a resource to counter the emotional claims about the ills of the public school system. Though DuFour uses national data, and not local data to build his case, there is a treasure trove of data to paint a positive picture of the value and benefits of American public education. As DuFour points out, even in the light of worsening child mental health indicators, which should result in poorer academic performance, many students are performing well, in spite of their economic roadblocks.

Overall evaluation of the book: If you are defending the virtues of public education in a school board meeting or in the local newspaper, you will want this as a resource. If you are a staunch disbeliever in the value of public education, you may not like what you read because some of your beliefs won’t hold up to actual research scrutiny. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Dufour, Richard and Robert Marzano. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? Dufour and Marzano are considered heavyweights in the world of American education and what they say should be seriously considered. They are not a couple of wanna-be-educators who got together over a summer cookout and said, “Let’s write a book together.” This book is essentially a call to arms for superintendents, principals, and teachers, to repurpose the way they have been running schools into more of an institution that actually helps students learn.

Much of what Dufour and Marzano write about is not considered “earth-shattering” or “stunning” to educators. In other words, there is lots of research to support their recommendations. There are, however, lots of problems in implementing their suggestions. School steeped in conservatism and tradition and history can find a terrible time implementing their recommendations and suggestions. If your local school is effectively implementing even half of what Dufour and Marzano suggest they implement, you can be assured your local school is on the cutting edge of educational reform.

The book bogs down somewhat in the middle pages on some of the finer points of assessment but it is a relatively easy read for an educational treatise. Read this book to find out what your school should be doing. Dufour and Marzano are on target.

Why should teachers read this book? Because the book is sweeping in scope, it is also inclusive of the problems which vex education today. Fortunately, the authors have lots of solutions to the problems. This is one of the better books on the market today on educational reform as it cuts a wide swath in a pleasant and well-written manner. For example, if you don’t believe in the current archaic practice of assigning letter grades to your students but don’t know what else to do, chapter six and seven have been written just for you.

Overall evaluation of the book: A cut above the rest. The book probably tries to do too much within its pages but it is well done. A good summary of current problems in education with current solutions. You will be hard-pressed to do better Throw a copy of this book on your non-progressive principal’s desk and dare him or her to read it. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Fullan, Michael and Andy Hargrreaves. (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? Few parents will voluntarily pick up this book and begin reading it. However, most politicians and school board members will benefit from reading Professional Capital because Fullan and Hargreaves dispel many of the myths about solutions to the problems which bedevil public schools and how schools should be improved. If you are interested in the future of education in American schools and want to know how to change the system on a massive scale—this is a book you will certainly want to dally in for at least four or five hours. If you are an ardent apostle for charter schools, pay for performance plans, evaluating teachers more often, and closing non-performing schools in poor neighborhoods, you are most likely going to strongly dislike this book because it will not fit in with your belief systems.

You will use the contents of this book to help you determine whether or not your local school is on the right track when it comes to school reforms and the direction the school board and your state department of education is steering the ship. Schools which are molded after the ideas found in Professional Capital will be stronger schools and will resist the tides and whims of educational fads and trends.

Why should teachers read this book? Teachers and union leaders who are smart will bring this book to the superintendent and school board and say, “We would like to improve the profession of teaching and want to pay attention to some of the broader ideas presented by Fullan and Hargreaves. What can we do to help bring about some of this change? Let’s talk.” This type of dialogue has a better chance of improving the quality of education kids are receiving and the status of teachers in the local community, than arguing with the superintendent and school board about issues such as, for example, how many minutes teachers should work during parent-teacher conferences and what color pants are acceptable in the workplace? In other words, focus on making teaching a profession and stop focusing on aspects of the job which require a time card.

Overall evaluation of the book: This work is directly in the mainstream flow of what educational research points to as being effective in improving the quality of schools on a large scale. The credibility of the authors lend it support in the educational community. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Fullan, Michael. (2008). What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principalship. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? Have you ever wondered what principals are supposed to do? Have you ever thought about what your child’s principal does all day and if what they are doing is the best use of their time? If your child’s principal spends two hours every day in the cafeteria and another hour a day supervising the buses before and after school, are those three hours time well spent? I suspect Michael Fullan would answer the question with an emphatic, “no!” What principals are supposed to be, according to Fullan, are instructional leaders and not cafeteria supervisors and school bus aides.

At first glance, this is harder to do than it would seem. The minutia of pressing demands can easily take up an entire day for the principal. Enormous pressures cause principals to spend their time on operational matters when they should be spending time with instructional matters. Read Fullan to learn more about this important distinction between operational and instructional matters.

Why should teachers read this book? Everything Fullan writes about, as it pertains to getting high-quality instructional leadership from principals, continues to be true today. The principalship is a thankless job with a lower rate of pay per hour than veteran teachers and it is becoming harder and harder to find competent superheroes willing to take on the job. Thankfully, some do. This book is a quick read on the activities principals should be doing, not necessarily on what they are doing. Read this book so you can help advocate for a changed role for your principal in your school. Principals should be instructional leaders, not managers of the building.

Overall evaluation of the book: Anyone who aspires to the principalship should read this book. Anyone else who wonders why the principal isn’t spending two hours a day in the cafeteria and an hour a day on bus duty should also read this book. The principalship is not what is used to be twenty years ago. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Glasser, William. (1990). The Quality School: Managing Students Without Coercion. New York: Harper Collins.

Why should parents read this book? Dr. Glasser has faded from prominence but at one time his books and thinking were “hot topics” in the educational community. His ideas and pleadings for schools to change their focus away from coercion and toward more of a democratic model of schooling continue, however, to stand the test of time.

This could be a very important book for you to read, especially if you are frustrated by the behavior your middle school child is displaying. An important part of this book contends that nobody can make anyone do anything, unless it is determined to be in their best interest. Glasser makes a distinction between boss-management and lead management. A boss-manager (or parent) will tell the employee (or child) what to do because they (or the parent) said so. A lead-manager (or parent) engages the employee (or child) in the discussion of what constitutes quality work (or school work or household chores).

Sound familiar? No doubt you have experienced bosses at work who operate from either the boss-management or lead-management paradigm. Or your view of parenting is that your child should do what you say “because I said so”—rather than engaging them in a discussion on how they can be a more effective member of the family or school.  

Think about the messages you are sending to your child. Do you want to rule your child through coercion or do you want to engage your child in discussion and problem solving? Which approach will help them develop the skills to be successful in life? Hint: Having them always learn that whatever they do is “because I said so” –is a recipe for stunted development later in life.

Why should teachers read this book? Nearly everything Glasser wrote about remains true today. His suggestions also continue to remain applicable today. This is not one of those authors whose thoughts and recommendations have faded into the wind like leaves scattering before October winds. Consequently, this is one of the few educational books from the 1990’s I would recommend teachers and school administrators read with a vengeance. Glasser’s ideas about motivation and leading instead of bossing around students will revolutionize your classroom and how you discipline students.

Overall evaluation of the book: This book was not written for parents, but teachers and school administrators. However, sometimes the most interesting and useful ideas come from places you wouldn’t ordinarily search. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Gusky, Thomas R. (2015). On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? The winds of change are blowing and if you want to know in which direction grading and letter grades are heading, this is a solid place to begin. Teachers and schools are slowly changing—albeit it at a glacial pace—from traditional letter grades (A-B-C-D-F) to rubrics and standards based grading. In a traditional grade, many things can end up in the final grade which goes on the report card—such as attendance, class participation, extra credit points, how well-behaved a student is or isn’t in class, and their score on tests and quizzes. In standards based grading, the student is usually only assessed on their academic performance, relative to a standard or desired outcome. A rubric is simply a descriptor of various levels of performance of the standard.

It is widely acknowledged by most educational experts that traditional grades work poorly in discriminating why a particular student received a particular grade. In rubric and standards-based grading, the mystery is removed and students are often only assessed on their academic competence. If teachers want to assess them on other measures, such as work ethic and contributions to the class, these are usually assessed in a separate score or rubric.

Grading is often a political hot potato but there are better ways to assess your child’s academic performance than the traditional A-B-C-D-F scale, and rubrics and standards based grades is a better way. After all, for example, would you care how many extra credit points the pilot flying your airplane amassed in flight school to make up for the fact they couldn’t pass the flying performance test, or do you care whether or not they can competently fly the airplane? This is why there are no extra credit points in flight school. Things like extra credit points are irrelevant as to whether or not the pilot can competently fly the airplane.

Why should teachers read this book? Sometimes teachers are their own worst enemy and grading is one of those areas it rears its ugly head. The right to grade their students any way they want is a sacred cow deeply entrenched in the psyche of the American teachers, even though research supporting this traditional approach to assessment allows for little to no evidence supporting the practice of using arbitrary letter grades as a method of assessing students.

So many teachers grade their students differently that a grade of ‘A’ might be a grade of ‘B’ with someone teaching the same subject across the hallway. Some teachers give no points for late work and some teachers give full points for late work. Some teachers give extra credit points while others do not. Sometimes participation points are given while other times they are not. In other words, grades are a confabulation of many arbitrary indicators, each determined by the individual teacher. What if grades were actually based on a student’s academic achievement and not on their work ethic, attendance, or how much they talk in class? Imagine that.

Overall evaluation of the book: One of the better and easiest-to-read books explaining the reasons why grading practices need to change. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Hargreaves, Andy, and Michael Fullan, ed. (2009). Change Wars. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Why should parents read this book? Changing schools is really hard work and far more difficult than people imagine. Why? It’s because there are so many different players involved in the game of school reform and each have their own viewpoint on what needs to be done. (It really is a myth that the local principal or superintendent are in charge of the local school or district.) Principals and superintendents (and teachers for that matter) can only change a system as fast as the culture around the neighborhoods will allow it. Inevitably, as soon as something begins to change, people start coming out of the woodwork to either decry the change or mourn the loss of something or to complain about how this slight change has “devastated” their family or child. Some people are only interested in preserving their own benefits or program and are not interested in the common good, no matter what they say with their silver tongue. All of these factors make it very difficult for the leaders of the change to make the process work.

This compendium of authors will give you a broad idea of the challenges involved in changing or reforming schools. Before you join your local school committee which is studying a particular program, curriculum, or ideas, you will be well-served by studying this book. I don’t want to depress you but the obstacles in your way to actually reforming and improving your school are numerous and significant. Know what you are up against and realize there are many moving parts in the system which need to be massaged and placated.

That said, many schools have made dramatic improvements over the years, especially when the major stakeholders work together to create something of value for the students.

Why should teachers read this book? We tend to believe that the key to improving schools is to find the right leader who will lead us out of the wilderness and into the land of enlightenment. Every week the papers and online news agencies report how school districts are searching for the great leader who will save the school, restore confidence in the community, and raise the test scores of students by an incredible margin. All of this is nonsense, but so goes the myth of the great leader who will single-handedly save the organization.

This is a very good reference in describing some of the problems schools will have in changing how schools operate. Fortunately, there are lots of suggestions as to how to make the change and reform process go better.

Overall evaluation of the book: A useful reference on the hazards and promise of school reform. It’s much more difficult and complicated than people think. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Hattie, John. And Gregory Yates. (2014). Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. New York: Routledge.

Why should parents read this book? This is a great book and is eminently more readable than some of Hattie’s earlier books and writings. There is certainly a healthy dose of educational jargon in the book—it wasn’t necessarily written for parents, but the main topics will somewhat make sense to most parents.

The importance of reading this book is that it will destroy some cherished beliefs about school and how kids learn. But this is the whole point of reading the book—to find out what really works and doesn’t in learning. Take this book to your principal or superintendent and ask them if they are aware of Hattie’s work. If they act confused or don’t recognize Hattie’s name, then you will know you are dealing with a school administrator who has buried his or her head in the sand for the past number of years and hasn’t kept up to date with current educational research. This is also an effective book in helping you understand why certain approaches work better with your child and help you provide a better learning environment for them. As a bonus, spend a few minutes talking with them about some of the ideas in the book.

Why should teachers read this book? This is one of the best books on education published in the last five years. Why? Because it’s not all blather and hocus pocus. It provides credible research-based advice rather than the ranting of the latest educational consultant who talked your superintendent into thousands of dollars of speaking fees on your last staff development day. Some of the information will appear to be common sense, other information will be transformational, because what you assumed to be true will turn out to be not true at all. Other bits and pieces will confirm your theories about learning and help explain why certain approaches seem to work better than others.

Overall evaluation of the book: This book should be used as a companion with Hattie’s other books. But if you only read this book, it’s still a top-ten educational book. You won’t learn how to design an educational system from top to bottom but you’ll learn how to help kids learn. Imagine that. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Hattie, John. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Why should parents read this book? Some of the language and statistics may be daunting at first, but if you stick with it and make it to the end of the book, you will have read one of the most important books on educational research in the early 21st Century. Why? Because Hattie cuts through the mist to reveal the most effective educational practices. To this end, he doesn’t mince his words. Nor does he try to advocate for programs which are expensive but show little progress, from a student learning point of view.

Parents will find this book very useful, especially the charts in the back of the book, which rank educational programs and teaching practices against one another. Want to know whether or not phonics or whole language has the backing of research? Want to know if cooperative learning really works? Curious as to the impact of students-teaching-other-students? Have you ever wanted to know whether class size really mattered? Read the book to find out…and more.

Why should teachers read this book: Allow me to be blunt. There is no reason why teachers should not being aware of Hattie’s work. This is probably one of the five books all teachers should have on their educational bookshelf. It doesn’t matter whether you are a science teacher, math teacher, world language teacher, music educator, or physical education teacher. The kernels—actually giant nuggets—of information in this book are worth their weight in gold. Skip the light and fluffy educational books advocating for a narrow particular program and spend the money instead on Hattie’s book. He will make you really think about your teaching practices. You might even have an epiphany.

Overall evaluation of the book: Although the research in this book isn’t new, it will be jarring to those who have clung to educational practices which aren’t very effective. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Jukes, Ian, Ryan Schaaf, and Nicky Mohan. (2015). Reinventing Learning for the Always-On Generation. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? This is a book which was primarily written for the professional community although many parents will find it an interesting read, mostly for the information on how rapidly the learning environment is changing for their children. The gist of this book is that technological advances and the proliferation of devices is requiring kids to learn information via different means. Whether kids use computers, tablets, or smart phones, the brains of our children are now required to think and process information differently, than what occurred in the non-technology classroom.

A sizeable portion of the book is devoted to various websites and apps which may be used to help kids learn. For some parents, these pages may not be very useful. Homeschooling parents, however, will love the suggestions. Many of the websites and apps listed are popular ones used by educators. Regardless if your child attends public or private school or is homeschooled, familiarity with these sites is a plus.

Why should teachers read this book? If you are an educator and have been teaching under a rock for the past five years, the resources listed in this book will provide a solid beginning for your exponential growth in using technology in the classroom. If you are a tech-savvy teacher, however, much of what is listed here will be redundant and not likely to stretch your learning much. Still, this is a decent book about a plethora of technology options at the teacher’s disposal.

Overall evaluation of the book: Some of the claims about the brains of the adolescent being completely rewired by technology are plain silly and the celebration about multitasking is not consistent with current educational research. (Multitasking is an inefficient way to learn things.) But if you can ignore these problems and focus on the resources listed, your time reading this book will be well spent. Three Stars ★★★

Book Reviewed: King, Kendall, and Alison MacKey. (2007). The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language. New York: HarperCollins.

Why should parents read this book? Have you ever wondered if your child would benefit by learning a second language but were worried that in doing so, it would hurt their first language? According to the authors, King and MacKey, you can lay your fears to rest. There is no evidence that learning a second language harms a child’s growth in the primary language.

While the contents of this book are slanted towards the benefits of a second (or even third) language, the authors don’t advocate for any particular language and state that this decision should be a family decision, based on the family’s history, culture, environment, and proximity to other languages.

Parents will also be relieved to learn tidbits about how to bring a second language into their household, such as choosing games, software, video games, and using other adults to reinforce the chosen language. Parents will also learn what not to do—such as giving their child boring lectures on the language and expecting their child to learn a second language primarily through watching television.

Why should teachers read this book? While much of the world expects their students and teachers to know another world language beside their native tongue, American students and educators continue to live in a bubble, insisting that knowing English will be sufficient to propel them forward, deeper into the 21st century. Much of America, however, is wrong, because the burgeoning world economy will cause more interactions between Americans and non-English speaking countries. And it’s no sure thing that English will remain the epicenter language of world commerce.

The authors don’t harp on this problem, however, because much of the book is about debunking the myths surrounding acquiring a second language and providing hints and suggestions as to how parents can go about helping their child become bilingual. As such, this book is primarily intended for parents and not educators. However, educators who find themselves involved in controversy over the languages their students should be using will find plenty of ammunition against critics of schools that spending valuable resources on teaching languages other than English is a waste of money.

Overall evaluation of the book: An easy-to-read book which puts to rest many of the fears that learning a second language harms the native language skills. For a niche market this serves as a valuable resource. Ignore the older publication date, everything in the book remains true today. Four Stars ★★★★

Book Reviewed: Kopp, Wendy, with Steven Farr. (2011). A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All. New York: Public Affairs.

Why should parents read this book? The primary focus of this book is to tell the story of Teach for America and how it has grown into an effective cadre of teachers working with students mired in poverty and to also tell the story of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program). The two stories are intertwined because many (60%) of the individuals running KIPP schools are former Teach for America graduates and the founders of KIPP are, in fact, also cut from the Teach for America cloth.

If you are considering placing your child in a KIPP school or you learn that Teach for America graduates are coming into your local school, then you may want to read this book. It provides background information and will help you understand the purposes and successes of both programs. If you are on the school board or a local businessperson trying to understand the school choice mess, this may be an effective book for you to read. That said, you won’t find any other direct connection in helping your child—unless that is, you decide to place your child in a KIPP school or work the system to put your child in front of a Teach for America graduate.

Why should teachers read this book? This is one of those works which help you understand all sides of the school choice debate. Which is better? Public schools or KIPP schools? Who is the better teacher—the newbie from Teach for America or the one that has been teaching for the past twenty years? Which model appears to be the most sustainable? Are KIPP and Teach for America scalable? Veteran educators will no doubt be irritated by some of the language used in the book but Kopp does acknowledge that experiments like vouchers and charter schools don’t work any better than what is currently happening at public schools.

Overall evaluation of the book: Although the book dwells excessively on the success of KIPP academy and mostly ignores other failings of charter schools throughout the United States—I really liked this book and thought some of the ideas presented had merit to improve the quality of education in America. The biggest problem is, however, whether Kopp’s ideas are scalable. Not all wanna-be teachers will be enamored with the thought of working 60 hour weeks for $40,000 , which is what many Teach for America and KIPP teachers do. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Landsman, Julie and Chance W. Lewis, eds. (2006). White Teachers, Diverse Classrooms. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Why should parents read this book? Have you ever wondered why White teachers sometimes have trouble instructing African-American children? Is it because the African-American students are lazy, slow and the product of broken homes? Is it because the White teachers don’t know what they are doing and are poor teachers to begin with? Is it because African-American kids don’t want to learn and are more interested in being jocks and thugs? (Hint, hint: it’s none of the above.)

Read this compendium of essays by a variety of authors to get a sense of what are the real problems. Many of the answers provided by the authors may surprise you. Some of the possible answers include White teachers having a missionary complex to save the unfortunate African-Americans and a subtle but pervasive belief that African-American students can’t do challenging work. Very subtle and seemingly innocuous beliefs can have a profound effect on how hard students work in the classroom for teachers. If a teacher believes students can’t do something, it will be almost impossible for students to overcome the teachers limiting beliefs.

Why should teachers read this book? Read this book to gain a better understanding of African-American and minority children in your classroom and what it takes to help them really accelerate their learning. Some of the suggestions offered by the writers don’t involve taking more graduate classes at the local university or college. In fact, many of the solutions exist on the human level—trying to understand kids where they are at, not lowering expectations based on their skin color, grasping the context of their lives, acting as if you care about their well-being, to stop trying to “save” them, and having the kids help you understand them better.

Overall evaluation of the book: An excellent book on helping us understand minority children and actually doing something which will help them. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Loewen, James W. (2010). Teaching What Really Happened: How to avoid the tyranny of textbooks and get students excited about doing history. New York: Teachers College Press.

Why should parents read this book? Welcome to the ideology war being fought as to what should be taught to American students in school! If you are of the opinion that America is great and has always been great and will always be great, and that only patriotic events told in positive light should be taught in our schools, then you are going to absolutely hate this book and will probably not even read past the fourth page. But your decision will say much about your willingness to consider alternative explanations of things that we take for granted about the American past and how history should be taught. If you are able to keep an open mind, this book will be an eye-opener for you. After all, why should you restrict your reading to only that which you have predetermined to be the gospel truth?

Why should teachers read this book? Teach your students to question the status quo. Ask them questions such as, “how do you know this is what happened?” Ask your students questions, such asWho writes history and why did they decide to include certain things into the history and leave other things out?” Have your students dig into their own family’s background and look for interesting events and unusual people. Encourage your students to dig deeper and ask, “What was life like when __________ (fill in the blank) was alive? Your main goal will be to develop your student’s level of curiosity and teach them to think deeper and more critically about things we all take for granted.

Overall evaluation of the book: This is one of those rare books which really make you think. Whether you agree or disagree with his positions, it’s worth several hours of pondering. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Marzano, Robert, Phil Warrick, and Julia A. Simms. (2014). A Handbook for High Reliability Schools: The Next Steps in School Reform. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.

Why should parents read this book? This is one of those books, which is, from an instructional point of view, “big picture,” in how to run and manage a school building. Using his well-known name as a mouthpiece, Marzano sets the stage for what he hopes will be the next best thing in school reform. To a parent, much of what he writes about won’t apply to you, unless you are interested in discussing the future of education in America and how it might roll out in your local school or district. However, if you are a school board member, this book may intrigue you and give you a glimpse at how one reform plan frames the transitioning process from a poor school to a great school.

Some of what Marzano writes about will be very familiar to those whose children attend well-run schools—Marzano calls these as successfully reaching level I, II, and III. Other aspects of Marzano’s hierarchy of school improvement will be unfamiliar and seemingly impossible to reach—Marzano calls higher standards as being level IV and V. Still, he gives us much to think about and his ideas raise the bar for total school improvement.

Why should teachers read this book? Teachers will recognize many of Marzano’s levels as containing activities and programs which are found in their local school—safe and collaborative cultures, effective teaching in the classroom, and a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Other levels of Marzano’s High Reliability Schools framework will be far less recognizable and harder to achieve—standards referenced report cards and competency based education, or the elimination of arbitrary grade levels. Virtually everything Marzano proposes is, however, not contentious in the sense that his ideas will improve the level of teaching and learning going on at your local middle school.

This is a good framework to use in a larger instructional sense. It gives educators a sense of what is important and how to prioritize programs and staff development. For example, if schools are not safe and collaborative and have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, it will be impossible for schools to reach level IV, which is based on standards referenced reporting.

Overall evaluation of the book: A very good place to begin sorting out programs and ideas which are constantly being suggested to teachers, principals, and superintendents. If you start from level I and slowly work your way to level V, it will be hard for your local school to go wrong. Still, some will view his standards for a level V school to be completely unreachable. This does not, however, mean that Marzano is wrong. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Marzano, Robert J. (2004). Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Why should parents read this book? The importance of your child having command of the vocabulary words being taught in school cannot be overstated. Nor can it be overemphasized that the method or process your child uses to learn vocabulary words is extremely important. The reality is that some methods of learning vocabulary are better than others and you better hope your child’s teacher knows which ones work better. If they don’t, buy them a copy of this book and ask them to read it. As a bonus, you can help your child learn tougher vocabulary words which appear in their homework. Simply guide them to do some of the activities recommended here. Even though this is an older book, almost everything Marzano says is still applicable today and will continue to be applicable in ten years.

Why should teachers read this book? It’s time to teach vocabulary to your students the right way—so they actually remember what words mean and how to understand the vocabulary word in novel contexts. I mean, if students can’t recall what words mean in new situations, have they really learned the definition of the word? The answer is “no.”

I think all of us have, at some point, tried to memorize vocabulary lists and had little success. So why continue using teaching methods which didn’t work very well in the past and continue being mediocre at best? If you teach vocabulary words the way Marzano suggests—and he is right by the way—your students will thrive and flourish.

Overall evaluation of the book: This book is all about dramatically increasing a child’s vocabulary even though the word “vocabulary” isn’t in the title. An oldie but goodie. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Marzano, Robert, Ed. (2010). On Excellence in Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Learning Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? This is best used as a reference point for you to understand the big sweeping curriculum and teaching ideas which are supposed to be going on in your local school and school district. If you are interested in joining a committee for your local school, which is actually going to be taking a look at teaching and learning, Marzano will be a useful source of information. Be warned, however. Most schools and districts will not seriously allow parents to delve deeply into the teaching and learning area, as it is usually deemed to be the province of the teacher experts.

This book will not suffice to tell you everything you will need to know about how teaching and learning works, but it is a good start. Much of the information presented in this book will revolve around editorial comments by Marzano on the political focus on education in America and the importance of teachers using backwards design, essential questions, conceptual teaching, deliberate practice, the necessity of teaching higher order thinking skills and the perils of instruction focused primarily on rote-learning activities.

Why should teachers read this book? It is hard to go wrong picking up one of Marzano’s books. Much of what he has written over the past fifteen years has been an attempt to get principals and teachers to actually look at and adopt classroom activities which are backed by research. Imagine that.

This book is no different than anything else Marzano has written. It is sweeping in scope and focuses on some of the larger activities teachers should be doing on a regular basis. Anyone who actually teaches as Marzano advises will be doing their students a huge service by implementing his research-based suggestions. Why more schools and teachers don’t is a mystery to me.

Overall evaluation of the book: A good primer on what should be taking place in the classroom. Nothing is really new here, but it is packaged together well. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Pollock, Janee. (2012). Feedback: The Hinge that Joins Teaching and Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.

Why should parents read this book? This is a really good book to help you solidify your thoughts on the critical importance of feedback in the classroom. All you have to do is ask your child what kinds of feedback their teacher is giving them, and what their teacher does with tests and quizzes and homework and goals, and then compare what is happening in your child’s classroom with what Pollock says should be happening in the classroom. The gap may be frightening. (Please, however, make sure you also ask the teacher how he/she handles feedback in the classroom.) This small book may be the perfect holiday present for your child’s teacher.

Why should teachers read this book? Teachers who think they provide great feedback to their students may be astonished, after reading Feedback, to discover just how poor their feedback really is. This is a short and yet very practical book for teachers to read, digest, and then implement some of the ideas presented in the book. Pollock is dead-on-accurate in what she says about feedback so teachers should be sitting upright and paying attention.

Overall evaluation of the book: Feedback falls under the “short and sweet” category. The book is only 116 pages long but since the actual book is literally an inch shorter, both vertically and horizontally, it’s probably equivalent to 80 or so pages of text. The information, however, is solid. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Popham, James, (2009). Unlearned Lessons: Six Stumbling Blocks to our Schools’ Success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Why should parents read this book? The book is fairly easy to read and parents will find it useful in determining whether their local school has any of the six obstacles impeding its path to success with its students. All you have to do is ask yourself, on each of the six obstacles, is “whether or not your local school has any of these problems.” If you really are feeling bold, take the book to your principal and ask them to read it. Then come back after he/she is finished reading the book and discuss the implications for your child in the school. I can guarantee you that virtually no other parent has ever given the principal a book to read and then sat down with them afterwards and had a conversation about how some of the ideas presented in the book could be implemented. You are going to get the principal’s attention.

The most important aspect of this book may be that it will confirm some of your suspicious, about the wisdom of your local state board of education excessively testing their students (and your child). It will also confirm your suspicions about the curriculum in your local school being like the Platte River—an inch deep and a mile wide.

Note: High performing schools around the world don’t have to teach as many standards as American teachers do. Consequently, their students perform better because they know the information more intimately than do American students. (Is anybody in state departments of education paying attention?)

Why should teachers read this book? The most useful thing you can do with your students, relative to this book, is to continually talk with them about what they learned in the classroom. Try to get your students thinking about the purpose of the lesson and what the unit/lesson/project is trying to accomplish. Most kids don’t think about the purpose of the lesson and what it is they are supposed to learn, so a concerted effort in this area is going to pay big dividends. There is lots of research which says that thinking about purpose and what you are learning helps the brain consolidate and remember information.

Overall evaluation of the book: Popham has the unique advantage of being able to reflect back upon a lifetime in education and reach some conclusions about what he has learned. We should pay attention to what he is saying. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Tovani, Chris. (2000). I Read It, But I Don’t Get It. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Why should parents read this book? If your child struggles in their reading skills and you want some strategies you can use that don’t require a PhD in reading or phonics to implement, you can’t go wrong with Chris Tovani, who has been writing about the topic for a number of years. You should be forewarned, however, that Chris doesn’t spend much time talking about how to solve problems which may involve phonics and the decoding of words. Much of Chris’ focus is on understanding the context of what kids read, including inferences and mentally interacting with the text. Many kids who struggle in their reading skills have difficulty with both decoding words (phonics) and understanding chunks of text. Thus, you have to pay attention to both. Tovani will help you with the latter.

Why should teachers read this book? It doesn’t matter what subject you teach or how long you have been teaching—this book, if taken to heart, will help you know how to assist your students remember what they have read. And the chances are very good that if you have a regular and normal classroom—at least a quarter of your students will have trouble understanding what you assign them. We also know that the worst thing you can do to your students is to tell them to “read pages 17-21 and answer a few questions about what they have read.” There are things you can do that will help your students understand the text before, during, and after they read. Check out this book to find out what they are.

Overall evaluation of the book: A solid contribution on reading instruction. Do not worry about the copyright date. Everything she says is still on target. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Tucker, Marc S., ed. (2011). Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Why should parents read this book? You should read this book to get an understanding of the immense challenges your child will face in the international workplace. The reality is that when your child is ready to enter the adult workforce, they may be competing for the same job with people from Finland, Shanghai, Japan, Singapore and Canada. This book gives a taste of what they will be facing but also gives you clues as to how you can better prepare your child for life as a competitor in the global job market. Hint: Your child better be fluent in at least one other world language besides English and they better have excellent work habits. If they don’t, they are going to be steamrolled by the advanced skills displayed by students from other countries around the world.

If, on the other hand, you are searching for a book which attempts to explain the differences between the education American students receive and the education received by students from leading countries around the world—look no further, your search is over. The book is eminently readable and helps to explain a lot of why American students can’t seem to catch-up academically to students from other high-performing countries around the world.

Why should teachers read this book? I recommend you send your local school board and superintendent and principal copies of this book as a present and ask them to read it. If you are lucky, they will take some of the themes found in the book to heart and work to change the local system to better reflect the realities of what students in the system will encounter when they enter the global workforce. You should also ask your school board and superintendent and principal to benchmark their schools against the best international schools, rather than against surrounding school districts. Your district should focus on finding the best teachers who operate as professionals, and not those who function like blue-collar workers in a union. Your district should also look for teachers who work hard on developing critical thinking skills and less on having their students complete worksheets. You will also want to ensure your students are learning another world language.

Overall evaluation of the book: If you are even remotely interested in the fate of education in America, you won’t read this book and come away with any other conclusion than that we are in a serious crisis and have significant work to be done in preparing our students for the realities of the global workforce. You will also realize your child needs to kick it into high gear if they are to be successful in competing for the best jobs around the world. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. (2007). Schooling by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Why should parents read this book? If you work in the world of business, you will recognize many of the recommendations found in this important book as being very similar to what you encounter in your world of work—such as starting with the end in mind, planning backwards, focusing on the most important things, aligning all systems to support the primary drivers, and getting everybody on board. Reading this book and comparing what Wiggins and McTighe recommend with what is happening at your local school may be an eye opening experience. A useful experience will be to flip through the pages and then look at your local school and do an item by item comparison between the ideal—Wiggins and McTighe’s version—and what is really happening at your local school. Although much has been written about the organizational system topics Wiggins and McTighe discuss here, their work is considered to be some of the best in the world of education. They are regulars on the consulting circuit

Why should teachers read this book? This is a must read book for all superintendents and principals because Wiggins and McTighe are all about creating systems which improve the learning of the students living in the system. What is particularly useful about this book is that the authors regularly bring up roadblocks and misunderstandings which commonly derail efforts to improve the entire system. As such, their focus is on improving the schooling environment as a sum total, rather than relying on the mythical leader who will ride into town and save the local school from their own blunderings. The moral to the story here is that you should not wait for a new superintendent or principal to come riding into town from the outside to “save the school or school district.” This only happens in bad western movies. Instead, you should think about gathering educators together and start applying the ideas found in this book.

Overall evaluation of the book: A great tome on the importance of examining the entire school system, rather than focusing on the individual teachers working within the system. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Why should parents read this book? This is one of the most important books found in education today. It is not a new book, however. The ideas have been around for a long time. If you want to quickly find out if your child’s teacher is worth their salt as far as creating curriculum, ask them what the essential question, learning targets, or big ideas are for their class. If they stumble and bumble, or stare blankly at your face for ten seconds or more, then you know they are teaching a series of isolated tasks and not integrating everything into several important questions. For example, a math teacher who answers the question by saying they teach polygons, square area, and the perimeter of an object, is a poor teacher compared to one who says, “we learn how Geometry can enrich our lives and help solve problems in the real world. Here are several examples of projects students undertake in my classroom.”

Why should teachers read this book? If you don’t know who Wiggins and McTighe are and haven’t heard of backward planning or essential questions, then you really have been living under a rock and almost certainly are using some poor teaching practices in your classroom. In addition, your curriculum is probably disjointed and your assessments are most likely not directly tied into the actual instruction. You also have probably not taken a very intellectual look into what students studied last year and what they will study next year. Virtually every classroom teacher who actually teaches higher order thinking skills to their students first frames the lessons around purposeful questions and determines outcomes, then creates the assessments, and only then figures out how to teach everything. Do you?

Overall evaluation of the book: The bible for guiding beginning curriculum conversations in schools all across the United States. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Zhao, Yong. (2009). Catching up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Why should parents read this book? This is an outstanding book which will help give you background on why you should stop focusing on your child’s grade-point-average and standardized test scores. It is also one of the first books you should grab when you join your local school district’s steering committee on charting the future path of the district. If you homeschool your children and are hyper-focused on your child’s math and reading skills, this resource will help you define your child’s needed skills in a larger and broader context.

Systems-thinking parents will love this book. Parents searching for something they can do right now, however, will be slightly disappointed because this is a “big picture” look at American education in the context to what is happening in the wider world. Still, the “big picture” will impact your child and if they are caught without the skills to work in a global community with diverse people, they will be negatively impacted, even though they will be unable to articulate just what it was that caused their problem or difficulty.

Why should teachers read this book? Teachers will love this book because it is an antidote to the standardized testing mania sweeping across the United States. Zhao will reinforce many of your beliefs about the misplaced efficacy and direction of standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind environment.

Do something within your control to have your students adopt the 21st century skills to which Zhao says we must be paying attention. Drop a copy of this on the desk of your principal and superintendent. If you are feeling especially adventurous, mail a copy to each school board member and educator sitting on the teachers’ union executive committee. If you can help these disparate groups of people come together on at least some of Zhao’s ideas, your time will have been well spent. Future generations of students coming through your school will thank you.

Overall evaluation of the book: An entertaining and somewhat humorous take on current trends in American education, as compared with what else is happening around the world. Five Stars ★★★★★

Book Reviewed: Zhao, Yong. (2016). Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Why should parents read this book? This book, which is really a collection of short essays by various authors, should be required reading for all parents and politicians who believe testing scores and standardized tests are the best measure of a student or school’s measure of success. Zhao argues that standardized test scores and the mania which frequently accompanies them, to be misplaced and not really measuring what really counts.

The essence of this book is that standardized test results measure something—up to a point—and that once you reach this point, other factors come into play which determine whether or not the individual will be successful or not. These other factors are things such as motivation, personality, and intrapersonal skills. In other words, people skills or emotional intelligence.

If your local school is focusing hard on testing scores as a measure of their students’ success, this book has lots of ammunition, data, and information you can use to help guide your argument that they should be considering other measures to gauge how successful their students are.

Why should teachers read this book? Are you frustrated by the amount of rhetoric spewing out of the mouths of politicians about how lousy your local school is in producing students who perform either poorly or modestly on standardized tests? Are you annoyed by the talk which blames schools for the upcoming economic Armageddon, simply because America’s kids don’t score #1 in the world on standardized tests? Well, now have something—this book—to use as evidence that many of these concerns are misplaced.

Yong Zhao has been around for a number of years trying to persuade people that America is not falling apart, economically, simply because they are not #1 in the world in the standardized testing arms race. If this were the case, America would not be the leading business climate and force that it is today. Something else is coming into play. And what is coming into play are people skills, creativity, a can-do attitude, and the ability to motivate and communicate with other people.

Use this as a blueprint to help steer your local school into the measurement wars and the recognition that there is more to the success of an individual beside a test score.

Overall evaluation of the book: Few politicians probably pay attention to Zhao but they should. Zhao is right but few politicians seem to actually care about research and data and what makes students successful in the economic marketplace. Five Stars ★★★★★

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