School Reform, Theory and Research

My rating scale:
***** A well-deserved classic in the field, or just so good that it is a must read!
**** One of my favorites. An important book in the field.
*** A worthwhile read.
** Maybe some worthwhile ideas, but overall not so hot.
* Just plain bad.
(actually, if it’s below 3 stars, I probably haven’t bothered to include it)

Achinstein, Betty. (2002). Community, Diversity, and Conflict Among Schoolteachers.  Teachers College Press. 177pp.
This book is an analysis of the issue of schoolwide teacher community through the use of two case studies. Her main contribution is a framework for looking at such communities in terms of how they approach conflict. On one side are schools who use a variety of techniques to avoid conflict in favor of smooth relationships, but at the cost of confronting real issues. On the other side are schools that embrace conflict. These schools are more capable of making necessary changes, but at the cost of a more stressful work environment. while her framework is convincing and useful, I found her case examples to be unconvincing. (***)

Allen, David (2008). Coaching Whole School Change: Lessons in practice from a small high school. Teachers College Press.
Using a case study approach, Allen tells the story of one school coach over a three year period to distill effective coaching practices. The use of a anecdotes and story makes this an enjoyable read. It is realistic in its description of the difficulties of such a job, while highlighting how she made it work. (***) (My full Review from TCRecord))

Ayers, William, Michael Klonsky, et al., Eds. (2000). A Simple Justice: The Challenge of Small Schools.  Teachers College Press. 198pp.
Edited book. Each chapter is a different take on the issue of small schools, from theoretical pieces to case stories, many written by those in the field carrying out the work. (***)

Barth, Rolland. (1990). Improving Schools From Within: Teachers, Parents, and Principals Can Make the Difference. Jossey-Bass. 190pp.
A practitioners view. Barth is a wonderful writer, uses anecdotes and metaphors well. Through his stories and persuasive writing Barth call for school reform is one that is based on the importance of strong relationships among all the parties in a school, and for more distributed authority and responsibility. (****)

Bensman, David. (2000). Central Park East and Its Graduates.  Teachers College Press. 154pp.
Based on his longitudinal study of Central Park East graduates, Bensman examines what made this such a successful school though interviews and surveys of its graduates. (****)

Bracy, Gerald W. (1995). Final Exam: A Study of the Perpetual Scrutiny of American Education. Technos. 246pp.
Bracy, the Kappan columnist, is always thought-provoking, constantly challenging us to re-look at the research on education. In this book he takes a critical look at the constant call for school reform that has been a perpetual American public school, examines the realities of the claims, and takes a particular look at the history and design of standardized tests. (***)

Calderwood, Patricia. (2000). Learning Community: Finding Common Ground in Difference. Teachers College Press. 167pp.
Calderwood looks at the issue of how community and shared values and norms affects the experience and success on schools setting through multiple case studies: a Catholic High School,  a Catholic elementary school, and public urban middle school, and a class in an urban public college. “The presence of a professional community of educators is of great importance to the reformation and restructuring of urban schools. The development and strengthening of shared norms and values are seed as the bedrock without which other elements of professional community will falter.” (***)

Carroll, D., Featherstone, H., Featherstone, J., Feiman-Nemser, S., & Roosevelt, D. (Eds.). (2007). Transforming teacher education: Reflections from the field. Harvard Education Press. 266pp.
This book, edited by professors at Michigan State University (The Featherstones among them) describes the history and working of the teacher education program they put together there. it describes a program aimed at instilling democratic progressive ideas. It is told from multiple perspectives–the university class, the field experience, the supervising experience–by the various players. while overall it shows this program in a very positive light, it does so while also exposing the trials and tribulations, how difficulties arose and were handled, and how over time, much of what was gained has eroded. (***)

Clinchy, Evan, Ed. (1997). Transforming Public Education: A New Course for America’s Future. Teachers College Press. 202pp; (1999). Reforming American Education From the Bottom to the Top. Heinemann. 206pp; (2000). Creating New Schools: How Small Schools are Changing American Education. Teachers College Press. 226pp.
These three books are compilations of essays from progressive thinkers in education on different issues of how our schools need to be transformed. They present interesting ideas. Though many are written in the academic style of the authors who mostly come from academia, others are written by those in the field. Includes essays by Deborah Meier, Larry Cuban, Nell Noddings, and Linda Darling-Hammond among others. (***)

Crain, William. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. Pearson / Prentice Hall. 429pp.
This book has a chapter on each major developmental and other major psychologists and major theories. He gives a bit of biographical background, summarizes the major aspects of the theory or theories, looks at how they have been critiqued by others, and offers his own critique. He also explores briefly the practical and educational implications of each theory. His bias is strongly developmental, and in particular he is most aligned with the Piagetian viewpoint. He does not refrain from offering his point of view, though his is also careful to give a fairly balanced “objective” account of each, and acknowledge what they have offered to the field. He ends with a chapter against the standardized testing movement in education, which is addition to this edition. I enjoyed reading it. (***)

Darling-Hammond, Linda (1997). The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools That Work. Jossey-Bass. 394pp.
Darling-Hammond makes strong theoretical and practical arguments for the kinds of reforms that I believe in–school community, teacher professional development, a focus on equity, authentic pedagogy, distributed leadership, and small schools. Strong on data and research to back up her claims. It is well written and well argued. (****)

Dewey, John (1938). Experience and Education. 110pp; and (1944). Democracy and Education 378pp; (and many others). Macmillan.
Dewey is education’s most brilliant thinker and philosopher, and in fact one of the best intellectuals of the last 100 years. His ability to bring together ideas from multiple fields and integrate them into a holistic theory is incredible. Experience and Education, with it’s more accessible writing, gives a excellent summary of his major ideas about what good education should look like and why. Democracy and Education, while a more difficult read, is his great treatise on the subject and gives his arguments much more thorough treatment. (*****)

DuFour, Richard and Robert Eaker (1998). Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. National Education Service. 338pp.
This book has it all for managing the change process from the lens of building a professional learning community. Includes lots of practical guides and templates. Keeps a positive tone, while not underestimating the difficulty of the process. Well-written and down to earth, from two authors with both practical experience and grounded in the research. There are also videos and an on-line course based on the ideas presented in this book. (****)

Engel, Brenda S. & Martin, Anne C. (Eds.). (2005). Holding values: What We Mean by Progressive Education. Heinemann. 200pp.
This is a collection of short essays by members of The North Dakota Study Group. NDSG is a loose group of educators who describe themselves as progressive in the Dewey tradition, and meet at a yearly conference. Each essay gives us a different glimpse of what is meant by progressive education. The book is divided into six parts, each dealing with a different aspect of progressive education, from the philosophy itself to the practice of it. While some articles deal with NDSG itself, most are of the practice and beliefs of its members. (*** to ****)

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Herder and Herder. 186pp.
Freire’s book is an important classic in progressive education. His is a direct attack on the didactic approach to teaching. His tone is strident and revolutionary. He first explains the problem of the “banking method” of education in which educators fill the supposedly empty minds through lecture, and counters it with his problem-posing education in which one learns by engaging in problems that are important to the learner. His writing is dense, but the ideas are brilliant. (*****)

Gatto, J. T. (2005). Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. New Society. 106pp.
Gatto gives a strong indictment of compulsory, state monopoly schooling. His critiques are strong and convincing. both about what schooling actually teaches in practice, and about and dangers of compulsion. What he is less good at is offering an alternative. He seems to imply home schooling, and privatization, but it is unclear. He also has a bit of the romanticized past–everybody could read before compulsory schooling, and an idealized version of the “congregationalist” principle of small town autonomy. (***)

Kohl, Herbert (1994). I Won’t Learn from You. The New Press. 153pp.
This book contains the classic title essay which explains that some ‘failure’ among minorities is a choice not to join in a relationship with the ‘oppressor’ as well as other well written essays by one who has continued to challenge our thinking on teaching and learning for four decades. (****)

Kohn, Alfie. (2000). The case against standardized testing: Raising the scores, ruining the schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
The title says it all. He delivers his arguments in a reasonable and well-articulated manner. He uses a simple question and answer format dealing with types of questions and assumptions that most lay people have about the subject. Also available on audio tape. (***)

Kozol, Jonathan (2000). Ordinary Resurrections. HarperCollins. 400pp.
“Jonathan Kozol’s books have become touchstones of the American conscience. In his most personal and optimistic book to date, Jonathan returns to the South Bronx to spend another four years with the children who have come to be his friends at P.S. 30 and St. Ann’s. A fascinating narrative of daily urban life seem through the eyes of children, Ordinary Resurrections gives the human face to Northern segregation and provides a stirring testimony to the courage and resilience of the young. Yet another classic of unblinking social observation from one of the finest writers ever to work in the genre, Ordinary Resurrections is a piercing discernment of right and wrong, of hope and despair — from our nation’s corridors of power to its poorest city streets.” –Publisher (***)

Krovetz, Martin (1999). Fostering Resiliency: Expecting All Students to Use Their Minds and Hearts Well. Corwin Press. 182pp.
Krovetz has written a book that will help those involved in thinking about how to make our schools work for all children. The idea is that if we create a nurturing yet academically challenging culture, we can provide a climate in which all children can flourish. Through the case studies we see how each school has enacted the ideas, bringing them to life, and showing us the possibilities as well as the difficulties. (***)

Krovetz, M., & Arriaza, G. (2006). Collaborative Teacher Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 193pp.
Uses vignettes of the teachers in the master’s program to illustrate the way teachers can and have taken leadership roles in a variety of setting around a variety of issues. Through short introductory and summary sections the authors highlight what they think we can take away from these examples. they also end each vignette with a series of discussion questions, as well as providing resources for finding out more about that issue. (***)

Jervis, K., & Montag, C. (1991). Progressive education for the 1990s: Transforming practice. Teachers College Press. 203pp.
An excellent collection of short essays by many of the most important contemporary writers, thinkers,and practitioners of contemporary progressive education. Includes essays by Deborah Meier, Vito Perrone, Eleanor Duckworth, Bill Ayers and many others. (***)

Levine, Eliot (2001). One Kid at a Time: Big Lessons from a Small School. Teachers College Press. 170pp.
The story of the Met school started by Dennis Littky. This school has broken the paradigm of what we think of as school. The students take no formal classes. They stay with the same adviser until they graduate. The main form of instruction is through internships. The school, by design has a total of about 100 students. Virtually all of these students, many or most who were failing at traditional schools, get into college. (***)

Little, T., & Ellison, K. (2015). Loving learning: How progressive education can save America’s schools. New York: Norton.
A very fine book on Progressive Education, told through the eyes of the founder of Park Day school, giving some history or progressive education, what it is, and why it matters, using examples from his school and other progressive schools to make his points. (****)

Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. Touchstone. 383pp.
This book is quickly becoming a classic. Loewen spent 10 years reviewing 12 major high school history text books, interviewing their authors and publishers as well as investigating the adoption process. His thesis is that these books not only distort history, but also make history ahistorical, creating a myth of a perfect Untied States. In avoiding controversy at all costs, they also make history boring and irrelevant. He also critiques who and what they include and who and what they leave out, as well as the biases about what they do include. In the end he analyzes why this is, and what might be done about it. (***+)

Meier, Deborah (2002). In Schools We Trust. 200pp. and (1995) The Power of Their Ideas. 185pp.  Beacon Press.
Her books are proof that public education can work for all! She defends democratic, public, small schools of choice, through discourse weaving stories and examples from the highly successful Central Park East Schools in New York City and now the Mission Hill School in Boston, schools which she founded and directed starting 30 years ago. (*****)

Meier, Deborah et al. (2000). Will Standards Save Public Education? Beacon Press. 89pp.
The lead essay in this collection, “Educating a Democracy” by Deborah Meier, rejects the idea of a centralized authority that dictates how and what teachers teach. Standardization prevents citizens from shaping their own schools, classrooms, and communities. Schools teach democratic virtues and provide much of this teaching by example. Standardization can threaten this instruction. The following responses to Meier’s essay are included: (1) “No Excuses” (Abigail Thernstrom); (2) “Making a Difference” (Bob Chase); (3) “Expert Opinion” (Gary B. Nash); (4) “Habits of Mind” (Linda Nathan); (5) “The Case for Standards” (Richard J. Murnane); (6) “The Standards Fraud” (William Ayers); and (7) “A Sense of Place” (Theodore Sizer). In closing, Deborah Meier answers these responses. (***)

Meier, D., Engel, B. S., & Taylor, B. (2010). Playing for keeps: Life and learning on a public school playground. New York: Teachers College Press.
Based around excerpts from Beth Taylor’s columns of play on the Mission Hill school playground. Engel and Meier then make commentary about the role that such play played in their lives and learning. (***)

Meier, Deborah and George Wood, Eds. (2004). Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Beacon Press. 132pp.
A citizens’ guide to what’s wrong with the nation’s radical federal education legislation and a passionate call for change. Many Children Left Behind is a devastating brief against NCLB. Here some of our most prominent, respected voices in education—including Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Linda Darling-Hammond and Theodore R. Sizer—come together to show us how, point by point, NCLB undermines the things it claims to improve. This book is an essential guide to understanding what’s wrong and where we should go from here. (***)

Ohanian, Susan. (2002) One Size Fits Few, 182pp. and (2001) Caught in the Middle. 195pp. Heinemann.
A scathing critique of the standardization movement. Well written with a good sense of humor. She has many other excellent books on testing and teaching. (****)

Pearl, Art and Tony Knight (1999). The Democratic Classroom: Theory to Inform Practice. Hampton Press. 373pp.
Pearl and Knight make the case for truly democratic education at all levels, from every level of the system down to the classroom. Written in a highly academic style. It also has Art Pearl’s usual feistiness and hard-nosed critique of both the current system and other reform strategies. The arguments, however are strong and persuasive. (***)

Perrone, Vito (1998). Teacher with a Heart: Reflections on Leonard Covello and Community. Teachers College Press. 144pp.
Vito Perrone reflects on Covello’s work, and uses this book as an excuse to reprint much of Covello’s on work. It is the story of a principal in the early 1900s to mid-1950s who took a large comprehensive high school of mostly poor Italian immigrants in New York City and managed to create a sense of community. Reminds us of how this work is not new. (***)

Pope, Denise (2001). Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Youth. Yale University Press. 240pp.
Pope follows 5 “successful” students in a suburban high school to describe their experience of doing school. It is an indictment of the high pressure competitive nature of high school, and how it interferes with real learning. Similar in many ways to Fred Weisman’s and Ted Sizer’s critiques, but from the students’ perspective. (***)

Rose, Mike. Lives on the Boundary. Penguin Books, 1990.
A wonderfully written book, in a very narrative style. This is an autobiographical account of what it takes to make it from the slums into the academic world, and what the author has done to make that possible for others. Mike Rose has a beautifully descriptive writing style in which he really paints pictures for you! (*****)

Rothstein, Richard (1998). The Way We Were? The Myths and Realities of America’s Student Achievement. The century Foundation Press. 139pp.
Rothstein does an excellent job of dispelling the myth of declining standards in American education. Well researched and documented. (***)

Sapon-Shevin, M. (2007). Widening the circle: The power of inclusive classrooms. Beacon.
The subtitle is “The Power of Inclusive Classrooms,” which is the theme of this book. It makes the argument that there is no place for separating students based on any quality, but specifically this book is aimed at separating student labeled for Special Education. She makes the argument mostly on what type of society we want to build–only by modeling and doing inclusion can we have an inclusive society where we do not grow up to divide people into “other.” She also argues that it is better educationally for all. She explains what types of changes would need to occur to make it work on the school and classroom level, and gives lots of examples from real schools and classrooms. Written with passio and clarity. (****)

Sizer, Theodore. Horace’s Compromise, Horace’s School and Horace’s Hope. Houghton Mifflin.
This trilogy has quickly become the classic of contemporary high school reform. Horace’s Compromise sets out the situation of how even the best well-meaning teachers can only have a minimal impact given the structure of today’s high school, through the eyes of a composite teacher. this book is based on years of research and investigation in many high schools throughout the country. The second book lays out in more detail what reforms need to happen, and the third book looks at what has happened to education since his initial investigation. Engagingly written. (*****)

Sizer, Theodore (2004). The Red Pencil: Convictions from Experience in Education. Yale University Press. 131pp.
This book is part memoir and partly a call for educational restructuring. Sizer uses the telling of his personal history in school reform to outline his critique of our current educational system and what he thinks should be done to improve it. He calls not for a tinkering of the system but a radical restructuring. His writes in an informal and engaging style. (***)

Tyack, David (1974). The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Harvard University Press. 353pp.
A comprehensive look at the history of school reform during the 20th century. Tyack is probably our best educational historian. This book is an oft-cited classic. (***)

Tyack, David and Larry Cuban (1995). Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Harvard University Press. 192pp.
Tyack and Cuban examine how reforms change schools, and how schools change reform, and argue that incremental change is necessary. While well presented it does not go into detailed analysis See One Best System for that. (***)

Westheimer, Joel (1998). Among Schoolteachers. Teachers College Press. 172pp.
This is a case study of two schools to explore the issue of what does it mean to have a schoolwide professional community. He wants to go beyond the under conceptualized notions of community to understand what it really means and what the implications are for students and teachers alike. (***)

Wink, J. (2005). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the real world (Third ed.). Longman. 194pp.
From the title one might think this is another of those heavy theoretical books full of educational jargon. You would be wrong. Wink writes in a refreshingly personal style about a complex topic. She brings critical pedagogy to life, illustrating it with practical examples personal experience as well as the affective dimension. She connects the theoretical and writing of others in the field to the practical experience of teachers actually using these ideas in real classrooms. (****)

Wood, G. (2005). Time to learn: How to create high schools that serve all students (Second ed.). Heinemann. 216pp.
George Wood uses the experience of transforming his small semi-rural high school to demonstrate how high schools can be places for powerful learning for all students. He uses the particulars of this school to illustrate ideas that others can use in thinking about how to change their own schools. May of the ideas used are similar to those used at Central Park East High School, and to the Coalition of Essential School principles. (****)

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