Archives for category: Non-fiction (education)

It is hard to know the truth of what led to the end of Esquith’s career. A brief Google search indicates that there are almost as many theories as there are websites. I admit, though, that my bias is that “something is rotten” here, and that it’s not Esquith. The book is good. His arrogance shows through often, and he is unsubtle when he criticizes his own administration. Neither of these things probably earned him many friends.

Still, he clearly sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy to do the best work he could. Some of his reasoning is circular – ‘I think we should study this and therefore we should because I am the arbiter of such things’ – well, then, he’s far from alone.

There is a great deal here to support – that he has very high expectations, is clear. He mocks the errors of his younger teacher self. He realizes the reality of standardized tests and how, in the end, they are so very unimportant.

If he did what he stands accused of doing, then he deserves to end his career in disgrace and to lose his freedom. But if he didn’t, oh, if he didn’t. . .

an account of Esquith’s firing from Diane Ravitch’s blog

Hobart Shakespeareans

Hobart Shakespeareans – Trailer

At times, this book seemed more like an overview of a topic than an argument for any kind of revolution. And Robinson is perhaps a bit too fond of something I’ve noticed in many polished speakers – he reduces things to certain numbers and often uses alliteration (the 5 C’s, for example). Still, there’s much to be learned here, and I was always grateful when Robinson offered the names of other texts to pursue and / or schools / programs to investigate, so I could go into more depth if I wanted to.

It’s hard to imagine at this point who genuinely disagrees with what’s here. I think the two more important questions are how to generate the kind of political will necessary to “scale up” from some of the exemplars Robinson provides and how to manage the transition in the least disruptive way possible.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk

I understand the instinct. The short-term window. The bipartisan creation story. The big money. I even understand the top-down approach. It takes time to engage constituents and, to be honest, constituents are often under-informed about the issues in play. Would a community conversation have helped alleviate the issue of siblings being assigned to separate schools? But would it have made for better teachers?

Still, the top-down, outsider-led, system-focused, charter school-fueld approach does not seem to have improved the situation as much as it has just changed them.  Russakoff’s narrative provides compelling insights into what’s succeeding and what’s not in the Newark schools, and begins to articulate how difficult this issue is in the country at large, even when forces like Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg align.

Russakoff introduces the idea of community schools, which hold tremendous appeal, but the 10,000 foot view shows the sources of some potential frustration. Priscilla Chan (Zuckerberg’s wife) is apparently creating a wonderful community school, but it’s one school, resting largely on the shoulders of one individual with remarkable access to funds. Ras Baraka, the mayor who followed Booker, is doing more to engage the community, but what’s happening to students while he is engaging the public?

This is a solidly written and important book.

This was not a great book to read alone. While there were reflection opportunities, the book and, as I understand it, the very process requires conversation. It’s a useful resource book for me, but I think it’s one where either the school is all-in and everyone reads it, or it’s not going to have the desired impact.

I get nervous when educators put numbers on things. The 6 agreements, etc.. Still, I get the point of the process for both individuals and a group. I wasn’t too impressed with the limited research the authors provided to demonstrate that their system works. And i was disappointed, in the end, that the authors dictate that the Principal should be leading the work. I guess I’ve transformed into more of a grassroots guy.

It also seems like an exhausting and consuming process and, as far as I could could tell, there was no real consideration of how to incorporate new teachers the next year. Having started at a school once in the second year of their work, I definitely felt the absence of what I’d missed – the newly common vocabulary.

Morris is right to say that much time and attention has been paid to the struggles of black males as they get entrapped in the school –> prison pipeline. Consequently, little energy has been spent on girls and their own school –> confinement pipeline. Here Morris does some of her best work. The section on human trafficking is difficult but necessary. (The 11-year-old who voluntarily describes herself as a “ho”. . .) Morris wants us to understand that which is unique about black girls, particularly the way they ask questions, respond to real or perceived disrespect, and process things verbally. I cringed in recognition at some all-too-familiar descriptions of my memories of my reactions to some situations with Black girls. She wants us to understand that people who are harmed do harm in turn and that we all (and Appendix A is useful for this) need to be more prepared for how to address this. Her prescriptions for school security seem pretty ambitious, though I do wonder about the impact of grandmothers doing hall duty. I would add this to my list of required reading for those teaching in any kind of setting that includes Black girls.

Duckworth needed to write this. It was time to get off the TED stage and offer her research in a sustained argument. (I do wish she had decided who she was writing for. At times, this book comes off as a  self-help manual, a psychological text, advice to parents, advice to educators – all overlapping audiences, to be sure, but the shifts can cause whiplash. Blank space on the page is not the same as a transition.)

There’s not a lot to argue with here. Indeed, Duckworth ducks any points of contention. Though she does quote Tiger Mom Amy Chua, she does not even raise the question of their shared cultural background. More importantly, though, she does not address the criticism that her argument about grit is a kind of “bootstraps” argument (credit to my co-teacher for that comparison). In short, she puts the burden on the individual person, family, community and again, does not even consider the notion that a person can have all the grit s/he wants, but if the system (education, employment, etc.) is deliberately rigged against them, then grit only produces the exceptional individuals which, in turn, makes some offer a form of the “Well, if Oprah can do it” argument.

I don’t mean to be too harsh. This is a useful book. Pete Carroll proves to be an entertaining and recurring character. My copy is well-marked and, I’m sure, will be well-used. But I hope it’s Part I. There’s more work to do here. But given her argument amount grit, I suspect Duckworth will stick with it.


 I’d put this on the mandatory list – for teachers, administrators, prospective teachers, those who prepare teachers for the profession, those who make public policy about education – pretty much everyone, since everyone has at least some tangential link to education.

This book made me realized that while the names, dates, and details may have changed, there’s not much about the controveresies surrounding teachers have remained the same. We are not having new discussions. There’s just more pressure on them.

I’ve long struggled with teacher unions. On the one hand, I’ve always thought that teacher unions should focus on children. And if this meant removing bad teachers, then the Union should be behind that. On the other hand, shouldn’t teacher union be like other professional unions and work for the good of the adults in the equation? Granted, protecting bad professionals diminishes the regard for the profession as a whole, but what’s the balance? Teachers do need time, mentorship, and a good match in order to succeed. But Goldstein reminds us, teacher unions work with taxpayer money. Game, set and match – the focus should be on the children.

Goldstein maintains a fairly even tone. It’s clear her focus is on the children. She tries to point out the good work being done in places like St. Louis and Memphis and (and I know some of you will hate to hear this) in Teach for America. She has observations – both good and bad – to make about all relevant topics, including Bill Gates on and standardized testing.

This is a good, well-written, well-researched contribution to the study of our schools. How about we all read this and agree to make new mistakes instead of repeating the ones of old?