What School Boards Can Do: Reform
Governance for Urban Schools.
McAdams (Teachers College Press).

Don McAdams, founder of the Center for Reform
of School Systems, may be the nation’s leading authority on
school-board governance.
In an earlier book, he detailed the travails and lessons of his 12
years on the Houston school board, a tenure in which he partnered
with former U.S. secretary of education Rod Paige and others to
drive an ambitious urban reform agenda. Since departing from the
Houston board in 2002, McAdams has worked with dozens of school
boards and run institutes that train new and veteran board members
to make a difference. In this book, McAdams sketches out his grand
unified theory of “reform governance,” explaining what
school-board members should and should not do. McAdams teaches
members how to develop a coherent theory of change, establish
effective work routines, monitor performance outcomes, and
translate their ideas into sensible policy. Drawing on his own
experiences as a board member and consultant and on dozens of
examples provided by his friends and colleagues across the nation,
McAdams develops an essential text for those who believe school
boards are not an anachronism but a potentially valuable ally in
the struggle to improve public schooling.


Forgotten Heroes of American Education:
The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers.
 Edited by J. Wesley Null and Diane Ravitch
(Information Age Publishing).

In the foreword to Forgotten
Diane Ravitch explains, “When
I was a graduate student in the early 1970s, working toward a doctorate
in the history of education at Teachers College, I never encountered
the names or ideas of William Chandler Bagley or Isaac Kandel. Instead,
I imbibed … a partial history of our nation’s educational
efforts, based on the view that American education was and always would
be American progressivism writ large.” In
this compendium, Ravitch and J. Wesley Null set out to rectify
that state of affairs. In an impressive collection of writings that
span the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries,
they portray a view of American education thought that is fundamentally
different from that often encountered in the nation’s leading
schools of education. Covering topics including student discipline,
teacher education, curriculum, the influence of John Dewey, the science
of education, and the purpose of schooling, the essays capture a
compelling but often overlooked body of thought that resisted the
tenets of progressivism and faddism. The editors augment each selection
with a brief introduction to the author and a helpful discussion of the
essay, enabling the novice as well as the historian to negotiate this
valuable collection.


Mayhem in the Middle: How Middle Schools
Have Failed America—and How to Make Them Work.
Cheri Pierson Yecke (Fordham Foundation).

This brief monograph takes a hard look at the
phenomenon of middle schools (housing grades 5–8 or
6–8), arguing that an infatuation with student personal
ment and
“socialization” has transformed these institutions into academic
backwaters. Observing that some middle schools, like the KIPP
academies, have enjoyed enormous success by focusing on academics and
establishing a culture of high expectations, Florida education
commissioner Cheri Yecke seeks to overturn the conception of middle
schooling that derides the importance of academic instruction. Yecke
argues that modern practice took root in the 1970s and 1980s as a
consequence of “plateau learning theory.” This theory, that
brain growth slows during the middle-school years, combined with an
undue concern for nonacademic considerations to produce the modern
middle school. Criticizing both the scientific basis and the results of
the middle-school concept, Yecke calls for establishing higher academic
standards, shifting toward K–8 schools, and expanding the
availability of advanced courses for students in grades 6 to 8.


No Child Left Behind: Peter Lang
Frederick M. Hess and
Michael J. Petrilli (Peter Lang Publishing).

Education Next executive
editor Frederick Hess and Michael J. Petrilli, formerly a Bush
administration official in the U.S. Department of Education, have
written a long-overdue citizens guide to No Child Left Behind. The
book is admirably concise, weighing in at fewer than 140 pages, or
just one-fifth the length of its sprawling subject, the historic
federal education law signed by President Bush in January of 2002.
In clear language, the authors describe the law’s key provisions, explain
how they were intended to work, and provide up-to-date accounts of
their implementation. Each chapter also provides a helpful glossary of
key terms. Intended not as a defense, a critique, or an evaluation of
NCLB, the book fairly presents praise and criticism of the
controversial law from both the left and the right. While readers
hoping for advice on what to make of these debates may wish its usually
opinionated authors had been less restrained in sharing their views,
those seeking a solid foundation on which to base their own opinions
will find no better place to start.


Determinants of Student Achievement: New
Evidence from San Diego.
Julian R.
Betts, Andrew C. Zau, and Lorien A. Rice (Public Policy Institute
of California).

California’s new secretary of education,
Alan Bersin, handpicked for the job by Arnold Schwarzenegger, had,
as San Diego’s superintendent for almost seven years
(1998–2005), initiated an aggressive set of school reforms.
Under Bersin’s bold leadership, the district mounted a
multifaceted effort to raise student literacy and numeric
competence. San Diego’s math and reading scores climbed
significantly, showing gains that outstripped those made elsewhere
in California. The improvement in the scores of disadvantaged
students was especially large report the authors of this careful,
objective study. As successful as Bersin was, however, the story is
ultimately discouraging. In 2005 he was pushed out of office after
teacher unions led a drive against the reform-minded board members
who had recruited him.
Determinants of
Student Achievement
is technical,
but the political tale surrounding the study has large

Last updated June 22, 2006