Book Alert

What School Boards Can Do: ReformGovernance for Urban Schools.
Donald 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 Heroes, 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 develop­ment 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 Primer.
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 implications.

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College