In August 2010, Education Next invited readers to pick the three best education policy books of the past decade from a list of 41 books. The poll ran until the end of December, which gave authors a good chance to mobilize their following. A total of 4,343 votes were cast.
Generally speaking, opinion on this topic was even more divided than on most education policy questions, as only one book garnered the enthusiasm of more than 10 percent of the votes cast. That book was Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System (2010), which won the poll by a wide margin, pulling in 22 % of the total. The other top books, in order of reader enthusiasm, were as follows:
2. E. D. Hirsch, The Knowledge Deficit (2006)—9 %
3. Linda Darling Hammond, The Flat World and Education (2009)—8 %
4. Karin Chenoweth, It’s Being Done (2007)—7%
5. Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School (2009)—6%
6. Deborah Meier, In Schools We Trust (2002)—5%
7. Clayton Christensen, Curtis John and Michael Horne, Disrupting Class (2008)—3%
8. Anthony Bryk et al. Organizing Schools for Improvement (2010) –3%
No other book received as much as 2.5 % of the total.
In the days of blogs and tweets, books, it seem, have a brief shelf life. Four of the eight books perceived to be the decade’s best were published in 2009 or 2010. Only one book from the first half of the decade—Deborah Meier’s—made it into the top echelon.
Also, tomes defending schools (such as Diane Ravitch’s) have more enthusiastic readers than critical jeremiads (such as Joe Williams, Cheating our Kids, which got 2% of the votes), a reality check for those who think school reformers have won the war of ideas.
In an article just published on the Ed Next website, Jay Greene argues that the education reform book is, in fact, dead as a shaper of education policy.
The lack of policy influence that is attributable to recent education-reform books is not for lack of sales. Some have even become national best sellers. The problem is that policymakers and other elites are less likely to be among their readers. Instead, the buyers increasingly seem to be those actively participating in education reform debates; the people actually shaping policy appear to be paying relatively little attention.
However, he concludes, “its policy influence can be revived if authors steer clear of topics that are better addressed by other media.”
Happy reading this New Year! Another collection of books will soon be on its way.
– Paul E. Peterson