The holidays are fast approaching. And nothing complements eggnog, roaring fireplaces, and snow-soaked mittens like a good edu-read. Plus, when you're seeking one last stocking stuffer or something to settle in with on a lazy December evening, what's better than a fun, breezy, contrarian take on ed policy? For what it's worth, here are three books that I heartily recommend. Now, I can't pretend to be "objective" on these, given that they're all written by good friends and that I've variously blurbed them, helped publish them, and such. But, I can tell you, flatly, that these are three smart, well-written, and provocative books that are worth checking out.
Fordham Institute's Mike Petrilli has penned The Diverse Schools Dilemma, which looks at the decisions parents face when choosing schools for their kids. A model of perpetual angst himself when it comes to these kinds of issues, Mike elegantly captures the choices with which parents wrestle and the research that can help inform them. He notes that many of today's professional families would like to live in urban environments but fret about the quality of the schools their children will attend. Parents want the diversity of urban communities and their children to attend diverse schools, but they don't want to sacrifice educational quality or put their kids in unsafe environments. Mike does a terrific job of using personal anecdotes, surprising evidence, and conversations with researchers and parents to write a fascinating and remarkably useful volume.
Andy Smarick, former deputy superintendent in New Jersey and now at Bellwether Education Partners, has written The Urban School System of the Future. He offers an ambitious, vociferous critique of urban school systems and suggests how they can be reimagined. Andy argues that most of today's reform agenda amounts to tinkering, and won't transform urban education. Building on Paul Hill's old notion of "portfolio management," and marrying it to the more aggressive vision of "relinquishment" that NSNO's Neerav Kingsland has floated here, he sketches a vision of a new governance model based on the principles of chartering. He imagines a Chancellor of City Schools who would oversee all district and charter schools-and be charged with expanding successful ones, approving new schools, and closing lousy ones. It's a take sure to start conversations, including-- as my colleague Mike McShane has asked here in Education Next--one about whether creating this new chancellor would solve the governance problems that Andy flags.
And the dapper John Chubb, CEO of Education Sector, has penned The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don't Have Them and How We Could. John pushes past the tedious conventions of today's "teacher quality" debates, with their relentless focus on better evaluating how well teachers do a 19th century job in 19th century classrooms. He argues that it's vital to use technology to rethink classrooms and extend the reach of terrific teachers. He contends that training should shift away from ed schools to any provider that can demonstrate evidence that it is producing teachers who raise student achievement (I'm fine with the first half of this recipe, but have some serious qualms about reifying value-added scores the way he does here.) And he calls for empowering principals to do much more when it comes to hiring, training, and compensating teachers, so that they can recruit, support, and recognize excellence. Love or hate what John has to say, he's penned a quick read that's sure to spark sharp debate and fresh thinking.