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Top Education Books

I'm hearing lots of snarky remarks about the fact that Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System is dominating Ed Next's poll on "The Top 10 Education Books of the Decade," despite the fact that Ravitch's book disagrees with pretty much everything Ed Next supports. Whatevs. It is, afterall, and NYT best seller. And these types of online polls are all about vote-maximizing strategies that often produce seemingly implausible outcomes (seriously, read the linked article about how two of my friends became the "hottest media types in D.C." It's awesome!). And kudos to Ed Next for including a wide range of books in their poll, including those whose conclusions the Ed Next editors disagree with.

What's funny is that another book by Ravitch, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, actually is solidly in my list of top education books, although its 2000 publication date counts it out of the Ed Next poll. (Although the paperback version of the book, whose title was inexplicably changed to Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, wasn't published until 2001, so maybe that should have qualified.)

My top education book of the past decade, Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods, also doesn't show up in the Ed Next list. I assume that's because it's a book about how different types of families rear children, but family-school interactions are a major theme in the book. Moreover, the findings about how different families rear their children have major implications for education policy debates--implications that don't break down neatly into the typical boxes. And Unequal Childhoods is just a very compellingly readable book; the chapters profiling different kids and families engage you deeply in these families' emotional lives. Highly recommended.

Of the books on the Ed Next list, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology, is by far the most important in terms of the evidence is musters on the role of educational attainment (and of skill stagnation that has cost the U.S. our longstanding lead in educational attainment) in shaping the trajectory of U.S. economic growth and driving growing economic inequality. But not as fun a read as Lareau.

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