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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Which five books on educational reform should I read?

Which five books on educational reform should I read?

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There are likely many great books about educational reform. Which five are the most informative, relevant, and likely to make a difference? Which one should I read first?

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Maureen Murphy's picture
Maureen Murphy
High School Social Science Teacher, Des Moines, Iowa

I really enjoyed reading DEEPER LEARNING: 7 Powerful Strategies for In-Depth and Longer Lasting Learning by Eric Jensen and LeAnn Nickelsen this summer. This book gives great ideas, background on how the brain processes learning, and how to make lessons that will create meaningful learning based on how the brain learns. It also includes concrete and specific ideas for cooperative learning, role playing,pre- assessments, and creating a great learning environment.

Linda's picture
kindergarten teacher from Bainbridge Island, Washington

Try reading LOST AT SCHOOL by Ross W. Greene. It is an eye-opener in recognizing that social/emotional learning should be differentiated as much as academic instruction. It assumes that students will do well if they can. If they don't do well, then they lack the social skills to do it. Rewards and/or punishments don't teach those skills. This book advocates really talking to individual students to get to the "why" of their behavior choices as a means to identify those "lagging skills". If worked at through this perspective, the changes in behavior are gradual, but permanent, allowing the student and the teacher to refocus on the academics. Until behavior is productive, attempting to teach/learn academics is nonproductive for teacher and student. Overall the time taken to confront these lagging social skills is less than the time taken on a daily basis to ineffectually address the resulting maladaptive behaviors. I highly recommend this book. It would truly be a reformation in education if seriously considered and applied.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Here are 3 I would like to suggest:

* The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Kozol.

* You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times by Zinn.

* As others here have, I also recommend Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Good luck deciding-- so many powerful books out there!

Rebecca Alber

Eyal Kaminka, Phd.'s picture
Eyal Kaminka, Phd.
Leading Educator at Joytunes

My recommendation is to read books that deal not directly with education, but with leaders, decision-making, management and shifting thinking paradigm. A great book, a little rusty on the shelves but as smart and eye-opener as you'll ever encounter, is Gerry Nadler's Breakthrough Thinking. He also wrote Smart Questions (2004) - which is wonderful, and one of his educational "oldies": SPARK - Student Planned Acquisition of Required Knowledge (a case study in a school).

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Hi Eyal,

Thanks for sharing. I remember reading SPARK years ago, and really, it's about problem-based learning where students seeks solutions to problems. It was probably the first pedagogical reading I did that really illustrated backwards lesson planning explicitly (I think the author called it PTR, purposes, target, results).

Though you recommend reading texts that focus more on leadership, your last recommend is definitely all about practical application and the classroom.

Thanks again for sharing!

Phil's picture
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at BrokenAirplane.com

Great question and great suggestions so far.

My two favorites are Tinkering Towards Utopia and Daniel Quinn's My Ishmael. Both give a unique view into our history of reform and what has worked and why others haven't.

Trust me best books you'll read about this topic in my humble opinion.

Roberto Catanuto's picture
Roberto Catanuto
High School Math, Physics and CS teacher, Switzerland

I'd suggest: A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change

I'm on the way through it, but it has some authoritative reviews.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

Intriguing suggestions- thank to you both for sharing! I'm particularly interested in your book, Roberto. Might your experiences teaching in Switzerland inspired you to read this book? What might be some effective educational strategies and structures in place in Swiss schools? Please share more.

Thank you!

Dennis Pratt's picture
Dennis Pratt
Founder Parents Decide & Teachers Provide

The above books are interesting, but an industry as critical as schooling that has failed to advance for decades is suffering some serious underlying problems that are chronically misdiagnosed. What if the problem is that no central authority:
- knows what the future will be
- has a monopoly on the definition of "educated"
- knows my unique child -- her strengths, weaknesses, passions, abilities, learning styles, personality
- knows my unique family -- our values, our goals, our preferences
- knows the innovations that are possible if educators are freed

What if we need to encourage a wide range of new types of schools that will match differently the diverse, unique children whom we seek to school?

Here are my favorite books:

Separating School and State: How to Liberate American Families by Sheldon Richman
If you are going to read just one book.... This is the single best discussion of the underling systemic, theoretical, and moral problems of government (versus parent) purchasing of public schooling. My organization is awakening parents to their rights and responsibility to guide their child's education. Richman speaks directly to the powers that are arrayed against the parent (and ultimately against the child.) I especially appreciate his much shortened history of how the heck we got here -- saves hundreds of pages of Gatto!

Education Myths by Jay Greene
An industry this critical doesn't drift in mediocrity for decades unless almost everyone is suffering under some major myths. Solving the problems suggested by myths is guaranteed to fail, and thus our half century of failure! Green does a great job of overviewing major myths that hold back real success. As an experimental designer and statistician, I especially like his explanation to the lay person about consuming education research; education research is some of the worse I've seen in any industry, and its consumption, understanding, and utilization is even worse.

School Choice: The Findings by Herbert Walberg
Great overview of the results of various school choice experiments. Takes things out of the realm of one organization's spin of one experiment and instead provides a meta analysis across a large number of experiments.

Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education by Joe Williams
Unfortunately we know that there are some major power and economic interests that prevent education entrepreneurs from offering major innovations, and from parents being able to better match their child. This book looks primarily at the influence of greed on our politicians and on suppliers.

#5) UnFound Book
However, I think that we need something to also look at the narcissistic hubris of our major actors like Ravitch, like the Chiefs of the Depts of Ed, like our Presidential candidates, or like our local school board, who actually believe that *they* can extrapolate from their little, finite lives to define the one right educational outcome for 60M children, the one right school for 4.5M teachers to provide their services, the one right values for 25M families, especially in the face of an unknowable future. That book, about the human failing of arrogance in schooling, a characteristic that cause so much poverty and stunted futures, would be my fifth choice. Maybe we'll find it in psychology or epistemology, but it's not yet in the Education section of the bookstore.

Dennis Pratt

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