Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Books on Education

      Many of these books are available in your local library, or any good bookstore.

    But when you follow the provided links to Amazon and purchase there, a small percent of your purchase price is paid as a commission, helping to compensate for our efforts. Thank you!

Gift Suggestions

Books by Topic


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"Angry Parents, Failing Schools:
What's Wrong With the Public Schools & What You Can Do About It" by Dr. Elaine McEwan

A MUST-READ! In a fever to "reform" our schools for "21st century" "higher-order thinking skills", educational bureaucrats have reduced the amount of substantive content in curricula and replaced it with touchy-feelie psychobabble encouraging feelings, writing about problems instead of solving them, and meaningless goals. McEwan, an award-winning school principal takes the educrats to task. Warning: the subject is not inner-city schools; it may very well include the school YOUR kids attend. Yes, YOUR kids!

I found McEwan's book invaluable simply because it is up-to-date, and focused on everyday schools that we would think should be less influenced by wacko theories. Also, since McEwan spent most of her career in the Chicago area, her insights are especially valuable to those of us in this area. Any number of times she refers to a town or a school in the area, and I thought, "Wait, that's a good area and I thought it had great schools -- you mean they're doing this goofy stuff, too?"

I'd heartily recommend this book to parents, school board members, newspaper editors and others who are concerned about quality in supposedly "good" school districts.

"Why Don't Students Like School:
A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom" by Daniel T. Willingham

Some high praise:

    Dan Willingham's book makes fascinating but complicated research from cognitive science accessible to teachers. It is jam packed with ideas that teachers will find both intellectually rich and useful in their classroom work."
    -- Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers

    "This readable, practical book by a distinguished cognitive scientist explains the universal roots of effective teaching and learning. With great wit and authority it practices the principles it preaches. It is the best teachers' guide I know of -- a classic that belongs in the book bag of every teacher from preschool to grad school."
    -- E. D. Hirsch, Jr., university professor emeritus, University of Virginia

    "Dan Willingham, rare among cognitive scientists for also being a wonderful writer, has produced a book about learning in school that reads like a trip through a wild and thrilling new country. For teachers and parents, even students, there are surprises on every page. Did you know, for instance,that our brains are not really made for thinking?"
    -- Jay Mathews, education columnist,The Washington Post

"Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So" by Jay P. Greene

Publisher's description:
Jay Greene takes on the conventional wisdom and closely examines eighteen myths advanced by the special interest groups dominating public education. In addition to the money myth, the class size myth, and the teacher pay myth, Greene debunks the special education myth (special ed programs burden public schools), the certification myth (certified or more experienced teachers are more effective in the classroom), the graduation myth (nearly all students graduate from high school), the draining myth (choice harms public schools), the segregation myth (private schools are more racially segregated), and several more.

"Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education" by Joe Williams

From Publishers Weekly:
As an education reporter for the New York Daily News and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Williams has the dirt on some of the nation's largest public school systems, and in this book, part scathing expose and part call-to-action, Williams paints a bleak picture before shifting into a discussion about remedying the many problems he details, from systems that treat parents and students as antagonists to unprepared and inexperienced teachers and administrators. In the first part of the book, Williams overwhelms with a string of horrifying and scandalous tales of school mismanagement, piling them on to the point where they begin to lose their impact. The book takes a turn when Williams discusses the ways parents, teachers, administrators, politicians and the business sector can work together to remedy our failing schools. From New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to control schools from the top down, to Mothers on the Move's struggle against corruption in their South Bronx school district, Williams does a fantastic job chronicling events and ideas as well as capturing the people on both sides of the issues. In particular, his extended analysis of the battle over school vouchers in Milwaukee is a riveting tale of corruption toppled by community activism.

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"The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them" by E. D. Hirsch

This is the indispensible guide for teachers, administrators and knowledgable parents who want to make their school strong and substantive, rather than a trendy and progressivist mess.

This book is an absolute classic. It's pretty detailed and is not a light read by any means. But topic by topic and chapter by chapter it gives solid arguments in favor of substance in the classroom and against empty theories.

The book's write-up says, "For over fifty years, American schools have operated on the assumption that challenging children is bad for them, teachers do not need to know the subjects they teach, that the learning "process" should be emphasised over the facts taught within it. Yet, as renowned educator and author E. D. Hirsch shows in The Schools We Need, this establishment ideology is a tragedy of good intentions gone awry. Hirsch argues that in eschewing content-based curricula for abstract--and disproved-- theories of congnitive development, the educational establishment has done irreparable harm to America's students, and instead of preparing them for the country's highly competitive, information-based economy, the process-oriented curricula the establishment practices has severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn." BR>
We'd rate this Hirsch book as the definitive, authoritative book on the subject. It would make a great gift for your kids' teachers and administrators if they've have been only exposed to the progressivist theory of education. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher or administrator or school board member who is committed to a content-rich challenging approach, this is a great source of info to sell and defend that point of view. It is also invaluable to parents and others who want a more in-depth, meatier book that uses the language of educators.

In 1996, over 100 leading educators, mathematicians, scientists and reformers signed a letter to President Clinton, saying, in part,
Dear Mr. President:

There is no greater threat to the future of America than the failure to educate our children. Yet, the output of our educational system continues to deteriorate. ...

The current national outcry for standards of learning reflects the need for our educational system to focus on content and academics. Unfortunately, these simple ideas are not compatible with the reform efforts of the last fifty years, and there is every reason to believe that standards based on content and academics will be subverted before they ever reach the classrooms of America.

This letter is not a plea to eliminate the Department of Education nor a request for the removal or restructuring of the Goals 2000 program. We ask but one simple thing. Think of it as a favor from the President of the United States to the children of America. All we ask is that you, personally, read The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

It is our belief that in reading this book you will gain important insight into the gravity of the problem and realize why we are pessimistic about the current prospects for revitalizing education in America. We believe that you will see the need to make the repair of American education a top priority for your second term. We even believe that you will come to feel, as we do, that it is imperative that you bring E. D. Hirsch into your service to advise you directly on these matters.

"The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children" by E. D. Hirsch

From Publishers Weekly:
The notion of learning how to learn is a shibboleth in America's schools, but it distorts reading instruction, contends this provocative manifesto. Education theorist Hirsch decries a dominant "Romantic" pedagogy that disparages factual knowledge and emphasizes reading comprehension "strategies" -- summarizing, identifying themes, drawing inferences -- that children can deploy on any text. Such formal skills, he argues, are easily acquired; what kids really need is a broad background knowledge of history, science and culture to help them assimilate new vocabulary and understand more advanced readings. "Process-oriented" methods that apply reading comprehension drills to "vapid" texts waste time and slow kids' progress, Hirsch contends, and should be replaced with a more traditional, "knowledge-oriented" academic approach with a rich factual content. Hirsch repeats the call for a standard curriculum based on a canon of general knowledge

"What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know: Preparing Your Child for a Lifetime of Learning"
"What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 1st Grade Education"
"What Your 2nd Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 2nd Grade Education"
"What Your 3rd Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 3rd Grade Education"
"What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 4th Grade Education"
"What Your 5th Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 5th Grade Education"
"What Your 6th Grader Needs to Know: Fundamentals of a Good 6th Grade Education"
(click on any of these lines for info from Amazon)

(Grade 3 book shown,
click on titles above
for each grade)
This series, edited by prominent educational scholar E. D. Hirsch, is based on the hugely successful "Core Knowledge" curriculum implemented in hundreds of schools nationwide. The premise is simple: kids should actually learn things in school, rather than just engaging in new age art projects, teaming up on involved but meaningless group projects, or writing about their feelings about math and science. The books are a valuable check on what your kids' schools are teaching them. Prepare to be dismayed!

Moreover, given the schools' failings, these books empower you to educate and delight your children with the rich, factual content they crave.

"Books to Build on : A Grade-By-Grade Resource Guide for Parents and Teachers" by E. D. Hirsch

There are zillions of books on the Roman Empire, the Lewis and Clarke expedition, the solar system, or whatever. How do you know which are any good at actually conveying any useful info? This book provides recommendations that are in sync with the Core Knowledge curriculum (outlined for parents in the above series of books).

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"Core Knowledge Sequence: Content Guidelines for Grades K-8" from the Core Knowledge Foundation
OK, so we know what we don't want in a school. But what do we want? What does a modern, content-rich, challenging, hands-on, lively, exciting school look like? Here's part of the answer. This 8 1/2 x 11 paperback is the curriculum bible for all of the Core Knowledge schools nationwide. Its 200 pages outline the specific content that is prescribed for each grade and topic. Read it and drool.

The Core Knowledge Sequence is available only directly from the Core Knowledge Foundation, (804)977-7550 or at the Core Knowledge website. But at about $20, it's a bargain. Much of the literature about school quality talks about what's wrong with progressivist schools -- the Sequence gives some flavor about how to do it right.

To read more about Core Knowledge, go to this page of our website. Read what students, teachers and parents say about Core Knowledge. Is your child's school this good? Why not? It could be!

The Core Knowledge Foundation also offers a fascinating 40 minute videotape with two television programs about the goals of CK, and life in a CK classroom.

For more on Core Knowledge, go to that page of this website, or directly to the website of the Core Knowledge Foundation.

"What Is Core Knowledge?" from the Core Knowledge Foundation
Here's a perfect way to introduce Core Knowledge to parents, school board members, administrators, teachers and community members! This ten-minute DVD is Core Knowledge for beginners. It provides an overview of the Core Knowledge curriculum for kindergarten through grade 8. It shows lively Core Knowledge classes in action. It provides interviews with experienced teachers talking about the benefits of using a program that builds knowledge from grade to grade in a coherent and coordinated way. What comes across, both directly and indirectly, is how Core Knowledge excites children about learning and helps teachers improve student performance.

"Cultural Literacy" by E. D. Hirsch

This is Hirsch's best-seller, an attempt to codify a minimal set of what an educated adult should know.

The book is perhaps best known for its widely discussed appendix with a content listing of what educated Americans should know. This list has been the victim of endless knee-jerk vitriol from education theorists, many of whom have not bothered to actually read the book.

The book turns out to be far more than a list of, yes, what educated Americans should know (and much of which schools have stopped teaching). The real glory of this book is its main body: In it, Hirsch presents a compelling case for how a common base of knowledge vitally serves both the individual and society at large.

By the way, if you are interested in this book just because you've heard of it and you'd like to know more about Hirsch, we recommend that you consider his "The Schools We Need" instead, which is far more detailed about the fads and fallacies that infect schools, and what methods can be used to remedy them.

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"Left Back:
A Century of Failed School Reforms" by Diane Ravitch

This astonishly well-research and provocative book should be read, studied and discussed by every teacher and school administrator in America. Ravitch dissects a century's worth of one fuzzy-headed "reform" after another, leading to the current educational crisis. If you thought that you were taught the full history of education in ed school, Ravitch will fill in the details for you.

Read this interview with Diane Ravitch about Left Back from the Atlantic Monthly.

Here's part of Amazon's description of Left Back:
Left Back recounts grandiose efforts by education reformers to use the schools to promote social and political goals, even when they diminished the schools' ability to educate children. It shows how generations of reformers have engaged in social engineering, advocating such innovations as industrial education, intelligence testing, curricular differentiation, and life-adjustment education. These reformers, she demonstrates, simultaneously mounted vigorous campaigns against academic studies.
Left Back charges that American schools have been damaged by three misconceptions. The first is the belief that the schools can solve any social or political problem. The second is the belief that only a portion of youngsters are capable of benefiting from a high-quality education. The third is that imparting knowledge is relatively unimportant, compared to engaging students in activities and experiences.

"Myths and Misconceptions About Teaching: What Really Happens in Classrooms" by Vicki E. Snider

Excerpts from a review in the TC Record:

Vicki Snider's new book, Myths and Misconceptions About Teaching: What Really Happens in the Classroom, challenges whether regular classrooms with holistic, discovery-oriented and democratic philosophies are appropriate teaching environments for any students. Snider suggests that the most effective teaching methods are direct instruction, explicit teaching, and highly structured curricular environments. She bases this argument on empirical evidence of the effectiveness of these teaching methods.

Snider proposes that many teaching strategies have come from theories of learning that have not been empirically tested, such as multiple intelligence, and that student failures to a large extent can be explained by the fact that education systems do not empirically test teaching methods and curricula. She argues that the trend toward whole language, discovery-oriented, and experiential approaches to learning hinders learning at best, and at worst, actually causes some students to have learning difficulties.

"Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence" by J. Martin Rochester

The author is "The Curators' Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science" at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and winner of their "Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching at UM-St. Louis." But he is also a Dad. And in that dual role, he is well-suited to describe the abandonment of rigor and excellence in education in well-appointed suburban schools.

Two quotes about "Class Warfare":

"Anyone under the illusion that America's suburban public schools are doing fine and that our education crisis is confined to inner city classrooms must read this book. Martin Rochester expertly reveals the mediocrity that afflicts the nation's high-status suburban schools, too."
-- Chester Finn, former assistant secretary, U.S. DOE

"Few books about education are as deeply researched or as lively as this one. Professor Rochester writes with verve, clarity, and accuracy about American schools and the faulty ideas of those who control them -- ideas that must change if our schools are to improve. I hope this forceful and fascinating book will help change the climate of educational ideas. It's a must-read for parents and policy makers alike."
-- E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of the The Core Knowledge Foundation

"The War Against Excellence : The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools" by Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota Education Commissioner

Amazon description: Radical activists do not see the American middle school as an organization to impart academic knowledge, but as an instrument through which they can force social change. Yecke, an experienced teacher and administrator, shows how these activists have implemented their plans and endangered the education of all middle school children--especially those who are gifted.

"10 Traits of Highly Successful Schools:
How You Can Know If Your School Is a Good One" by Dr. Elaine McEwan

Stanley Pruss, a school board member in Oak Brook, writes:
As a school board member as well as a parent and taxpayer, I really appreciate Elaine's latest book. I meet her for the first time at a lecture she gave recently, but have been reading her for some time. This latest book has an excellant list of resources including an outstanding model mission statement and a chapter on math that I'm showing to all the fellow members of the math curriculum review committee I am on.

"Making Sense of Research:
What's Good, What's Not, and How To Tell the Difference " by Elaine K. McEwan and Patrick J. McEwan


"Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas" by Thomas Sowell

The Library Journal review says that Sowell's book is "a treatise on the failure of American education--elementary, secondary, and college levels--to prepare today's students for the future. Among the many causes of this failure are the poor intellectual capabilities of elementary and secondary school teachers; the politicizing of education, especially the emphasis on world-saving agendas; the affective approach to curriculum (striving to reshape the attitudes of students); and the presence of "assorted dogmas," including multicultural diversity, relevance, and educating the whole person. All these causes and more are clearly discussed, with some frightening true-life examples, to illustrate that students aren't learning the basics because the basics aren't being taught."

"Engaging Minds: Motivation and Learning in America's Schools" by David A. Goslin

Education researcher and reformer John Stone gives this report on this book:

"The central thesis of this book is very simple: Increasing the engagement of students in learning is the key to increasing academic achievement and therefore the productivity of the U.S. educational system. Surprisingly, there have been relatively few attempts to explicitly consider the things that affect students' engagement in the learning process and, more important, what might be done to increase engagement and motivation in learning. This is especially so in light of the evidence that a significant proportion of elementary and secondary school students are only minimally engaged in learning in America�s schools. The experience of the last two decades provides ample evidence in support of this proposition."

"The Academic Achievement Challenge:
What Really Works in the Classroom?" by Jeanne Chall
(New York: The Guilford Press, 2000)

This is a gentle, pleasant, inviting book with a blockbuster message: that the best way for kids to learn is with a structured, teacher-centered approach.

Some of the comments about this book are just spectacular:

    "It would create a revolution in American education if every teacher, parent, and school board member were to read this book."
    --Diane Ravitch

    "The capstone work of a great scholar, this book synthesizes all the relevant research to show that student-centered teaching does not live up to its education-school billing. Rather it is teacher-centered education which leads to greater excellence and fairness."
    --Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Core Knowledge Foundation

    "I would urge any parent or educational official who finds themselves in opposition to progressive policy or practice to bring this brief volume to the attention of their opponents and to that of any other interested parties--especially members of the media. I would not be able to suggest a more succinct, authoritative source. ... I hope you will bring Dr. Chall's final report to the attention of everyone who is interested in educational improvement: Parent, teachers, and officials."
    -- J. E. Stone, Education Consumers ClearingHouse

Chall's own conclusion is sharp and to-the-point:

    "Based on research, history, and experience, my first recommendation is that schools ... put a greater emphasis on a traditional, teacher-centered education. Traditional, teacher-centered schools, according to research and practice, are more effective than progressive, student-centered schools for the academic achievement of most children."

"The Educated Child" by William Bennett, Chester Finn, and John Cribb

The message is a good one: We must restore academic priorities in schools, challenge kids with meaty, intriguing content, and throw out educational babble and day-care games that consume far too much of our children's time in school.

"What's At Stake in the K-12 Standards Wars:
A Primer for Educational Policy Makers" edited by Sandra Stotsky

This promises to be a very important book: it is a collection of papers on the function, impact and lapses of national and state standards in science, mathematics, history, economics, and the English language arts.

The publisher's description states, "These scholars are writing not for other scholars in their field but for those who help shape K-12 educational policy-legislators, members of boards of education, and those who teach courses in government or education policy making. The purpose of this collection is to clarify what is at stake in the standards wars and in standards-based systemic reform."

"Dumbing Down Our Kids" by Charles J. Sykes

The subtitle is "Why American children feel good about themselves but can't read, write or add." Sykes isn't talking about inner city schools only, he's talking about all kinds of schools all over the country. That includes very well-thought-of schools in well-financed suburban school districts. Yes, like yours.

This book provides a rich "in the trenches" view of the disasters that so-called "reform" has wrought on our schools. It provides an interesting balance between case studies of some awful results of progressivist practices, and a dissection of each of the major tenets of this mindset. Those case studies can be a call-to-action for change, and the discussion of progressivist methods provides a good working background for activism to restore substance to the classroom.

"Doomed to Fail: The Built-In Defects of American Education" by Paul A. Zoch

From a review by George Clowes in the School Reform News:
    Paul A. Zoch's book, Doomed to Fail, clearly, concisely, and convincingly lays out the reasons why K-12 education in the United States produces high school seniors who score well below their peers in other countries. Yet those who pick up this book expecting a denunciation of public schools and public education will be disappointed, because the defects he describes are defects of educational philosophy, not structure. ...

    That is the heart of Zoch's book, in which he describes the transition from education requiring disciplined effort to what is known today as "Progressive Education." The Progressive philosophy has three belief strands, Zoch notes:
    • Behaviorism. The teacher, expertly trained in pedagogical science, elicits appropriate responses from helpless, passive students.
    • Compulsion-free learning. Students learn only what they feel they need to; compelling them to do more may inflict grave psychological damage.
    • "Fun." Since learning must be fun, academic subjects are given short shrift because mastering them requires disciplined effort.
From a review from San Diego Technical Books:
    Zoch, who once taught at a public high school in Texas and now teaches at a private academy there, introduces this censure of progressive education by tracing a path of influence from William James to Howard Gardner. He argues that because today's public-school students are perceived as incapable of high achievement outside of their own preferred modalities or learning styles, it is unfair to hold teachers accountable for student failure. He concludes that public educators should emulate systems which demand that students stretch themselves to learn material they find difficult and that then test students on standardized outcomes. He identifies Catholic schools and systems in some other countries (Japan, China, Germany, and France) as potential models. This book joins other recent titles, including Diane Ravitch's Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reforms and Kieran Egan's Getting It Wrong from the Beginning, in its criticism of progressive approaches to education. Zoch's specific focus on the strengths of traditional teacher-centered vs. progressive child-centered education is better articulated in Jeanne S. Chall's The Academic Achievement Challenge.

"Ready or Not: Why Treating Children As Small Adults Endangers Their Future - and Ours" by Kay S. Hymowitz

(comments in-progress)

"Liberation's Children: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age" by Kay S. Hymowitz

(comments in-progress)

"Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence" by Michael Medved and Diane Medved, PhD

I loved this wonderful book that brilliantly captures the "assault on innocence", ranging from terrifying TV shows for kids, schools that introduce horrific styories of sex and drugs way too early, and the overall dumbed-downed approach to problems and their solutions offered by schools. (I have a feeling that the Medveds would be properly horrified by the "Caudill Awards" books (click for the whole scary story) pushed on kids in Illinois public schools.) Michael Medved is the well-known movie critic (and critic of Hollywood), and his wife Diane Medved is a psychologist.

"The Myth of the Common School" by Charles L. Glenn

From George Clowes interview with the author, Charles L. Glenn, published in the School Reform News of May 2003: "New England already had close to universal literacy before the coming of the common school. Horace Mann's concerns were not with providing schooling but with making schooling an effective instrument for social reform."

"Getting It Wrong From the Beginning: Our Progressivist Inheritance From Herbert Spencer, John Dewey and Jean Piaget" by Kieran Egan

Another history of the progressivist decline of our schools. Covers several fresh and compelling views of this story, but is generally not as detailed or as authoritative as Diane Ravitch's masterful Left Back.

"John Dewey and Decline of American Education: How the Patron Saint of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning" by Henry T. Edmondson III

Publisher's description:
Edmondson ... persuasively demonstrates that Dewey has had an insidious effect on American democracy through the baneful impact his core ideas have had in our nation's classrooms. Few people are pleased with the performance of our public schools. Eschewing polemic in favor of understanding, Edmondson's study of the "patron saint" of those schools sheds much-needed light on both the ideas that bear much responsibility for their decline and the alternative principles that could spur their recovery.

"What's Gone Wrong in America's Classrooms" edited by Williamson M. Evers (Hoover Institution Press Publication, 445)

I've only skimmed this, but it's intriguing. This is a very academic but thorough treatment of different approaches to education. If nothing else, the book makes it clear that the progressivist philosophy that pervades American education is but one method.

"Who's Teaching Your Children?" by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles

(To be reviewed)

"Bad Teachers: The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents" by Guy Strickland

One parent reports:

    Is your child being insulted, humiliated and demeaned by a rotten teacher? Our son was, thanks to a school that refused to do anything about one lethal teacher whose awful treatment of kids was well-known to them for years.

    A year later, we were still helping our son recover from that experience. This book may help you to see the signs earlier than we saw them, and if so, it also will tell you what you need to do to protect your child against an incompetent teacher.

    "You're a Teacher ... So Act Like One! -- Improving Your 'Stage Presence' in the Classroom" by Daniel Tricarico
    More detailed information, table of contents, and sample pages are available at iUniverse.

Ed schools have been so mesmerized by "student-centered" illusions that they largely have forgotten how to show prospective teachers how to teach. Here's a book that provides at least a start, by giving suggestions on how to deliver a lively, interesting classroom presentation. Here's a capsule from the author's introduction:
"It has been said that, as teachers, we perform in front of a live audience for five periods every day of the week. The metaphor is apt. We are on the boards more times a week than an actor in a Broadway show. And yet, teachers are never taught the importance of performance techniques -- projection, energy, inflection, pacing, timing -- which allow those Broadway thespians to awe their auduiences night after night. Teachers might do well, then, to develop the kind of training in performance style and 'stage presence' available to actors. ... What a powerful approach to the classroom."

"New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education" edited by Diane Ravitch and Joseph Viteritti

(to be reviewed)

"The War Against Boys:
How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men" by Christina Hoff Sommers

I loved this book's treatment of the realities for boys today, especially the unequal and inappropriate handling they are subjected to in most modern schools. The book is called "The War Against Boys" and we might say that there are really two facets to this book, the "war" section and the "boys" section.

Amazon's review says, in part:

"It's a bad time to be a boy in America," writes Christina Hoff Sommers. Boys are less likely than girls to go to college or do their homework. They're more likely to cheat on tests, wind up in detention, or drop out of school. Yet it's "the myth of the fragile girl," according to Sommers, that has received the lion's share of attention recently... When boys are discussed at all, it's in the context of how to modify their antisocial behavior -- i.e., how to make them more like girls. This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children. It is a story of how we are turning against boys and forgetting a simple truth: that the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal, decent males is responsible for much of what is right in the world. No one denies that boys' aggressive tendencies must be checked and channeled in constructive ways. Boys need discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. They do not need to be pathologized.
For MUCH more about the very disturbing decline of boys in schools, including out list of "22 School Practices That May Harm Boys", go to our page Illinois Loop: Gender Bias.

"Government Nannies" by Cathy Duffy

(to be reviewed)

"Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture" edited by Katharine Washburn and John Thorton

Only a part of this book is about education, but perhaps much of what else the editors include under the rubric "dumbing down" is ultimately the result of dumbed-down schools. Besides schools themselves, essays in this collection discuss museums, art, media, religion, ethnicity, and even a surprisingly informative article about the history of recipes.

The book makes for compelling reading, but it does tend to suffer from two faults: First, there is an overwhelming New York parochialism pervading much of the book. Many of the authors seem to think that the New York Times and the New Yorker define the world. Second, many of the essays tend to be on the suffocating side, with turns of phrase, exotic vocabulary, and strained metaphors, less designed to illuminate and more intended to whack us over the head that these aren't examples of the dumbed-down culture.

The Washinton Post has provided Chapter One of this book on its website. As it happens, that chapter is one of six in the book on problems in education.

"Valuing Useless Knowledge: An Anthropological Inquiry into the Meaning of Liberal Education" by Robert Bates Graber

You know how some books go beyond interesting to become real charmers? Well, here's one! Buy several: Add one to the gift certificate you give to a great teacher at the end of the year, give one to the college student you know who is dithering over courses and majors, or just take one with on an afternoon at the beach.

In his little volume (6 x 4.5 inches, and 80 pages), Graber tackles a big question: Why do we treasure knowledge for its own sake? He starts, tongue in cheek, by defining liberal arts as "essentially those areas of knowledge in which practical-minded parents hope their children will not major." From this light beginning, Graber takes us on a historical journey to understand why we place such a high value on learning. We visit John Henry Cardinal Newman, who tells us that knowledge is "not only an instrument, but an end." In stark contrast, we encounter the eclectic and disagreeable Thorstein Veblen, who argued that "useless knowledge" was a form of "conspicuous consumption" (a phrase he coined) whose only value was to display the wealth required to waste such amounts of time.

Taking us even further back, all the way to ancient Greece, Graber tells us of the very, very serious conceptual split of "mind" and "matter", and why this understanding is of profound importance in understanding such issues as the persistence of slavery, the nature of the charges against Galileo, and the importance of the human hand in the reactions to Darwin.

Graber concludes with a view of how modern science re-integrates mind and matter, and establishes learning for its own sake as firmly in the realm of the most human of undertakings.

Enjoy this little treasure!

"The Conspiracy of Ignorance : The Failure of American Public Schools" by Martin L. Gross

(Paperback edition to be released soon!)
Gross does another fine recap of the crisis in American schools. It's not as compelling as McEwan's book, not as substantive as Hirsch's, and not as scary as the Sykes book.

But Gross does make a very considerable contribution: In "Conspiracy of Ignorance" he plucks apart the image of the "masters" and "doctors" who run modern urban school districts.

Here are some very juicy excerpts from Gross!

"The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn" by Diane Ravitch

Publishers's description:
"Before Anton Chekhov and Mark Twain can be used in school readers and exams, they must be vetted by a bias and sensitivity committee. An anthology used in Tennessee schools changed 'By God!' to 'By gum!' and 'My God!' to 'You don't mean it.' The New York State Education Department omitted mentioning Jews in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland, or blacks in Annie Dillard's memoir of growing up in a racially mixed town. California rejected a reading book because The Little Engine That Could was male. Diane Ravitch maintains that America's students are compelled to read insipid texts that have been censored and bowdlerized, issued by publishers who willingly cut controversial material from their books -- a case of the bland leading the bland."

"Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism" by Paul A. Boghossian

Some Indian traditions hold that native peoples have lived in the Americas ever since their ancestors first emerged onto the surface of the earth from a subterranean world of spirits. Is this view every bit as valid as the prevailing theory of migrations from Asia over the frozen Bering Sea? Are both these views equivalent, merely different "belief systems"?

The academic world has been plagued in recent years by such debates on truth and knowledge. In this book, Paul Boghossian dismisses relativist claims that there is no such thing as objective truth or knowledge, but only truth or knowledge from a particular perspective. He demonstrates clearly that such claims don't even make sense. This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists; it will prove provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond.

"Core Virtues : A Literature-Based Program in Character Education" by Mary Beth Klee

Description from Amazon:

The Core Virtues Program is a practical, nonsectarian approach to character education on a kindergarten through sixth-grade level that involves approximately twenty minutes per day of reading and discussion. Its goals are the cultivation of character through such virtues as respect, courage, diligence, patience, responsibility, compassion, perseverance, faithfulness, and more.

Core Virtues includes: a strategy for implementation; a month-by-month sequence for the teaching of virtues school-wide on a three year cycle; grade specific goals for kindergarten to sixth grade; reproducible definitions of the virtues keyed to various grade levels; connections with the Core Knowledge sequence; and a critical resource guide to literature organized by virtue (over 600 entries by grade level).

The author of this book, Mary Beth Klee, is the founder of Crossroads Academy, a K-8 independent day school in Lyme, New Hampshire. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Klee holds an Ed.M. from Boston University and a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Brandeis University. She is a consultant for the Core Knowledge Foundation, Pearson Education Group, and Link Institute.

"Public Education as a Business: Real Costs and Accountability" by Myron Lieberman and Charlene Haar

Description from Amazon: "This work covers details about the real cost of public education -- one of America's biggest industries. It shows that government statistics on the costs of public education sustainability understate the actual costs to taxpayers."

For more info, read the review of this book by Brian Nelson, in the Summer 2004 issue of Education Next.

"The Thinking Crisis: The Disconnections of Teaching and Learning in Today's Schools" by T. Ellen Hill and Joel Shatzky

The book is described as "a challenge to the educational establishment to recognize the importance of learning-centered teaching instead of student-centered teaching which is the present trend." The authors' description is this:
The objectives of "The Thinking Crisis" are: to examine the reasons for the decline in the quality of student writing by what is taught -- and learned -- in high school; to demonstrate the consequences of this decline by examining current student writing in college; to compare this writing with student writing of twenty years ago; to suggest ways in which this "disconnection" between what a teacher teaches and what a student needs to learn can be ameliorated. We believe that this book is unique in its approach to problems that we see in student writing today in that it neither advocates nor rejects the present pedagogy in the schools; but it argues that this pedagogy be properly implemented. While many of the ideas advanced today for improving writing are sound, they are often misinterpreted and poorly taught. We also argue that the lowering of the level of student reading by the general abandonment of classic texts in the curriculum has contributed to the decline in thinking, reading and writing.

Classical Education

"The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer

This book provides valuable resources, tips, schedules, and ideas for any family attempting to provide a traditional classical background to their children, a learning adventure which is provided in few schools today.

The focus of this excellent and extremely popular book is "classical" education, the historic approach to education, in which a student first masters the "basics" (the "grammar") and then proceeds to thoughtful integration and understanding ("logic" and "rhetoric"). It worked for centuries, and it works for many homeschooling families and the fortunate students of a handful of schools today. This book tells how to do it.

"The Trivium: The Liberal Arts Of Logic, Grammar, And Rhetoric" by Miriam Joseph, C.S.C

Description from Amazon:
Opening the door for beginners who seek a thorough grounding in the first arts of human understanding, this book explains the nature of logic, grammar, and rhetoric-the three of the seven liberal arts-and how they relate to one another. In Renaissance universities, the trivium (literally, the crossing of three part way) formed the essence of the liberal arts curriculum. Examined are topics such as the nature and function of language, distinguishing general grammar from special grammar, the study of logic and its relationship to grammar and rhetoric, and applying the concepts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric to literary works.

Read more at the publisher's website.

Read the first chapter (PDF).

Testing and Assessment

"Defending Standardized Testing" by Richard P. Phelps (Editor)

Editorial reviews cited by Amazon:

Howard Wainer, Journal of Educational Measurement:
"Very much worth buying and reading."

"Easy to read ...provides a balanced approach[s] the reader understand current debates within the community of testing experts"

"Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing" by Richard P. Phelps with a forward by Herbert J. Walberg

This book, released in May 2003, has generated a tremendous positive response. The author, Dr. Richard Phelps, provides details of the book on his website, Kill the Messenger.

"Testing Student Learning, Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness" by Williamson M. Evers, Herbert J. Walberg

More than ever, parents want to know how their children are achieving and how their children's school ranks compared to others. This book shows how defective tests and standards and a lack of accountability cause American students to fall behind those of other countries -- despite our schools' receiving nearly the world's highest levels of per-student spending. The book takes on common objections to testing and reveals why they are false. The book also presents several specific constructive uses for tests, including diagnosing children's learning difficulties and procedures for solving them, measuring the impact of curriculum on specific aspects of achievement, and assessing teachers' strengths and weaknesses.

Ed Schools

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"Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America's Teachers" by Rita Kramer (click for info and sample text from iUniverse)

This all-time classic is now back in print!!

Other books tell about the bizarre premises, concepts and methods in schools today. But where on earth do these ideas come from? And why do administrators and teachers believe this stuff?

The short answer is: ed schools. Rather than being a model of scholarship, today's ed schools waste away time with endless prattle about theories and philosophies.

Rita Kramer toured the country, spending a good deal of time at each of a number of ed schools. She visited prestigious eastern schools, mainstream schools, and everything in between. Kramer reports on everything she saw: vapid looks of the students, meaningless classroom activities, faculty members who loathe the goals that most people have about schools, and grades, assessments and final degrees devoid of any substantive value.

This book tells a vital part of the story in understanding what's wrong with our schools, and it does so in an engaging personal way. It's just what's needed to give a new teacher a healthy skepticism about "progressive" trends!

"Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers" edited by by Diane Ravitch and J. Wesley Null

In an interview with Education News, co-editor Wesley Null said of this book,
"We have highlighted eight forgotten heroes, including William C. Bagley, Isaac Kandel, and Edward Austin Sheldon. They deserve to be remembered because they challenged mainstream thinking about educational practice and theory. They did not win the battles they engaged in, which is why they have been forgotten today. They deserve to be remembered because they argued on behalf of a well-educated teaching profession, a coherent academic curriculum, and clearly defined standards. ...
I am concerned that we have lost a solid philosophical foundation for education in general and for curriculum in particular. I believe this happened because the profession of teaching bought into harmful theories -- typically referred to as Progressive -- that diminished the value of teachers, curriculum, and standards. ...
The issue here is curriculum for teaching teachers, and the heroes we have highlighted in this book offer us a coherent, morally defensible, and intellectually substantive vision for teacher education curriculum. Restoring a sound philosophical foundation for democratic education only can take place through solid programs for teaching teachers."

"The Feel-Good Curriculum : The Dumbing-Down of America's Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem" by Maureen Stout PhD

This book is quite different than its title might suggest: this is anything but a retread of the same litany of the ills of our schools. There's no doubt of Stout's vigorous condemnation of the affective, touchie-feelie approach to education and its devastating impact on curriculum and kids. But the surprise is how she arrives at this conclusion seemingly in complete isolation from the many other books on this topic, such as most of the other books on this web page.

Stout is a pedigreed education insider (with a real Ph.D.), and part of her writings indicate she has no wish to completely abandon this background: at one point she favorably mentions Alfie Kohn (whose writings have been used to justify much of what Stout condemns), she talks about fellow ed school faculty members with some degree of sympathy, and she can't understand why some of her teacher-wannabees are bored by her class on the philosophy of education. She laments the gross lack of critical thinking skills of the students in one of the teacher ed class she teaches, blaming it squarely on their own progressivist educations, but at another point she positions critical thinking as a putative opponent of content knowledge. She only mentions E. D. Hirsch once in passing, and then in a context that suggests she hasn't really read the book of his that she references or anything else of his.

But perhaps it is because of this naivete about the outcry over education, that her thorough research and writing carry such a very powerful and convincing force. When she attacks student-centered programs, self-esteem, discovery learning, values clarification, student narcissism and counter-productive gender and race initiatives, she is not merely one of the horde attacking the castle walls from the outside, rather she is on the inside complaining about her own camp's leadership.

The strength of this approach is quickly evident: she uses the conferences, journals, task forces and other media within the ed establishment to make her case. This may be the most palatable approach for reaching administrators and teachers who are beginning to have doubts about their training in progressivist education.

Stout demolishes many of the premises and practices of schools today. Her main focus is the affective mindset of the establishment, and its obsession with self-esteem as a goal in itself rather than as the result of genuine accomplishment. She does a masterful job ripping apart multiple intelligences, emotional quotients, values clarification, and the whole "hidden curriculum" behind public education.

But Stout never quite follows the problem to its ultimate conclusions. Despite the "Dumbing-Down" phrase in the title, Stout barely mentions the curricular damage from all of the psychobabble (except for a too-brief attack on whole language). She mentions math in passing without any seeming awareness of the nationwide "math wars" controversy. She mentions standards but there is no dissection of how the standards movement has been gutted and undermined in some states by the anti-knowledge faction. She rails about the rampant assignments in self-absorption kids are given (my family, my dog, what I want), but says nothing about the substantive content knowledge in history and geography that is squeezed out in the process. In a teasing, almost-there section, she links the self-esteem fad and watery curricula to rising and more vicious violence; but she does not (or dares not) go the final step, to ponder the possible connections between the early 1990s progressivist reforms in Littleton grade schools and the "death-ed" classes at Columbine High School and the events that happened there years later.

All in all, Stout provides a very fresh and powerful spin on what, to most of us, is a familiar story. Using fresh evidence and a fresh perspective, she destroys the premises of progressivism, and does so in an insider's way, a way that might be more compelling to the administrators and teachers who could be forces for change.

"Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- And More Miserable than Ever Before" by Dr. Jean Twenge

Excerpts from a review by Ashley Herzog:

"In her new book, 'Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- And More Miserable than Ever Before,' Dr. Jean Twenge ... makes clear the difference between self-esteem and self-respect. Self-respect -- a value taught to older generations -- is achieved gradually, by behaving morally and accomplishing things. Self-esteem is an entitlement. As Twenge explains, 'most [self-esteem] programs encourage children to feel good about themselves for no particular reason.' ...
     "The self-esteem movement has wreaked havoc on schools. ... One popular method tells teachers not to correct students' spelling or grammar, arguing that kids should be 'independent spellers' so they can be treated as 'individuals.' Elementary school students spend hours creating 'All About Me' projects ... but less time learning basic skills. Of course, children have no motivation to work harder when their schools outlaw competition and celebrate mediocrity.
     "While the self-esteem movement hasn't made children any smarter, it has made them more self-centered, manipulative, and indulgent. There is one personality trait that is definitely linked to achievement, and that is self-control. Although 'discipline' and 'obedience' have become dirty words in the education establishment, people with high levels of self-control are the most likely to succeed. They earn higher grades and finish more years of education, and they're less likely to abuse drugs or have children out of wedlock. As Twenge says, 'Self-control predicts all of those things researchers had hoped self-esteem would, but hasn't.'"

"Education's Smoking Gun:
How Teachers' Colleges Have Destroyed Education in America" by Reginald Damerell

This book from the mid-80s is out of print now, but you may find it at your local library.

The "smoking gun" in the title refers to the search for the ultimate cause of the anti-intellectual, fun and games approach to education. Damerell (like many others) pins the rap firmly on ed schools. He was a top creative person in a large New York ad agency, who was lured to join the faculty of an ed school. What he found was a shocking lack of scholarship.

Damerell is at his most entertaining when telling the first person story of Bill Cosby's acquiring of an Ed.D. degree. It becomes clear that Cosby's work for the degree was pathetically shallow, but not much more so than many other Ed.D. efforts.

Much of this book is devoted to specifics (events, methods, personalities) that Damerell encountered in his own ed school. As such, it's an interesting slice-of-life as yet another person discovers the truth behind American education. But overall, Rita Kramer's "Ed School Follies" is a much more complete dissection of the problem, and Maureen Stout's "The Feel-Good Curriculum" more directly attacks the shallowness and affective teaching mantras of ed schools today.

"Managing Unmanageable Students: Practical Solutions for Administrators" by Elaine McEwan and Mary Damer

(details to come)

Ed Unions

"The Teacher Unions" by Myron Lieberman

Publisher's description: "A powerful expose on how the NEA and AFT use their power to smother desperately needed educational innovations."

(to be reviewed)

"NEA: The Trojan Horse in American Education" by Samuel Blumenthal

Dissection of the most powerful education union and lobby, the National Education Association, along with considerations of political bias in classes, and the history of public education in the U.S.

(to be reviewed)

"The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education" by Peter Brimelow

(to be reviewed)

"Power Grab: How the National Education Association Is Betraying Our Children" by G. Gregory Moo

(to be reviewed)

Parents, Committees and Choices

"The Politics of the PTA" by Charlene K. Haar

  • See a review of this book in Taking the Parent out of the National PTA by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, February 2003.

  • Here is a review of this book, written by Richard P. Phelps, author of "Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing":

      The organization you thought you knew
      August 14, 2003

      Former school teacher and senatorial candidate, and current President of the Education Policy Institute, Charlene Haar, relates a thorough and fascinating story of an organization we all thought we knew, but probably did not. Haar traces the origins of The National Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA) to the first assemblage of the National Congress of Mothers at the end of the 19th century, a time when schooling, and the status of women, were strikingly different than they are now. She then follows the evolution of the organization as parents, and later teachers, and still later the teachers' unions, are added to the mix.

      Haar demonstrates how the better organized and more powerful elements of the coalition - the teachers' unions - were able to steer the organization's mission over time along a path they preferred, as was, perhaps, inevitable. Haar reminds us, however, that teacher and parent interests do not always coincide and, indeed, seem to have grown more divergent over time. Ironically, however, the PTA's continuing steadfast support of the public education status quo has generated only meager success, for example, in terms of favorable legislation passed in the U.S. Congress, where the PTA has spent a substantial proportion of its resources in lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, parent membership in the PTA continues steadily to decline.

      The Politics of the PTA is meticulously well-written and very well-organized.

  • "Cloning of the American Mind" by B.K. Eakman

    Part IV of this book should be read by anyone who has ever sat of a school committee or is thinking about it. Even more urgently, it should be read by all members of all school boards which are being told that some recommendation or another was developed by a teacher or parent-teacher committee.

    I participated in two committees like this in our local public schoolsw, and found that the whole process was deliberately manipulated to cultivate an intended results, while suppressing dissent or discussion.

    Eakman warns that such "rigged consensus building" thwarts opposition or original thinking, while enshrining and preserving the status quo. It is a powerful tool for manipulating public opinion in such a way to gain apparent approval for dubious management directions.

    These manipulative techniques are both employed with, and taught to, students in ed schools. By the time that someone leaves ed school with administration credentials, they are well-trained to set up the same dangerous practices in the districts where they are employed.

    Beverly Eakman describes how rigged consensus-building is covered in her book:

    "[This section] focuses on this issue, details the various methods used, who uses them and where they originated. In fact, various government agenncies actually offer a course in "change agentry." ... The rigged consesus is the means by which programs and policies that originators at the state, federal or foundation (through grants) level know won't be well received are moved past the naysayers and are instituted anyway. It's kind of interesting to watch, as long as you're not on the receiving end. Since my research on the book, I've watched it work among church hierarchies, in community meetings, focus groups and PTAs. Because of the interest in Part IV, I started being asked to go all over the country giving not just seminars, but teach-ins, if you will, where I bring groups up on state to practice countering the "consensus" techniques. One of the problems is that the less well educated our population becomes, thanks in large part to the fact that many disciplines like rhetoric, philosophy, and debate have been removed from the curriculum, people do not know how to defend themselves against professional manipulators. Yet, as I show in my book, the basic concept of psychological manipulation/deception was known as far back as 400 b.c. A book by a Chinese general that surfaced in the 1970s and was translated proves the point.

    "Common Sense School Reform" by Frederick M. Hess

    Here are excerpts from a review of this book by Justin Torres, Weekly Standard, September 13, 2004:

    Common Sense School Reform is uncompromising. Hess, an education-policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, takes direct aim at gauzy notions and sentiments that divert us from enacting needed reforms. Many will find shocking his direct attack on the idea that teachers are doing all they can to improve student achievement. Bunk, he says. In fact, while many teachers are working as hard as they can, many aren't.

    Many are themselves so poorly educated they aren't up to the task of raising student achievement. And those who are up to the task still need external incentives--performance measures, bonuses for improved performance, and penalties for falling short--that Americans take for granted in other professions. "Educators, for better or worse, are a lot like everybody else," Hess writes. "Some educators are passionately committed to their craft, highly skilled, and will be so regardless of rewards or guidance, but most--like most engineers and attorneys and journalists and doctors--will be more effective when held accountable for performance."

    Common Sense School Reform is shot through with hard-nosed realism. Unlike some proponents of high standards and increased accountability, Hess admits that such measures can have the unfortunate effect of narrowing the curriculum and limiting the additional touches--a focus on science or the arts, say--that can help distinguish schools and provide the personalizing touches that parents crave. (There is already some evidence that the No Child Left Behind Act, with its relentless focus on reading and math and, eventually, science, is crowding out art, history, and foreign-language classes.)

    For Hess, the answer to this curricular narrowing is school choice, designed to allow parents to choose a tailored curriculum that operates in a larger framework of high standards and accountability. Choice will also help to spur school improvement by rewarding innovators who can deliver educational success--if choice rewards popular schools with additional resources and punishes persistently low-achieving schools with closure or reconstitution. (The second half of Hess's formulation, closing down schools that lose students in a competitive marketplace, has not yet been tried in any of the voucher programs presently in operation.)

    It's a beguiling vision, and certainly one that would be a vast improvement over the present system, which actually punishes success by placing strains on popular, over-enrolled schools. As Hess points out, an innovative and dynamic principal who attracts a hundred extra students may be assigned two or three additional teaching slots and may get a little discretionary money to spend on new programs or additional teacher training. But most of the important decisions--who to hire; whether to put resources into physical plant, new personnel, or new books and teaching aids; the length of the school day; the hours teachers work--are dictated by collective bargaining agreements or are handed down from the district office. That offers little incentive to innovators, and a growing student body becomes a headache, not an indicator of success.

    "Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice" by Clint Bolick

    "Clint Bolick has written an exciting and fascinating account of his experience as a lawyer defending school choice. In the process, he provides a comprehensive history of the school choice movement from the 1990 enactment of the nation's first urban school program in Wisconsin to the 2002 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutionality of voucher programs including religious schools. Clint makes clear how high the stakes are for the youngsters in low-income families condemned to failing government schools and how much their parents are willing to sacrifice to rescue them. A true human interest tale."
    --Milton Friedman
    "Clint Bolick is the nation's leading attorney for parental choice and education reform. No one knows this legal battle better than Clint, and his successes are victories for both our education system and our children."
    --William J. Bennett, Co-Director, Empower America; Former Secretary of Education
    "Clint Bolick is the new Thurgood Marshall. Marshall litigated the end of legal apartheid; Bolick the demolition of educational townships."
    --John Gardner, Milwaukee School Board

    "Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America's Schools" by Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast

    Read this review published in the Washington Times.

    "School Choices: True and False" by John Merrifield

    Here's a slim yet compelling look at market choice for education. John Merrifield argues that today's very limited school choice programs are nothing like the "free market in education" envisioned four decades ago by early proponents of school choice. Rather, they are mired in false alternatives, petty distinctions, and diminished vision. Merrifield argues for the reformation of the school choice alternative and the eventual establishment of a freely competitive market for education,

    "Market Education, The Unknown History" by Andrew J. Coulson

    (to be reviewed)

    "Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice" by Sol Stern

    A Booklist review says: "When his son Jonathan was accepted at New York's premier elementary school, P.S. 87, city-schools-educated Stern presumed the boy was off to a good start. He was, though not as good a start as Stern's own in 1941. In the intervening decades, the teachers' union (a 1950s innovation) and a mushrooming, politicized education bureaucracy had rendered most city schools ungovernable and scholastically ineffective."

    "Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe" by Charles L. Glenn

    (to be reviewed)

    Amazon says this gives "the story of the Communist takeover of education and the recent revival of educational freedom in post-Communist societies."

    "Public Education: An Autopsy" by Myron Lieberman

    Lieberman has produced a unusually clear and thorough guide to the critical failings of "public education", or at least as that phrase is used in the United States today. He presents a case for marketplace solutions to these problems, and parent choice.

    A remarkable feature of Lieberman's writing is his highly orderly and logical style, which gives his arguments strength and substance.


    "Reading Instruction for Students Who Are at Risk or Have Disabilities" by William D. Bursuck and Mary Damer

    While the first chapter captures the very essence of teaching reading, the rest of the text is an absolute gold mine of additional research based instructional strategies appropriate for the college student, the first year teacher, and the veteran reading teacher. I wish I had written it!
    -- Pam Matlock, Murray State University
    From the publisher:

    Organized according to the Reading First categories of reading development and instruction as presented in the report of the National Reading Panel, this exciting and timely new text presents teaching strategies for children at-risk, including children of poverty, children for whom English is not their primary language, and children with learning and behavioral disabilities. These are the children No Child Left Behind challenges teachers to serve more effectively.

    The book is more than a list of teaching strategies that are scientifically-validated; the scientifically-validated practices included are integrated into a systematic teaching process that stresses the use of student outcome data within authentic classroom contexts to guide practice. The teaching strategies have been field tested with at-risk children in both rural and urban teaching settings. Most of the strategies have resulted from work the authors did in their recent four-year federally-funded model-demonstration grant in which they have implemented an extensive reading problem prevention model in grades K-3 in three inner-city schools. Thus, the teaching strategies in the book are ones that the authors implemented every day with at-risk children, not just findings from research articles.

    This book includes:

    • Content organized around the five components validated by the National Reading Panel: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
    • Readers learn how to use DIBELS and other curriculum-based assessment results for early identification of children at risk of reading failure and to monitor student progress. A unique feature is using DIBELS assessments to pinpoint student skill development as they acquire alphabetic principle.
    • Accompanying DVD shows teacher explicitly teaching letter sound recognition, regular word decoding, sight words, multisyllable word reading, passage reading, vocabulary, and comprehension.
    • Text explains how to use Differentiated Instruction to maximize learning for all students.
    • Specific strategies are detailed for implementing Response To Intervention (RTI) multi-tier instruction during the reading block.
    • Examines building vocabulary knowledge through direct and indirect teaching strategies.
    • Comprehension strategies identified by the National Reading Panel that help students derive meaning from text are emphasized.
    • Strategies for individualizing instruction for adolescents and children who are bilingual and/or ESL are included within each chapter.
    • Effective strategies for managing classroom behavior, including instruction groups are provided so that student behavior does not interfere with reading instruction.

    Mary Damer is an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University and an educational consultant and co-founder of Multi-Tier LLC, a consulting company that works with school districts to increase reading achievement through an intensive multi-tiered model based on preventing reading failure. A former teacher, principal, and behavior consultant she is the co-author of Managing Unmanageable Students: Practical Solutions for Administrators. For four years she was the field director for Project PRIDE, an OSEP funded multi-tier reading project in three high poverty urban schools.

    William D. Bursuck has more than 35 years experience as a general and special education teacher in the public schools as well as a university teacher educator. Although he has written numerous research articles and is a successful grant writer, Dr. Bursuck takes particular pleasure in providing classroom and future teachers with practical, evidenced-based strategies to help students with special needs be more successful in school. He is currently professor in the Department of Specialized Education Services at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

    "Teach Them ALL to Read: Catching the Kids Who Fall Through the Cracks" by Elaine McEwan

    Review by Mary Damer, July 8, 2002

    Before I coordinated an early literacy project for inner city students, I knew that improving the reading achievement of students in high-poverty, low-performing schools was going to be difficult and take every resource and skill my colleagues and I had. Even knowing that reality, it wasn't until a year after we'd rolled up our shirt sleeves and started working in three urban schools, that we TRULY understood the effort behind maintaining fine-tuned curriculum coordination, retaining the ability to duck sudden blockades from administration, and motivating teachers to keep employing the continual academic press needed to develop students' reading and language skills.

    Elaine McEwan's new book, "Teach Them All to Read: Catching the Kids Who Fall Through the Cracks," is the first book I've come across that truly captures all the necessary ingredients needed to create a reading culture where every student learns to read. I always enjoy McEwan's vivid metaphors and chatty practical tips which won't disappoint in her latest book. Thematically, McEwan uses jigsaw puzzle imagery to help the reader understand the necessary role of phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, reading a lot, a reading culture, language, fluency, knowledge, and cognitive strategies. But wait - this is far more than a book providing information about effective teaching of reading.

    In addition to her years as a principal who dramatically increased reading performance in her school, McEwan draws upon her years of experience crisscrossing the country to consult with school districts attempting to turn around their reading programs surround by a mishmash of misinformation from the reading establishment that hurls at them from all directions. A strength of this book is her intimate experience with Best Practices that often have no research substantiation.

    I should mention that I'm not totally impartial about this book and have been eagerly waiting for it to come out in print since our literacy project was used as one example of a comprehensive program, with interview quotes from some of our staff. Those of you who enjoy reading Consumer member Nettie Griffin's commentary and descriptions of her teaching, will also find a section of this book highlighting her teaching.

    These are my three favorite sections of the book:
    1. The section that identifies common fallacies in the teaching of reading that frequently surface, boldly exposes myths that have no research basis. I wish that my local whole language curriculum director would read about two of her favorite myths: "The Three-Cueing System: A Genuine Urban Myth" and "The Fat Cat Sat on the Rat is Borrrring and Bad for Kids"
    2. The comprehensive chapter entitled: "Fluency: The Forgotten Piece of the Puzzle" is a must-read!
    3. "Why Can't we Just Drop Everything and Read?" details what McEwan calls "reading in the zone," or the intersection between (a) reading a lot and (b) reading at an appropriate or somewhat challenging level of difficulty, and (c) reading with accountability.
    McEwan set forth the following goals in the preface and these should provide more information on the book in its totality:
    1. To give you a short course in the most current reading research regarding how students learn to read, regardless of age or grade, so that you can make informed decisions about curriculum and instruction.
    2. To help you understand that learning to read is only the first step: students must also develop fluency, acquire cognitive strategies, and continue to read a lot to deepen their knowledge and understanding.
    3. To focus your attention on the variables at work in your school and district that can be altered to create a reading culture and make a huge difference in reading achievement-especially for those students who are currently falling through the cracks
    4. To convince you of the power that rests in you and your colleagues to teach every child to read.

    "Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons" by Siegfried Engelmann

    Your school isn't teaching phonics, so you want to do it at home? Siegfried Engelmann is a professor of education at the University of Oregon, and is the nationally-recognized originator of the Direct Instruction approach to reading. Who could be better to show you how to teach your child to read?

    This book is available through Amazon, but you may prefer to go directly to the author's own website, where additional materials and research are available.

    "Let's Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education" by Harold Henderson

    First paragraph from a review by Diane Ravitch, Education Next, Winter 2007: "This book tells the story of Blouke Carus's heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reform American education. Carus founded the Open Court Publishing Company in 1962 with two aims that did not seem to be at all contradictory: first, to teach children to read, and second, to do so while introducing them to classic children's literature."

    "Why Johnny Can't Read, And What You Can Do About It" by Rudolph Flesch

    Here is the classic book that sparked a national awareness that something was very, very wrong in the schools. It's not just a critique of how schools fail to teach phonics skills: Flesch also shows parents how they can compensate for the gaps at school by teaching their children at home how to read.

    "War Against Schools: Academic Child Abuse" by Siegfried Engelmann

    From the Amazon description:

    Prof. Engelmann is an educator with more than 35 years of experience teaching elementary school children, dealing with public school administrators, and managing private training organizations. ... Using his knowledge of both theory and practice, Professor Engelmann gives both professionals and laypeople such as parents and legislators examples of how educational theorists and public educators have neglected the trees while concentrating on the forest. In more specific terms, this details Professor Engelmann's participation, as a developer of Direct Instruction methods and materials, in the federal government's Project Follow Through comparison of instructional methods, and how, after spending half a billion dollars, the results of the study were never formally published. Anyone interested in more fully understanding the debate surrounding our public educational systems should read War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse.

    "Direct Instruction Reading" by Douglas W. Carnine, Jerry Silbert, Edward J. Kameenui, and Edward J. Karmeenui

    Review by Mary Damer

    Direct Instruction Reading is a "must read" for any regular education or special education teacher of reading K-12. Newer teachers, frustrated because they are untrained in phonics instruction in a time when school districts are increasingly requiring them to effectively teach these skills will find this book a helpful source of reading instruction. Seasoned veteran teachers of reading who want to fine tune their instruction of both phonics and comprehension strategies will also come away with ideas and assessment that can be implemented in their classroom. Parents and school board members who have been closely following the reading debate will find this book answers many of their questions about what they should look for in effective reading instruction. Practical, research-based advice is jam-packed throughout the chapters which include sequenced sound and word lists and examples of how to incorporate content maps and other strategy guides into reading lessons. Not only do the authors specifically discuss and demonstrate how to teach phonics, how to teach vocabulary and language skills, and how to develop students' comprehension skills, but they also provide interesting and easily read chapters which discuss past and current research support for their recommendations. Direct Instruction Reading will also be valuable for middle school or high school teachers who are now expected to teach reading in addition to their subject area of science or social studies.

    Whenever I supervise student teachers who are expected to develop lesson plans in a content area, I have them base their lesson plans on the authors' suggestions for content area reading. The lesson plans provide such an excellent framework that that students in their classroom enthusiastically learn new vocabulary and key concepts, and the cooperating teachers are delighted with the end product. Besides presenting valuable guidance about the teaching of reading, Direct Instruction Reading also is a helpful source of information for those who have questions about Direct Instruction and what it involves. As the authors repeatedly stress throughout their book: "Reading failure can be prevented . . . by efficiently organizing instruction, carefully selecting and modifying reading material, and effectively presenting the material. Students will not only learn the reading competencies needed for success later in life, but they will also feel positive about their ability to function in society.

    "Straight Talk About Reading" by Susan L. Hall and Louisa Moats

    The co-authors are two leaders in the movement towards a solid footing for reading instruction in our schools.

    Susan L. Hall was a Wilmette resident until she experienced how her 1st grader was being taught in the local public school (Central School). She moved to Long Grove, transferred her child to a school with a strong academic emphasis and that used educational methods that were solidly based on reseach rather than rhetoric, and got very active in educational issues. She is now president of the Illinois chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. Susan has provided a synopsis of her views, along with a sampling of the book at this address.

    Louisa Moats is a project director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Interventions Project, and in that role she has been a very vocal critic of the educational orthodoxy. Several of her juicier comments are on our quotes page.

    "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences" by Kitty Burns Florey

    Here are three of this book's reader reviews on Amazon:

    Jason C. Mavrovitis: Kitty Burns Florey has written a book about the English language that is witty, charming, educational, and impossible to put down. "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog" should be in every high school, and first year college English classroom. Literature and creative writing majors run to the bookstore and pick up a copy. Strunk and White move over. You have a new companion on the bookshelf.

    T. MacCombie: Who would have thought one could write such a funny, and charming, and informative book on sentence diagramming? Kitty Florey weaves her own 6th grade experiences diagramming sentences under the watchful eye of Sister Bernadette, and then reflects on other writers, notably Gertrude Stein, who was passionate about grammar, and even loved diagramming (who knew?) but then wrote sentences that obeyed her OWN rules and defied grammatical conventions. Florey's tone, throughout this delightful book, is one of spontaneous humor and warmth. She is passionate about language herself, and seeing how language has evolved, with or without the help of diagramming, is a fascinating look at ourselves, our culture, and gives us a clue about what the future may hold for the written and spoken word.

    Michelle Bisson: This book is a fabulous read: it is brilliant, erudite, easy-to-read, and laugh-out-loud funny. It will teach you all you never even thought to ask about diagramming sentences, but it is about far more than that. Really, it's an exploration of the evolution of the English language, the gap between those of us who MUST speak and write properly and those who say--whatever. Mostly, it'll make you laugh out loud and how many authors can do that?

    "Speech to Print : Language Essentials for Teachers" by Louisa Cook Moats, Ed.D.

    Nationally respected reading expert Louisa Moats gives teachers a thorough review of the mosty effective practices and techniques in teaching reading. Here is the description from Amazon: "This thorough and well-written book ties textbook theory to classroom practice, transcribing the process of learning how to read -- from speech to print! Working through the exercises will enable you to recognize, understand, and solve problems that children encounter when learning to read and write. Self-tests are included within the chapters for you to rehearse the language skills presented. complete with case studies, field-tested lesson plans and their adaptations, and extensive appendices of answer keys, Speech to Print is you indespensible course in the art of language."

    "Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading" by Diane McGuinness

    More than just a list of woes about modern public education, this book gives details and specifics on what constitutes an effective and successful phonics-based reading program.

    I especially liked the detailed treatment of the history of the English language, which I suppose we could summarize as "English -- How It Got That Way". This fascinating story serves by assuring us that English's idiosyncracies make sense in the light of its history. I found that I also got quite a bit of insight into why and how words like, well, "insight" are perfectly good phonics words despite efforts by the whole language cadre to attack phonics with duck nibbles.

    McGuinness' approach to reading is founded on the sounds of English, and going from there directly to writing, and from there to reading. She shows -- clearly -- how this approach dramatically simplifies the phonics approach, and makes it clearer, more consistent and more defensible for all children.

    "Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level" by Sally Shaywitz, MD

    Highly recommended by reading experts in our group!

    "The War Against Grammar" by David Mulroy

    Excerpt from review by Diane Ravitch:

    "...Mulroy's book has important things to say to American teachers and parents. In 1996, Mulroy, a classics scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, attended a public hearing about the state's academic standards and innocently suggested that all high school seniors should be required to identify the eight parts of speech in a selection of normal prose. He thought it a 'modest and reasonable suggestion.' To his surprise, he was plunged into controversy, supported by parents, but strongly opposed by pedagogical experts, who informed him that the NCTE disparaged the value of any grammar instruction. After this disturbing discovery, Mulroy began to research the reasons why English teachers have become opponents of grammar ... He [found] those who were hostile to grammar instruction cast themselves as progressives and saw proponents of instruction in grammar as rigid traditionalists. These negative views toward grammar, Mulroy writes, became dogma in the nation's schools of education."

    "Losing Our Language: How Multicultural Classroom Instruction Is Undermining Our Children's Ability to Read, Write, and Reason" by Sandra Stotsky

    Is your child's school using a series of "literature" books, with each year's text containing a wide variety of stories? Well, take a close look. Take a very close look. Are those stories uplifting? Challenging? Do they introduce valuable new vocabulary and increasingly more complex writing? Or do they have startling high proportions of stories you've never heard from, from third world sources? Stotsky's book is a searing indictment of these "basal readers", and just how badly they have slipped in the last twenty years. They are softer, fluffier, and have less inspirational content than ever before. This is a very scary book, and I heartily recommended it.


    "Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up" by Barbara Feinberg

    Excerpts from a review of "Welcome to Lizard Motel" by eminent education researcher and analyst Diane Ravitch:

    "Barbara Feinberg contends that most of the young adult novels that teachers assign to teenagers are dreary, depressing, and didactic. Rather than encouraging impressionable students to read more, these so-called problem novels turn young people into reluctant readers. Furthermore, she holds that the writers' workshops that have spread like kudzu through American elementary schools ... deaden children's creativity.

    She listens to her 12-year-old son and his friends as they discuss the novels that their teachers have told them to read over the summer. The boys don't like them. They seem, in fact, to hate them. The books that her son, Alex, and his friends are compelled to read are highly regarded by teachers and professors of education. Many come decorated with Newbery medals and endorsements by the American Library Association. They are books known in the field of children's literature as Young Adult (YA) literature. All are highly realistic, written in a confessional tone, usually in the first-person voice of an angry or alienated teenager. The protagonist deals with traumatic experiences: murder, suicide, the death of a parent or friend, incest, sexual abuse, rape, drugs, abortion, kidnapping, abandonment. Friendly or protective adults are virtually nonexistent; the main character's mother ... is dead, missing, or nonfunctional. Children in these novels almost never play. Often they feel guilty for whatever catastrophe befalls them. The books are uniformly humorless, earnest, and depressing. Their message, to the extent that they have one: the world is a nasty and brutish place, and you can depend only on yourself."

    For more on "stark'n'dark" literature, and its domination of the extensively promoted Rebecca Caudill awards here in Illinois, go to this section of our web page on literature.

    "Telling Stories to Children" by Marshall Shelley

    Here's a recommendation for a wonderful book to help find inspiration in storytelling. And here are some of my notes about it.

    "Classics To Read Aloud to Your Children" by William F. Russell
    "More Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children" by William F. Russell

    In two paperback volumes, Russell collects a marvelous range of stories, excerpts and poems. These are classics that form a foundation for English literature -- but which few children in America see anymore in schools, which would rather they read instant (and instantly forgettable) modern books. Make up for what the school is missing by restoring Casey At The Bat, the Song of Hiawatha, Barbara Fritchie, Beowulf, and many others.

    "The Unfolding of Language" by Guy Deutscher

    The Unfolding of Language is a eye-opening and invigorating revelation, answering the question posed by every student trying to master the conjugations, declensions and genders of a foreign language: where did all this stuff come from, anyway? Deutscher is not writing about the derivation of words, he's talking about entire languages. Why is it that language seems on a constant downward spiral (as lamented by Cicero!), yet it develops complex and more powerful forms? If a book on linguistics can be a compelling page-turner, this is it!

    "The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature" by Elizabeth Kantor

    From the publisher's description: "The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature exposes the PC professors and takes you on a fascinating tour through our great literature -- in all its politically incorrect glory. Included: a syllabus and how-to guide to give yourself the English lit education you were denied in school."

    Social Studies

    The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child
    Volume 1: Ancient Times
    by Susan Wise Bauer
    The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child
    Volume 2: The Middle Ages
    by Susan Wise Bauer
    The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child
    Volume 3: Early Modern Times
    by Susan Wise Bauer
    The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child
    Volume 4: The Modern Age: From Victoria's Empire to the End of the USSR
    by Susan Wise Bauer
    Description from Amazon:

    Told in a straightforward, engaging style that has become Susan Wise Bauer's trademark, The Story of the World covers the sweep of human history from ancient times until the present. Africa, China, Europe, the Americas- find out what happened all around the world in long-ago times. This read-aloud series is designed for parents to share with elementary-school children. Enjoy it together and introduce your child to the marvelous story of the world's civilizations.

    "Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony" by Robert B. Edgerton


    "The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past" by Keith Windschuttle


    "War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage" by Lawrence H. Keeley

    From Amazon:
    Throughout much of this century the notion has been gaining ground, bolstered by genocide and Holocaust, that modern warfare is more barbaric than war has ever been. Alongside this view has grown a romantic impression that primitive cultures were, and are, more peaceful. Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, aims to dispel this inversion of the connotations of "civilization."

    "Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage" by Steven LeBlanc and Katherine E. Register

    From Publishers Weekly:
    "... Harvard archaeologist LeBlanc and his co-author dismantle the notion of the noble savage, a myth that 'implies that if we can just ... remember our ancient abilities to be one with the natural environment, warfare will stop and ecological balance will be regained.'"

    "The Ecological Indian" by Shepard Krech

    The author maintains that it is racist and dehumanizing to treat native Americans as though they were preternaturally beyond the everyday needs and desires of mankind everywhere.

    In that spirit, the book does a marvelous job in dissecting the mythology and realities of Indian cultures and their relationships to wildlife and the environment.

    This book is the perfect antidote to the mindless drivel heard so often in schools today.

    "In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-Year History of American Indians" by Jake Page

    Reviewers have showered praise on this book for its respectful but objective treatment of the history of Native Americans. By not succumbing to wishful thinking or obsessing over political correctness, Page provides an insight into this culture in a way that is ultimately far more insightful and passionate than most such books.

    "Plagues Of The Mind: The New Epidemic Of False Knowedge" by Bruce S. Thorton
    This scholarly book dissects how unsubstantiated Romantic notions of a "Golden Age" infect our understanding of history. A few specific areas are targetted for special coverage: they include belief in a pre-technological age of peace and plenty, the "noble savage" idealization of Native American history, and what Thorton calls "Romantic environmentalism".

    "A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror" by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen

    Amazon description:

    For at least thirty years, high school and college students have been taught to be embarrassed by American history. Required readings have become skewed toward a relentless focus on our country's darkest moments, from slavery to McCarthyism. As a result, many history books devote more space to Harriet Tubman than to Abraham Lincoln; more to My Lai than to the American Revolution; more to the internment of Japanese Americans than to the liberation of Europe in World War II.

    Now, finally, there is an antidote to this biased approach to our history. Two veteran history professors have written a sweeping, well-researched book that puts the spotlight back on America's role as a beacon of liberty to the rest of the world.

    "Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth" by Ben Shapiro

    (to be reviewed)

    "Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students" by Anders Henriksson

    From the description at Amazon:
    Be prepared to weep as you read Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students, a horrifically hilarious compendium of actual North American college student essays. Learn about the victims of the Black Death (who "grew boobs on their necks"), the Automaton Empire, Martin Luther King's famous "If I Had a Hammer" speech, the Iran Hostess Crisis, Zorroastrologism (the "duelist" religion "founded by Zorro"), and Joan of Ark, Noah's wife, at rest on Mt. Arafat. Meet Dim El Sum of Korea, the Vestigal Virgins, "dedicated to burning the internal flame," and Hitler, who "shot himself in the bonker." Did you know a position as "lady-in-mating helped a young girl's chances for a marriage," and "the assignation of Archduke Ferdman gave sweet relief to mounting tensions," or that "the major cause of the Civil War is when slavery spread its ugly testicles across the West"?

    "The Geography Bee Complete Preparation Handbook: 1,001 Questions & Answers to Help You Win Again and Again" by Matthew T. Rosenberg

    Some participants in the National Geography Bee program prefer this guide to the "official" guide, but others say that the "official" guide is more helpful. Follow the links to Amazon to see what people are saying about both of these.

    "National Geographic Bee Official Study Guide" by Stephen F. Cunha and Susannah Batko-Yovino

    This is the "official" study guide for the National Geography Bee, published by the National Geographic Society. Although about a third of this very slim book is devoted to sample questions, most of the rest is concerned with how to find other sources for study. Some people prefer the "unofficial" guide, above. Follow the links to Amazon to see what people are saying about both of these. For more info on the contest itself, follow this link to the National Geography Bee.

    "The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers" by Sandra Stotsky
    (click for info, or download as a free PDF, or purchase as quality softcover)

    Widely-used instructional materials that teachers rely upon to supplement their textbooks and their own knowledge may be dangerous to children's educational health. The creators of such materials often inject bias and political manipulation into the minds of teachers and, subsequently, their students. This study casts wary light on resources that teachers frequently use but that seldom come under public or expert scrutiny.

    "A Consumer's Guide to High School History Textbooks" by Diane Ravitch
    (click for info, or download as a free PDF, or purchase as quality softcover)

    A Consumer's Guide to High School History Textbooks is a summary review of 12 widely used U.S. and world history textbooks.

    "Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?" by James Leming, Lucien Ellington, Kathleen Porter-Magee
    (click for info, or download as a free PDF, or purchase as quality softcover)

    This report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation consists of penetrating critiques by renegade social studies educators who fault the regnant teaching methods and curricular ideas of their field and suggest how it can be reformed. While nearly veryone recognizes that American students don't know much about history and civics, these analysts probe the causes of this ignorance-and lay primary responsibility at the feet of the social studies "establishment" to which they belong.

    Math, Computers, Science


    "Designing Effective Mathematics Instruction: A Direct Instruction Approach" by Marcy Stein, Jerry Silbert and Douglas W. Carnine

    A review by Don Crawford, Ph.D.:


    I would never again begin to attempt to teach elementary math without this book on my desk. If you are fed up with the "new-new" math and want to find out the clearest and simplest way to help children learn basic computational skills this book is just what you need. This text would be especially helpful to homeschoolers who want consistent language that helps children understand place value when they do arithemetic, or fractions when they are learning to manipulate them. This text would also be needed by teachers whose college training only prepared them to engage their students in interesting math activities but never showed how to explain addition and subtraction of unlike fractions, or how to effectively organize math facts memorization, or even any strategies for solving word problems. All these and many more are covered in helpful detail in this text. There are invaluable tips for correcting common errors, or better yet-how to avoid them. All explanations support each other in a way that helps students tie new learning to the necessary prior knowledge. I have used this as a text in curriculum methods courses in three universities and most students come away with the feeling that this book is an incredible reference book that they wish to keep handy throughout their teaching careers.

    "Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics:
    Teachers' Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States" by Liping Ma

    International comparisons show that children in Asia learn mathemtics better than ours do. What accounts for this? Liping Ma's book strongly implies that the math preparation and teaching skill of teachers is the predominant factor. This book has been widely praised and recommended by mathematicians, and also by those school reformers who favor a solid mastery approach to math education.

    "The Principal's Guide to Raising Math Achievement" by Elaine McEwan

    Author Elaine McEwan is a well-known education writer, and former Chicago-area teacher and administrator. Here is a review of this book by Mary Damer:

    Elaine McEwan came out with another excellent book for principals last year that I read over Christmas and want to highly recommend. One of our Illinois Loop members, Frank Allen, who is a former NCTM president, contributed some excellent material and is recognized in the acknowledgments. In the introduction to "The Principal's Guide to Raising Math Achievement" (published by Corwin Press), Elaine describes to school administrators the four goals of her book: "a. to convince you of the power that rests in you and your faculty to make numeracy a reality for each of your students; b. to introduce you to the current controversies in math instruction c. to set forth some of the most recent research in mathematics instruction so that you and your faculty can make informed decisions and d. to share with you how you can change what you're doing to make a powerful difference.

    As with Elaine's other books, this latest one contains the same clear language, illustrative stories, and humor that are signatures of her writing.

    Through the first chapters, she clearly presents US mathematics achievement or lack of it along with the current issues involved in today's Math Wars, introducing that topic by describing, "The swirling discussions and debates regarding mathematics education are enough to give administrators vertigo."

    Her third chapter on "Research-Based Decision Making" is one I wish every school administrator had to commit to memory. Elaine establishes this focus as the basis for any and all curricular decision making using it to set the tone for issues discussed in the rest of the book: Calculators - boon or boondoggle; sage on the stage or guide on the side; effective teaching-the key to raising math achievement).

    For the sake of space, I won't go into all of the specifics of subsequent chapters, but throughout her discussion of topics, Elaine weaves her own experiences as an instructional leader as well as factual discussion about our misconceptions about how math is "really" taught in Japan. Ending as she typically does when writing for school administrators, Elaine concludes by presenting "Thirty-Plus Practical Things" administrators can start doing immediately to raise math achievement in their schools.

    Whether one buys this for his or her own knowledge or gives this to an administrator-who-needs-to-learn as a present or as an "anonymous gift", he/she can be assured that any reader will walk away much more articulate about current math issues .. and hopefully more resistant to simply believing the latest faddish claims.

    Stanley Pruss, a school board member in Oak Brook, has this to add:

    Having read this book as a parent and a school board member, I am giving it to both the principals in my district. This book explains both many of the things that are done badly in many schools in the country and shows the path for how to do them well. I found the comparisons with the Japanese and Chinese methods of teaching particularly helpful. This book was pleasant to read as well as enlightening in how to promote the effective teaching of mathematics.

    "Creative Problem Solving in School Mathematics" by Dr. George Lenchner
    (click for more info from the Math Olympiad website)

    This book is recommend by some math teachers as a source for specific problem solving strategies with example problems applicable to each strategy.

    "Unknown Quantity: A Real And Imaginary History of Algebra" by John Derbyshire

    Publisher's description:

      "Here is the story of algebra." With this deceptively simple introduction, we begin our journey. Flanked by formulae, shadowed by roots and radicals, but escorted by an expert who navigates unerringly on our behalf, we are guaranteed safe passage through even the most treacherous mathematical terrain. ... As we travel the ages, it becomes apparent that the invention of algebra was more than the start of a specific discipline of mathematics -- it was also the birth of a new way of thinking that clarified both basic numeric concepts as well as our perception of the world around us. Algebraists broke new ground when they discarded the simple search for solutions to equations and concentrated instead on abstract groups. This dramatic shift in thinking revolutionized mathematics.

    In a spirited defense of the teaching of algebra, Algebra and Its Enemies, Kenneth Silber cites this book:

      An interesting feature of this history is just how slow progress often was. Babylonians in the 2nd millennium BCE worked out algebraic word problems on cuneiform tablets, and the ancient Greeks handled similar problems with a geometrical approach, but it was only at the time of Diophantus, who lived in Alexandria in roughly the 3rd century CE, that anyone used letter symbols to keep track of unknowns in equations. The brutal death of the female mathematician-philosopher Hypatia in 415 at the hands of a religious mob marked the twilight of math in the declining Roman Empire.

      Around 820, the Islamic scholar al-Khwarizmi wrote a book on algebra (the word comes from the Arabic al-jabr, or "completion," his term for adding the same amount to each side of an equation to put it into a standard form). However, al-Khwarizmi and his contemporaries worked on algebra through word problems and geometry. Diophantus' practice of employing letter symbols in equations had vanished into forgotten archives. It was not until the late 1500s, particularly with the work of French mathematician François Viète, that algebraic symbols were reinvented and started to be used in a systematic way.

      Such tortuous history, as Derbyshire points out, suggests that symbolic algebra, with its high level of abstraction, does not exactly come naturally to people. He finds this a bit depressing but also inspiring. The remarkable thing is not that it took humanity so long to learn how to do this stuff, but that we can do it at all.

    "Mathematical Cranks" by Underwood Dudley

    Choice magazine:
        "A delightful collection of true accounts of individuals who claim to have achieved the mathematically impossible ... It is hard to put down and provides topics for an unending series of interesting discussions. The organization and breadth of the book are impressive, supported by a helpful index and a list of resources that encourage further explorations. A classic."
    "Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought" by Underwood Dudley

    Choice magazine:
        "Most of us, regardless of mathematical training, firmly believe that numbers have great power and importance. Fewer in number, there are those who believe numbers have the ability to control events and determine our fates. These latter people, numerologists, are the subject of Dudley's most recent examination of the abuses and misuses of numbers. ... Dudley provides a history of numerology starting with Pythaogras and his number mystic disciples some 2500 years ago, and provides numerous examples, past and present. Featured here are the Bible-numberists, who placed special significance on the numerous sevens and perfect squares found in the Bible; the pyramidologists, who believed that the world would end on August 20, 1953 (oops!); the modern-day Oxford scholar who believes that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets with great dedication to triangular numbers; and many others. A fun read for anybody who enjoys other peoples silliness, requiring no specific mathematical knowledge beyond arithmetic. Numerology is highly recommended."
    "The Golden Section" by Hans Walser

    A fascinating review written by Underwood Dudley (author of the two books just mentioned, above) is available here:
    The Golden Section by Hans Walser, reviewed by Underwood Dudley, MAA Online, Mathematical Association of America. In fact, for most readers that review may be more interesting and accessible than the book itself! It turns out that many of the aesthetic claims about the golden ratio (in everything from the Parthenon to Mozart sonatas to the placement of the navel on the human body) are quite false. Nonetheless, the properties of this ratio are intriguing and elegant.

    Computers and Technology

    "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" by Mark Bauerlein

    Amazon description:

    For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. At the dawn of the digital age, many believed they saw a hopeful answer: The Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms "information superhighway" and "knowledge economy" entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.

    That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn't happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.

    Excerpt from a review by Chester E. Finn, Jr.:

    ... the point of this Emory University English professor's terrific new book: today's young people don't know squat in large part because the trappings of the "digital age" have addled their brains, distorted their priorities, and occupied all their time. It's a polemic, yes, but it's full of compelling data as well as even more compelling anecdotes and vignettes. Bauerlein faults the grown-ups, too, in a forceful chapter called "The Betrayal of the Mentors." (Short version: professors ennoble youth and its values rather than taming the former and correcting the latter.) "As of 2008," Bauerlein concludes, "the intellectual future of the United States looks dim. Not the economic future, or the technological, medical, or media future, but the future of civic understanding and liberal education. The social pressures and leisure preferences of young Americans, for all their silliness and brevity, help set the heading of the American mind, and the direction is downward.... It isn't funny anymore." Neither is this book, but you really need to read it anyhow.

    "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" by Edward R. Tufte

    In 28 pages and for $7, Edward Tufte delivers up a powerful case against the use of PowerPoint for presentations.

    If that name sounds familiar, Tufte is the author of the internationally praised classic book, "Visual Display of Quantitative Information," considered to be one of the finest sources for effective presentation of complex ideas.

    If your school is gearing up to spend classroom time teaching kids how to deliver presentations with PowerPoint, you may want to share this little booklet with school administrators. Have the kids write and read a substantive essay instead!

    "The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved" by Todd Oppenheimer

    The review in Booklist says, "The other side of the much-ballyhooed promise of technology in improving education is the reality that it often distracts from real education, provides new opportunities for commercial interests, and only contributes to growing inequities and lack of performance."

    Here is another review: Why Computers Have Not Saved The Classroom by Bob Blaisdell, Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2003. Excerpt: "What impact has computer technology had on public education in the US? That's the question journalist Todd Oppenheimer sets out to answer in The Flickering Mind. Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless. 'At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms,' Oppenheimer writes."

    "Oversold And Underused: Computers in the Classroom" by Larry Cuban

    From a review in the Christian Science Monitor:

    "Today, in the US, it's teachers' turn to take the hit for the lack of success that computers have brought to education. Why haven't test scores gone up with the increased availability of computers? Why do computers with all the latest programs sit unused in classrooms, or at best serve only as word-processors or Internet searchers? Those policymakers who giddily poured funding into technology as a cure for the ills of public education blame, among other scapegoats, stuck-in-the-mud teachers. ... [The author Larry Cuban] is tempted 'to call for a moratorium on buying any more computers for K-12 schools. A moratorium might startle people into openly debating serious questions about how and why computers are used and how they fit in with the larger purposes of universal education.'"

    "Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920" by Larry Cuban

    Here is a description of this book from the article "The Computer Delusion" by Todd Oppenheimer: "[In this book] Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University and a former school superintendent, observed that as successive rounds of new technology failed their promoters' expectations, a pattern emerged. The cycle began with big promises backed by the technology developers' research. In the classroom, however, teachers never really embraced the new tools, and no significant academic improvement occurred. This provoked consistent responses: the problem was money, spokespeople argued, or teacher resistance, or the paralyzing school bureaucracy. Meanwhile, few people questioned the technology advocates' claims. As results continued to lag, the blame was finally laid on the machines. Soon schools were sold on the next generation of technology, and the lucrative cycle started all over again."

    "High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom" by Clifford Stoll

    The Kirkus Review of this book, quoted on Amazon, says, "Stoll bemoans a major educational trend of the last decade: the rapid computerization of the classroom. He's a passionate believer in a quite old-fashioned medium of data transmission: the book. He asserts that advocates of the computerized classroom have confused data with wisdom, wisdom being the ability to filter data and place it into a larger perspective. This is exactly what the internet cannot do, says Stoll. In the computerized classroom, 'solving a problem means clicking on the right icon,' allowing zero time to reflect. Thus, students focus on the shallowness of data, supplemented by multimedia graphics, while failing to consider the real-world contexts in which problems arise."

    An interesting twist on the issue of computers in schools is that a growing number of mainstream progressivists are questioning whether we should be spending scarce dollars and scarcer time on computers. The following two books are both written by authors with whom we would disagree on most education issues, but who are just as dubious as we are when it comes to the role of computers in schools:
    • "Failure To Connect" by Jane Healy
    • "The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children's Education At Risk" by Allison Armstrong and Charles Casement


    "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character"

    If you want to see the mind of a scientific superstar at work, here's the book. It helps that this is one heck of an extraordinarily interesting guy!

    Feynman was a scientific superstar, the truest embodiment of a "modern Renaissance man", and a sensational, powerful and colloquial lecturer. Considered to be the second greatest physicist of the 20th century (after Einstein), tapes and books of this Nobel laureate's works and lectures are still extremely popular. As his fame grew and his genius became wide-known, he was invited to participate in such endeavors as the commission investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, for which he provided crucial insights.

    One essay in this book proves very relevant to education reformers: In "Judging Books by Their Covers," Feynman talks about his experiences as a member of California state committee evaluating math and science textbooks. Classic, absolutely classic!

    "Connected Knowledge:
    Science, Philosophy and Education" by Alan Cromer

    (to be reviewed)


    "Facts, Not Fear:
    A Parent's Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment" by Michael Sanera and Jane S. Shaw

    This is a concise, appealing and yet powerful handbook to providing fair balance in discussing environmental issues in schools.

    Recently, Kevin Killion heard Dr. Sanera speak at a PRESS symposium. Here are some notes from that presentation:

      Dr. Sanera's concern is the direction and focus of environmental education (or "EE") away from real science and towards poorly substantiated claims and calls for political action. He feels that such skewed treatment discredits the whole field.

      Sanera is most decidedly NOT an anti-environmentalist. In fact, among the glowing reviews on the back cover of his book, one is from Patrick Moore, co-founder and past president of Greenpeace. Moore said, "I am particularly dismayed by the degree of pessimism for the future that is generated by predictions of an environmental apocalypse ... 'Facts Not Fear' [Sanera's book] can help parents give their children a positive attitude about the environment."

      Sanera started his talk with an anecdote: A third-grade teacher asked her science class, "Why does oil float on top of water?", hoping for answers involving their relative weights, etc. Instead, one boy answered, "People just don't care anymore." Sanera used this to illustrate that kids are being taught to process all such questions as yet more environmental problems, and problems in which the cause is always people.

      Sanera introduced us to a group known as the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and said that while "90% of what they did was really bad stuff", they did have an extremely good statement in their "Fairness and Accuracy Guidelines". These include:

      • "EE materials should be fair and accurate in describing environmental problems, issues and conditions"
      • "Sources of factual information are clearly referenced"
      • "Factual information is presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing"
      • "Information comes from primary sources...rather than from reviews or newspaper articles..."
      • "Where there are differences of opinion or competing scientific explanations, the range of perspectives should be presented in a balanced way."
      • "Materials should encourage learners to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions"
      • "Materials encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and an openness to new ideas"

      So far, so good. But Sanera and his associates conducted a study of how well textbooks used in EE classes met these goals, and found that they generally failed miserably. Books drastically overstated the rise in ocean levels if the ice caps should melt, failed to point out that most of the increased temperature of the 20th century occurred in its first forty years, ignored the role of water vapor as the principal greenhouse gas, and ignored the slowing rate of population growth. They also placed heavy emphasis on political action, telling kids to consider joining a group, or to boycott products or to write letters to public officials. In many cases, such activities, especially the letter-writing one, is heavily emphasized.

      Sanera was even less enthused about the state of EE in ed schools. His team examined textbooks and materials from 12 EE courses offered in the UW ed school campuses, and found that only two of them met the NAAEE guidelines.

      What can be done? Sanera recommends a legislative approach, essentially to mandate the NAAEE guidelines as part of law or ed standards. The value of this approach, he says, is that it gives you a leg to stand on when you challenge a biased, politicized EE course or program at a school board or school district. He offers his home state's "Arizona EE Reform Model" as a good example of what he means.

      In addition, positive action for EE reform might include sponsorships or rewards. For example, the Arizona Advisory Council of Environmental Education (AACEE) gives grants of up to $10,000 to be used on field trips for student projects, but the rules of the program require careful consideration of all points of view.

      In the Q&A, Sanera said that the first priority is that kids often need to learn that there even exists another side on some EE issues. Citing the recent news coverage of possible oil exploration in Alaska, he said that kids need to know that any time you drill there is an environmental impact and that this is vital, but they also need to know that NOT exploring also has consequences, such as (in this case) increased energy costs and subsequent economic impacts, dependence on foreign sources, use of fuels that pollute more, the possibility of warfare.

      In general, says Sanera, the reality of unintended consequences is crucially important, and the hard part in EE often is addressing that. He says that in their research he couldn't find even a single example in any of the textbooks of negative unintended consequences resulting from the Endangered Species Act or the Clear Air Act. In particular, he complained about the complete omission of mention of "government-sponsored pollution", such as in the case of EPA-mandated MTBE gas additives now being found as a pollutant in ground water.

      Sanera also talked about how the people who want to politicize EE have become quite skilled in the public relations techniques for effective promotion, lobbying, and mastery of media sound bites, and he stressed that we needed to become just as sophisticated (presumably, in the entire education reform effort).

    "But Is It True?: A Citizen's Guide to Environmental Health and Safety Issues" by Aaron Wildavsky

    Publisher's description:
    We've eaten Alar with our apples and PCBs with our fish, drunk arsenic with our water, breathed asbestos in our schools. Someone sounded the alarm, someone else said we were safe, and both had science on their side. Whom are we to trust? How are we to know? Amid this chaos of questions and conflicting information, Aaron Wildavsky arrives with just what the beleaguered citizen needs: a clear, fair, and factual look at how the rival claims of environmentalists and industrialists work, what they mean, and where to start sorting them out.

    "Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists" by Peter Huber


    "Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America's First National Park" by Alston Chase

    From Library Journal:
    Chase argues convincingly that Yellowstone National Park is slowly being destroyed. He details how the Park Service's preservationist policies have driven most of the native wildlife from the park, while allowing some animals to propagate far beyond the land's capacity to sustain them. He meticulously documents his charges, showing how easily science can be subverted by politics and ideology. Surprisingly, environmentalists are implicated in the destruction. Chase critiques, with devastating effect, the multitude of organizations that have made a religion of protecting the environment, while ignoring the fundamental question of man's place in nature.

    "In a Dark Wood: The Fight Over Forests and the Myths of Nature" by Alston Chase


    Sports, Play, Recess

    "Why Johnny Hates Sports" by Fred Engh

    This book has two subtitles: "Putting the fun back in sports for boys and girls" and "Why organized youth sports are failing our children and what we can do about it." The author is president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

    "The Cheers and the Tears : A Healthy Alternative to the Dark Side of Youth Sports Today" by Shane Murphy

    (details to come)

    "Will You Still Love Me If I Don't Win?: A Guide for Parents of Young Athletes" by Christopher Andersonn and Barbara Andersonn

    (details to come)

    "Just Let The Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child's Fun and Success in Youth Sports" by Bob Bigelow

    (details to come)

    "It's Just a Game! Youth, Sports & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents" by Darrell J. Burnett

    (details to come)


    "Battling Corruption in America's Public Schools" by Lydia G. Segal

    (details to come)

    "School Corruption: Betrayal of Children and the Public Trust" by Armand A. Fusco

    (details to come)

    "Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education" by Joe Williams

    Review from Booklist:
    Williams, education reporter with the New York Daily News, examines how school policies shortchange children in favor of adult interests in jobs, wages, and contracts. Drawing on a decade of reporting on public schools in New York and Milwaukee, Williams explains how unions, politicians, vendors, and consultants waste and mismanage funds meant to improve education. He also outlines the role of teachers' unions and political parties in operating school systems and how mindless bureaucracy alienates parents and distracts teachers from their primary roles. He details how unions have prevented parent volunteers from pulling weeds, how a valedictorian who criticized the school in her graduation speech was denied her diploma until she apologized, how a computer company was forced to withdraw hardware donations after bureaucratic rules prevented effective use of the computers. Williams does salute exceptional educators and parents who make heroic efforts on behalf of children but notes that they are exceptions to the rule. He concludes with reform efforts that have worked, including a Milwaukee program that features limited use of school vouchers and mini school districts.

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