The complexities of education in the United States are continually growing, making it hard to understand what is happening in district public, private, and charter schools. Here are six insightful books published in 2012 that will help teachers, parents, and all of us digest the education issues that were most prominent this year.
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Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform by Michael Brick
Once a school is marked for closure because of low standardized test scores, can it rebound and save itself?
This book shows that teachers and students make a school special, not necessarily rankings and scores. As more public schools battle closure and competition from vouchers, Reagan High should serve as a beacon of educational possibilities.
Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education, edited by Nancy Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin
Nancy Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin, veteran educational activists and teachers, collect essays written by educators, parents, and students who are most affected by Washington’s policies such as President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top.
The editors don’t attempt to sugarcoat the issues facing the U.S. public education system in Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education. Publisher’s Weekly notes, “Standout contributors include a master’s degree candidate who had been denied her high school diploma because of a lone failing test score, and a public school teacher who, in a moment of hopelessness, accidentally became the leader of a grassroots campaign for reform. Though there’s much to bemoan about the current state of public education, we also learn there’s much that can be done.”
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
Paul Tough writes that there is more to a child’s success than IQ and standardized tests. Children also need skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control. In his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Tough especially focuses on how science research and new inventions can help propel children living in poverty.
Tough told TakePart earlier this year, “We can see how growing up in chaotic or stressful environments affects the development of the prefrontal cortex and how that affects executive function. Skills like being able to focus your thoughts, sit still, concentrate, and follow directions.”
Critics have said this book will inspire parents and educators and could change the way “we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net.”
The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools by Michael J. Petrilli
Rejuvenated urban areas often offer a lot of perks such as farmers markets, museums, subway access and libraries. Many times, however, a good school is lacking, which means parents often move away. Education analyst Michael J. Petrilli writes in The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, “Middle-class or upper-middle-class Gen-X and Gen-Y parents like us embrace the idea of our children living, learning and playing side by side with kids from other cultures and economic backgrounds. But we worry about the potential costs.”
Petrilli offers advice for parents who want to stay in a renewed urban environment, but who struggle with how to find a city school that is academically progressive and right for their child.
Earlier this year, Petrilli gave TakePart five actions urban parents should take to find the right school in their neighborhood.
Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? by Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine
Written by two professors, this book examines the performance of charter schools versus the promises they make. Fabricant and Fine offer a history of the charter movement, the politics and economics driving charter schools, and documentation of actual student outcomes.
Fabricant and Fine write, “This book is neither anti-charter nor an apology for the dismal aggregate state of public education in low-income communities.”
College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco
Once upon a time, students attended college to learn more about themselves and explore their passions. But Andrew Delbanco argues the idealism of college could become extinct as the focus becomes more on “preprofessional credentials.” As he explores the history of higher education in America, Delbanco gives a defense that a student doesn’t attend college just to get a job, but rather it’s much deeper than that.
As Richard Wolin wrote in The Nation,“In the face of today’s hyper-accelerated, ultra-competitive global society, the preservation of opportunities for self-development and autonomous reflection is a value we underestimate at our peril.”
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books.@SuziParker | TakePart.com