Book Review

Strategy in Action: How School Systems Can Support Powerful Learning and Teaching

by Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2009, 222 pp. with index, $54.95 hardcover, $29.95 softcover

Most school improvement projects address just that particular school, ignoring the systems that form the cultural and operational environment. This book is about how a school system can develop a robust strategy to support the learning of all children in every school.

Strategy in Action opens with these questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? How are we doing it?

Both authors are accomplished education transformation specialists, having worked with school systems, foundations and education policy institutions. Most importantly, both know how to cause leaders in a school district to think through critical questions to produce purposeful answers.

Their message is blunt and to the point: When writing about 9th graders’ poor academic results, they say educators are blamed because they’ve “only asked the students to do 6th-grade work!” However, Curtis and City see the problem as being a lack of seriousness “about focusing school systems on the core. Systems, not just individuals, must steward the core.”

In every chapter, superintendents will find questions and protocols designed to accelerate student learning. The intent is to stimulate thought and hone the skills of analysis. The book has a built-in recognition that strategy comes to life and requires modification during the execution.

Strategy in Action has enough concrete tools and suggested steps to make this a practical work for experienced administrators. The real value, though, comes from the thought-provoking questions: How does what I’m doing support children and learning? Is this working for children? How do I know?

Reviewed by Arthur Stellar, superintendent, Burke County Public Schools, Morganton, N.C.