Book Review

Breakthrough

by Michael Fullan, Peter Hill and Carmel Crévola, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2006, 109 pp. with index, $24.95 softcover

Why are schools and districts failing to improve? Why do improvement initiatives often fall flat after a couple of years? The authors contend that the current paradigm of school reform has fundamental limitations with regards to student achievement, the most critical being a gap between student academic expectations and the classroom instructional practices that influence student learning.

In Breakthrough, a provocative book that is described in the forward by Professor Richard Elmore of Harvard University as “deliberately contrarian,” the authors explore a system that links data to instructional practice. Fullan, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto; Hill, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority; and Crévola, an international literacy consultant, provide a multifaceted, multidisciplinary perspective.

Bolstered by references to the work of Elmore and other leadership authorities, the “breakthrough system” is an “a-ha” schema that incorporates various research and theory into a smart new paradigm for sustained improvement in student achievement. Breakthrough is an integrated approach of pre- and formative assessments, instructional focus, ongoing data analysis and professional development to provide personalized instruction to meet individual students’ learning needs.

Whereas traditional curriculum mapping tends to concentrate on the end point of a student’s learning journey, this new paradigm focuses on the instructional path necessary during the learning journey and accounts for differences in academic starting points and learning styles. It is a manageable and intelligent approach to personalized learning.

The authors invite practitioners to reflect on the new paradigm for classroom change and engage in broader discussion on extending the book’s general principles to other content areas, grade levels and, ultimately, systems.

Reviewed by Marilyn H. King, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Bozeman Public Schools, Bozeman, Mont.