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Best Practices from High-

Performing High Schools

How Successful Schools Help Students Stay in School and Thrive  

by Kristen C. Wilcox and Janet I. Angelis, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2011, 131 pp., $26.95 softcover 


Kristen C. Wilcox and Janet I. Angelis have addressed a crucial issue in the P-12 continuous improvement mandate -- high schools. Wilcox’s experiences and knowledge with linguistically and culturally diverse learners coupled with Angelis’ strong research emphasis on secondary education are apparent in Best Practices from High-Performing High Schools: How Successful Schools Help Students Stay in School and Thrive.

The authors use case study methodology to compare 10 high-performing high schools to five that are deemed average-performing. The research methodology limits the ability to generalize the results, but this does not translate into a meaningless book.

At the end of each chapter, Wilcox and Angelis provide a brief self-assessment of each of the five research variables -- rigor, innovation, transparency, evidence-based decision-making and the strategic use of resources. The nature and format of this tool make it accessible even for teachers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with examining their school’s culture.

Building a positive school culture is a commonly identified high school administrative concern. It is fundamental to school improvement and subsequent academic improvement. Dialogue is a useful tool for changing the culture of a high school, but not without essential discussion questions, examples of the answers to those questions and data representing the results.

Although this book does not intentionally identify itself as a book on changing school culture, the indicators for doing so are all present in the stories, assessments and data shared. With its highly readable format, busy high school principals will find this book useful in starting conversations about continuous improvement results.

Reviewed by Donna S. McCaw, professor of educational leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Ill.


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