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10 Lessons from New York

City Schools 

What Really Works to Improve Education

by Eric Nadelstern, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2013, 96 pp. with index, $24.95 softcover


“This book was written as a call to action to improve … the future of our children,” writes author Eric Nadelstern, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

In fewer than 100 pages, he outlines 10 strategies that helped lift New York City public schools’ graduation rates dramatically after decades of stagnation. Nadelstern writes from the blunt perspective of his nearly 40 years working in city schools and emphasizes the successes achieved during his tenure as New York’s deputy chancellor for school support and instruction.

Moving graduation rates from 50 to 65 percent -- especially in a system as large as New York City – is a remarkable achievement. But does it translate into action for those in much smaller systems?

Despite its short length, the book offers myriad ways for readers to achieve the same successes in their own districts. In particular, two chapters on student learning are compelling and full of worthwhile ideas, while another chapter on making everyone accountable for student learning recommends using school quality reviews to put the focus on school leadership, classroom instruction, teacher practices and data use to inform instruction.

Additionally, a chapter that advocates focusing relentlessly on improving student learning provides many good ideas for supervisory visits and ways to develop principals into instructional leaders.

Depending on district size and needs, the specific ideas on principal academies, small schools, business partners and incentive pay may be less applicable. Still, each chapter has gritty advice on how to make student learning the number one priority.

10 Lessons from New York City Schools ends on a high note. “Be bold,” Nadelstern writes. “Incremental change is the enemy of reform. Dare greatly. Be bold enough to defy the odds. Each of us has the opportunity to make profound changes that improve lives.”

This book is not for the mild mannered. District leaders compelled to improve student learning, despite the challenges, will find this book encouraging, forthright and insightful.

Reviewed by Larry L. Nyland, retired superintendent, Marysville, Wash. 


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