Book Reviews 

 School Administrator, April 2015

Books-AccountabilityAccountability Is the Key: Unlocking School Potential through Enhanced Educational Leadership

 by John Hunt, R&L Education, Lanham, Md., 2013, 136 pp., $21.95 softcover

Accountability Is the Key is a valuable primer for all involved in the demanding and valuable work of improving our nation’s schools.

    Author John Hunt, an associate professor of educational leadership at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and a former district administrator, provides a thorough history of educational reform in the United States, including pertinent legal decisions and an overview of the significant financial, social and political factors that have combined to shape the educational landscape that today’s school leaders navigate.

    In addition to gaining an understanding of how we have arrived at the educational system within which we function today, the reader learns several vital skills that successful school leaders must demonstrate. These include collaborating with strength, understanding one’s stakeholder groups and active listening. Hunt successfully blends anecdotes from schools nationwide with thought-provoking questions to encourage the reader’s reflection on his or her own practice.

    While the book is a valuable addition to an aspiring school leader’s library, it does not touch on one of the most important and meaningful aspects of developing successful schools -- increasing accountability among staff members for student achievement. The author’s insights on this challenging task would be a welcome addition to any future editions.

Reviewed by Stephen Walker, assistant superintendent for human resources, Ramapo Central School District, Hillburn, N.Y.


Books-I Got SchooledI Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap

by M. Night Shyamalan, Simon & Schuster, New York, N.Y., 2013, 320 pp. with index, $25 hardcover

M. Night Shyamalan might be a wealthy celebrity and wildly popular screenwriter, but he is also legitimately concerned with the achievement gap between students in inner-city and suburban public schools. In I Got Schooled, he provides an interesting perspective on how to make urban schools healthy.

    Most doctors will tell you if you do several simple things (get enough sleep, eat right, etc.), you are less likely to become seriously ill. Of course, you have to do all of them to improve your chances at health. What if schools are the same way? Are there a handful of tenets that interact together to improve academic proficiency? The author believes so and makes a case for five of them: smaller schools, more time in schools, effective feedback, finding and keeping the best teachers and finding and keeping effective school leaders.

    What he leaves out is surprising: class size, increased funding, advanced degrees, higher salaries, school choice and general accountability. Each omission is intentional and he thoroughly justifies his reasoning. He concludes with a recommendation for how to achieve his five tenets, including cost estimates and potential sources of funding.

    The strength of this book lies in what it is not. The author is not promoting a wholesale change in American public education. While his five tenets come across as somewhat simplistic (most educational leaders already recognize the importance of weeding out ineffective teachers) and his writing can be self-aggrandizing, his suggestion of how the tenets interact is valuable. Despite my initial skepticism, this ambitious book is an interesting read for anyone in education.

Reviewed by Daniel Swartos, superintendent, McCook Central School District, Salem, S.D.


Books - The 12 TouchstonesThe 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day

by Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2013, 222 pp. with index, $28.95 softcover

In The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching, Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell draw on their classroom experience and research to catalog 12 hallmarks of effective instruction. They describe the book as a resource they wish they’d had as teachers to make better sense of their professional practice.

    The touchstones are categorized into three imperatives for teaching: be demanding (align teaching with high expectations for learning), be supportive (provide a nurturing learning environment) and be intentional (know why you’re doing what you’re doing). The imperatives serve as a strong framework for planning instruction and ensuring a focus on the essential elements of quality instruction.

    The authors incorporate timely and relevant research to support the use of touchstones. They use vignettes to maintain the reader’s attention and intersperse the text with helpful checklists, templates and graphs. The checklists are not groundbreaking, but they are practical and may serve as a good resource for teachers.

    The book’s most important resource is found in its appendix. Each checklist item is categorized by imperative, described and justified. This is an excellent resource for teachers to use while planning instruction and reflecting on best practices.

Reviewed by Brian Schmitt, superintendent, Genesee Valley Central School District, Belmont, N.Y.


Books - Common ThreadsCommon Threads: Investigating and Solving School Discipline

 by Anthony P. Barber and Jeffrey G. Ulmer, R&L Education, Lanham, Md., 2013, 126 pp., $19.95, softcover

School district administrators Anthony Barber and Jeffrey Ulmer have teamed up to propose a system for investigating and treating discipline issues to promote safety, fairness and proactive decision-making in schools. The unique, practical advice they present in Common Threads: Investigating and Solving School Discipline provides education professionals with a framework for effectively managing conflicting accounts of discipline issues.

    The idea that “conflict is a necessary component to progress” guides the authors through several real-life scenarios and helps them dispense appropriate consequences for misbehavior. This practical method uses qualitative protocol for gathering facts in any situation in order to create a context for what happened and facilitate future planning.

    Because it is blind to issues of culture and race, this method discourages those eager to litigate school district errors. The special education arena in particular can benefit from this approach to limit misconceptions parents and administrators have about the constantly changing environment of school reform. The book’s case studies presenting common disciplinary scenarios and outcomes are particularly useful.

    As a former assistant principal in charge of discipline, I found this book made me wonder how rewarding those years could have been.

Reviewed by Jim Hattabaugh, educational consultant, Fort Smith, Ark.


Books - Rigor for StudentsRigor for Students with Special Needs

by Barbara R. Blackburn and Bradley S. Witzel, Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2013, 128 pp., $29.95 softcover

In Rigor for Students with Special Needs, Barbara Blackburn and Bradley Witzel examine the incorporation of rigor into the special education classroom. As professors and former classroom teachers, the authors believe that rigor is necessary for all students, even those with special needs, to reach their highest potential.

    They define a rigorous academic environment as one in which each student is expected to learn at a high level, is supported so they can learn at a high level and demonstrates learning at a high level. Through stories of their personal experiences, the authors provide examples of strategies for teachers seeking to increase rigor in their classroom, focusing on the importance of student motivation, expectations, support and assessment. They even include handouts and flowcharts and make recommendations for applying modifications and making accommodations.

    Blackburn and Witzel encourage the reader to view students with disabilities as having unique abilities that may not have been discovered yet. Teachers need to adjust how they teach based upon the personal connection they make with the student, then help the child find the abilities they have within themselves.

    Its substantial appendices make this book a good reference manual for anyone in the field of special education.

Reviewed by William A. Clark, superintendent, Warren, Pa.


Books - Wiki ManagementWiki Management: A Revolutionary New Model for a Rapidly Changing and Collaborative World

by Rod Collins, AMACOM, New York, N.Y., 2013, 240 pp., $25 hardcover

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that the only thing that remains constant is change. In Wiki Management: A Revolutionary New Model for a Rapidly Changing and Collaborative World, Rod Collins presents a model of change that is “designed for adapting and innovating rather than preserving and maintaining.” This is especially relevant at a time when the public, both liberal and conservative, is demanding a change to how educators improve student performance.

         The author, who is a leading expert on the next generation of business management and the director of innovation at Optimity Advisors, a national management consulting firm, offers five principals for change: understand what’s most important to customers; aggregate and leverage collective intelligence; build shared understanding by bringing everyone together in open conversations; focus on the critical few performance drivers; and hold people accountable to their peers. The text is written from a business perspective, but it is applicable to educational management.

    It is important that innovation not be suppressed by requiring new ideas to be filtered up the entire school administration chain of command. Instead, the ideas should be assessed in an environment where majority consensus rules in order to promote group cohesion. Collins stresses that even the lowest-ranked school administrators can be seen as equal to their peers and confident in their contribution of new ideas.     

    Education will change, but will it be educators or non-educators who make the changes? Wiki Management’s philosophy encourages creativity, equality, transparency and accountability for educators who want to be the ones making the change.

Reviewed by Jerry Horgen, adjunct professor, Capella University, Minneapolis, Minn.




Superintendent Certification

A doctoral dissertation for an Ed.D. at Western Illinois University identified the importance of specific research-based skill sets and areas of knowledge among superintendents from the perspective of school board leaders.

The study also determined the type of certification to be a superintendent mattered less to board leadership than previous work experience.

This quantitative study by Teri L. Shaw sampled presidents and vice presidents of the 868 school districts in Illinois, facilitated in part by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

Copies of “Prioritizing the 21st Century Superintendent’s Skill Set and Knowledge Base from the School Board Leadership Perspective” are available from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or



Graduate Research Award

Doctoral students may submit original research papers dealing with leadership or leadership development for the annual Kenneth E. Clark Student Research Award. The winner receives a $1,000 prize and complimentary travel and lodging to International Leadership Association’s annual conference.

Papers must be authored and submitted by individuals who currently are enrolled or graduated within the past 12 months. The submission deadline is June 12.

Complete details are available from the Center for Creative Leadership (


Global Comparisons

The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League have released a joint report, “School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations.”

The study challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores, instead examining six dimensions related to student performance — equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes and system outcomes.



Gifted Programming

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Virginia has recognized the CLEAR model (Challenge Leading to Engagement, Achievement and Results) as an effective intervention for gifted students.

A report in the American Educational Research Journal attributes the model’s success to its integration of advanced curricula with effective instructional strategies.

Access the report at


Mindfulness Merits

A Canadian study has found that elementary students who take part in the mindfulness program MindUp show improved social-emotional competencies and better math performance.

The weekly lessons in breathing, attentive listening and the importance of community service promoted improvements in executive function, self-reported well-being and social behavior among students.

Read the abstract at


Homework Effects

Program for International Student Assessment data suggests that homework might perpetuate inequalities in education.

According to an OECD “PISA in Focus” report, socio-economically advantaged students spend more time doing homework than their less-advantaged peers. The amount of math homework assigned is associated with performance in the subject among students and schools, but other factors are more important in determining school system performance overall.

Read the report at


Teacher Training

A report from MDRC details early findings of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Innovative Professional Development Challenge, which is helping five school districts redesign their teacher professional development systems.

Baseline results indicate that 65 percent of teachers want to attend additional or different professional development courses but are limited by time, cost and availability. Also, half say they don’t have enough time to collaborate.

Find the full report at


Young Scholars Applicants

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is accepting applications from 7th graders for its Young Scholars Program, which offers scholarships and educational support to promising students with financial need.

Selected students and their families work with an educational adviser for tailored support from the 8th grade through high school.

The application period closes April 14. Learn more at


Grieving Students Support

AASA is a principal member of the newly formed Coalition to Support Grieving Students, along with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and nine other K-12 education groups.

The Coalition launched a website to provide educators with information on helping these students: 

Member Bloggers

The AASA website maintains a directory of members who manage a regularly updated blog. Members whose blog link is not included on the site can contact Digital and Advocacy Media Editor Francesca Duffy at

In addition, School Administrator magazine runs a “Best of the Blogs” section in each issue to publish short excerpts from five thoughtful blog posts by AASA members on an aspect of their leadership work.

Back Issues

Misplaced a previous issue? Or believe a School Administrator coverage can enrich the discussion with board members, colleagues or doctoral students? To order back issues from the past two years, visit for a list of topics including future-focused leaders, school schedules, and cyberbullying. AASA’s 150th Anniversary issue contains a rich array of articles on AASA’s origins, policymaking and conferences, plus a historical timeline, photos and more. Order forms are also available at