Book Reviews

School Administrator, August 2015
Age of OppAge of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence
by Laurence Steinberg,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, N.Y., 2014, 253 pp., $28 hardcover

Just when parents of teenagers thought they were almost finished dealing with those hormone-driven, hypersensitive creatures, along comes Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University, with a different story.

We have been lulled into thinking that adolescence begins with the teenage years and ends sometime around high school graduation. How wrong we are! According to Steinberg's brain science research, adolescence lasts three times as long as it used to. Perhaps 25-year-olds living at home shouldn’t worry us after all.

Remember the days when your 0-3-year-old seemed to grow overnight and was interested in everything? Brain research indicates this same tremendous brain growth is repeated during adolescence, but with a different focus. As during the first three years of life, the brain of a tween is very malleable — but that can be a double-edged sword.

During adolescence, regions of the brain responsible for self-control and decision making are still forming and may not be fully developed until the mid-to-late 20s. This malleable brain can be nurtured by positive experiences, but is also more easily harmed by toxic ones. Young people are sensitive to a wide array of experiences, from drugs to criticism, music to social cues.

Parents, educators, counselors, youth pastors and anyone else dealing with this age group will learn a great deal from this book. At the very least, the new timetable for adolescence means we must be careful about judging youth based on our memories of ourselves at their age. The times, they are a changin’.

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

DilemmasDilemmas in Educational Leadership: The Facilitator’s Book of Cases
by Donna J. Reid,
Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y.,  2014, 130 pp., $29.95 softcover

In Dilemmas in Educational Leadership, Donna J. Reid explores the difficulties confronting teachers and instructional facilitators as they seek to bring about instructional change in their classrooms, departments or schools. An educational consultant with classroom teaching and research experience, Reid draws upon her own experiences and observations in her writing.

While the book is well-written, its title is misleading. It would have been more appropriate to have titled it “instructional” or “teacher” leadership to define the scope of its content. The struggles reported are those of teachers conflicting with other teachers in professional learning communities. The target audience is teachers, not administrators and certainly not superintendents.  The lessons contained in Reid’s book would be more useful to department or grade-level chairs.

I cannot recommend this book to my colleagues.

Reviewed by Marc Space, superintendent, Grants-Cibola County Schools, Grants, N.M.


EndangeringEndangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School
by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson
and Ludger Woessmann, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2013, 125 pp.,  $22.95 softcover

Endangering Prosperity presents research findings demonstrating it takes decades for improvements in educational results to impact the economy, and the authors assert that barring some external catastrophe, the economy of the United States will continue over the short term to be dominating, independent of educational achievement.

The authors include three well-established researchers -- Eric A. Hanushek, Senior Fellow at Stanford University; Paul E. Peterson, professor of government at Harvard University; and Ludger Woessmann, professor of economics at the University of Munich. Together they have compiled a variety of research data, which is written in an easily understood language.

It is in the long-term economy, beyond the political cycles of governors and presidents, where education results become most influential. After demonstrating the somewhat stagnant student achievement in this country compared with rising improvements in other countries, these researchers conclude there is a definite downward comparison trend in education rankings.

The well-documented finding that U.S. student achievement progress has slowed in comparison with other countries is not shocking. The predicted impact of reaching higher educational outcome goals on the long-term economy is fascinating. The specific forecasting examples fortified with mathematical precision present an optimistic vision for the future.

If U.S. students could advance to match the achievement of German students, the economic impact on the Gross Domestic Product would be 10 times greater than the total losses from the 2008 recession. If students from the U.S. could reach the continuing results of our neighboring Canadian students for a generation or more, U.S. paychecks would increase by 20 percent until nearly the end of this century. Bringing 20 percent of low-performing U.S. students up to international proficiency levels could raise the GDP by 12 percent for the next 80 years. Similar examples are provided for the various long-term impacts on state economies by raising student achievement.

The authors acknowledge that some zealots who have excuses for American education will not agree with nor be persuaded by the data. For example, critics of standardized tests will not be satisfied with statements such as, “Standardized tests do not capture all aspects of human capital, but they at least distinguish those who have acquired the essentials from those who have not. They also correlate highly with measures of those who will continue to more advanced levels of schooling and those who will gain more from future education.”

Likewise, these researchers dispel the notion that poverty deflates U.S. education more than education in other countries by showing the corresponding levels of poverty in other countries. Arguments apologizing for low U.S. scores due to minority students are refuted with the facts that other countries also have large minority populations and that white students in the U.S. also underperform on international assessments.

This book recognizes that improving schools is difficult. The title – Endangering Prosperity – suggests another dark doom and gloom book about public education in the US. Since much of the data is negative, it can be read that way. On the other hand, it can be read as the overall design for Ensuring Prosperity.

Reviewed by Art Stellar, vice president, National Education Foundation, McLean, Va.

Essential GuideThe Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools: A 1-Hour Book with More Than 350 Links
by Stan Levenson,
self-published, 2014, 118 pp., $19.95 softcover

Stan Levenson, author and consultant, long has been associated with pubic school fundraising. He has written two other books on this topic, Big Time Fundraising for Today’s Schools and How to Get Grants and Gifts for the Public Schools and has been published in a variety of professional journals.

To the delight of today’s busy school administrators, reading this book takes less than one hour. It includes a comprehensive list of organizations and resources for fundraising in the educational sector. More than 350 internet links are provided, but contact names, mailing addresses and phone numbers are absent.

The section titled “Grant Writing from Mini-grants to Major Grants” helps the reader get started with a basic step-by-step process. Levenson suggests beginning with a small grant application, refining one’s skills, then moving on to larger state and federal grants. The book also contains a list of K-12 educational consultants who provide grant-writing services.

The section on corporate and foundation grants informs the reader that these funding sources usually require less technical writing, but more relationship building. The author provides a 15-step process for winning corporate and foundation grants and includes a list of 125 foundations and corporations supportive of education. There is no guidance about these organizations’ priorities, however. Levenson outlines a generic cultivation process, supported with 12 specific tips for making connections.

He advises that a development office be set up in if one wishes to establish a school foundation, run campaigns or pursue planned giving programs. Overall, this source for basic tips will save the novice fundraiser much time.

Reviewed by Art Stellar, vice president of the National Education Foundation, McLean, Va.


Savvy PrincipalThe Savvy Principal: What Streetwise Principals Know
by Jody Capelluti,
R&L Education, Lanham, Md., 2014, 113 pp., $42 hardcover

It takes more than an education degree to be a highly successful principal, writes Jody Capelluti in The Savvy Principal. A professor of educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine, Capelluti has worked extensively with principals as a coach and mentor.

In 18 concise and engaging chapters, he outlines the traits of savvy principals. Insights abound in chapters titled “Real Change Isn’t Easy,” “Making Decisions That Stick” and “Parents Are Your Best Friends.”

The author provides a quiz that will help both new and experienced principals determine how savvy their leadership is. He makes the case that principals need to develop common sense to become savvy, and he provides practical advice for accomplishing this.

Reviewed by Darroll Hargraves, consultant, School and Community Resources, Wasilla, Alaska


Dress Codes 2Student Dress Codes and the First Amendment: Legal Challenges and Policy Issues
by Richard Fossey
and Todd A. DeMitchell, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2014, 114 pp., $25.95 softcover

In Student Dress Codes and the First Amendment, authors Richard Fossey, professor of education at the University of Louisiana, and Todd A. DeMitchell, professor of education and justice studies at the University of New Hampshire, focus on legal and policy issues pertaining to student dress codes.  The book’s six chapters discuss the controversy over student expression through clothing choices and the challenges that confront public school administrators. 

The Fossey and DeMitchell use four Supreme Court decisions as a basis for their discussions and guidance: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, Bethel School District 403 v. Fraser, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhimeier, and Morse v. Frederick. In addition to the Supreme Court cases, the authors analyzed other case decisions resolved at a lower level, offering their commentary on the decisions. 

The book examines cases regarding nonspecific messages on student clothing; political messages, drugs and the Confederate flag; and content specific messages involving student attire such as abortion and sexual orientation. In the final chapter, the authors offer recommendations to school administrators regarding the drafting of student dress code policies that will pass constitutional muster.

The reader enjoyed the practical manner in which the authors argued for balance between the rights of students to express themselves at school and the responsibilities of administrators to maintain a safe and orderly environment. There are legitimate reasons for schools to adopt a student dress code, primarily for safety and to enhance the learning environment, but the authors also reminded educators of the cost and time incurred in pursuing litigation.

The book is useful for any school administrator, particularly those in a middle school or high school setting.  Superintendents should read this book before tackling school dress policies or revising student handbooks.  While the book contained much information, it can be read over a weekend and can serve as a valuable guideline when dealing with student dress issues.

Reviewed by Paul Shaw, director of educator ethics, Georgia Professional Standards Commission, Atlanta, Ga.



Why I Wrote This Book...

“As principal of a school that was failing, I took the school from chaos to a field of dreams with the help of my staff. We evaporated suspensions and bullying while increasing test scores using the strategies in Ken Blanchard’s Whale Done! The Power of Positive Relationships. The change was in the people, and they began to focus on the positive in the students. … I wanted to share our strategies with educators everywhere.”

Cynthia Zurchin, superintendent, Ambridge, Pa., and AASA member since 2009, on co-authoring The Whale Done School: Transforming a School’s Culture by Catching Students Doing Things Right (AuthorHouse, 2012)



Framing Innovation

A doctoral dissertation at Boston College explored how superintendents gain support for large-scale technology initiatives in their districts. In this 2014 study, researcher Peter D. Cohen examined the leadership of superintendents in five districts that moved toward a one-to-one learning environment. He found that a superintendent’s attitude toward technology has a strong impact on the support he or she is able to garner for the initiative. The study was inconclusive regarding the impact of the superintendent’s own use of technology on support for the initiative.

Copies of “Framing Innovation: The Impact of the Superintendent’s Attitude and Use of Technology on the Acceptance of Large-Scale Technology Initiatives” are available from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or

Bits & Pieces

Turnaround Schools

A report from the Center for American Progress, “Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement,” profiles four turnaround schools that used federal funding and research-based methods to improve student outcomes.
CAP found that best practices for school turnaround include aggressive action on the part of school districts, governance and staffing changes, data-driven decision making and a focus on school culture and nonacademic support for disadvantaged students.
Access the report at
Diversity Communications
The National School Public Relations Association has released a Diversity Communications Toolkit as a resource for school leaders trying to reach increasingly diverse communities.
The toolkit includes tips for increasing cultural competency, creating welcoming parent/family centers and implementing translation and interpretation services.
Order a copy at
Brookings Study
The Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy has released the 14th edition of its annual report on American education titled “How Well Are American Students Learning.”
The studies cover student engagement, the gender gap in reading and the impact of the Common Core State Standards on reading achievement.
Read the report at
Earlier Start Times
A report in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that earlier elementary school start times are a risk factor for poor school performance.
Earlier start times were associated with lower test scores, lower school rank and more absences from school, especially for students from better-off families.
Read the abstract at
Social Emotional Impact
A study by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education examines “Social Emotional Learning in High School: How Three Urban High Schools Engage, Educate, and Empower Youth.”
Researchers studied three socioeconomically and racially diverse high schools in Boston, Brooklyn and San Antonio to determine how the design, implementation and practice of schoolwide social emotional learning can affect students’ educational experiences and outcomes.
Learn more at
Family Structure
A study in the British Educational Research Journal shows that students who experience instability in family structure are 33 percent less likely to stay in school after age 16 than their peers with married biological parents.
The study found no difference in educational persistence of children living in cohabitating biological families and those living in married biological families.
Find the report at
Effective Principals
New Leaders and the George W. Bush Institute have released a collaborative report, “Great Principals at Scale: Creating District Conditions that Enable All Principals To Be Effective.”
Four strands emerged from their research to bring about successful school leadership: aligned goals and strategies, a culture of collective responsibility, effective support for principals and systems to manage talent.
The full report is available at

Urban Superintendents Academy
AASA is partnering with the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education to create more pathways for underrepresented educators to become school district leaders.
The USC model will use an online program, offering live synchronous and asynchronous courses. The program will include in-person immersion sessions and mentoring by local superintendents, wherever the student is based.
More details are at
AASA & ChromaGen
A new AASA collaboration is with ChromaGen, maker of a lens technology solution for students who have reading difficulties.
For more information, visit
Advantage Workshop
A workshop, co-sponsored by AASA and the Thought Leaders Network, for increasing employee engagement and tapping into intrinsic motivation, will be held Oct. 20-21 in Alexandria, Va. It is led by Shawn Achor, who made the cover of Harvard Business Review, based in part on a popular TED talk.
More information is available at