Book Reviews

School Administrator, September 2015

CourageousCourageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools (Second Edition)
by Glenn E. Singleton
, Corwin, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2014, 312 pp., $90.95 softcover

Today’s superintendents are finding that fluency in the language and nuances of social justice is indispensable in leading 21st century schools. Social justice education can help school communities become more intentional in their work and must come from leadership.

Glenn Singleton’s second edition of Courageous Conversations about Race shows school leaders how to be advocates for those less powerful, and how to articulate problems with discipline and standardized measures of traditional achievement, which tend to disfavor students of color.

This essential reading makes the claim that passion is the cornerstone of racial equity leadership. But passion without practice and persistence cannot achieve a narrowing of the student achievement gap for students.

The author endorses addressing issues of race thoughtfully and courageously, leaving no “elephants in the room.” Implementation exercises provide professional development specifically designed to embed equality, antiracism, equity and empowerment through systemic racial equity transformation.

If you have not read the first edition and are new to <i>Courageous Conversations,<i> you will find that this is not an easy read, and it will undoubtedly raise an emotional response. The second edition provides new narratives and updated protocols for developing an effective leadership team that honors transparency, honesty and transformation through passion, practice and persistence.

Reviewed by Barbara A. Klocko, associate professor of educational leadership, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Mich.


DesigningDesigning Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project
by Thomas J. Kane, Kerri A. Kerr
and Robert C. Pianta, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2014, 616 pp. with index, $45 hardcover

The editors of Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems attempt to answer this with lessons from the Measures of Effective Teaching studies funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The goal of the research was to study effective uses of feedback to support professional development of teachers and to inform decision making in teacher preparation programs.

The book's premise is that the purpose of teacher evaluation is to improve teaching and not to be used for a high-stakes evaluation. However, both of these sometimes conflicting purposes are critical to educational leaders. Any effective and practical teacher evaluation system must be both psychometrically sound and legally defensible. Superintendents are held accountable for the leadership and operation of the school district. As such, each employee, including teachers, needs to be held to the same high standards of accountability. Accountability and compliance are essential for increasing student learning.

The conclusion reached by the researchers is something that successful superintendents already know: Measuring effective teaching is complex, and no single measurement tool can get the job done.    

Further research in this field is warranted as the debate and opinions on the subject continue to impact public perceptions and public policy. Reformers, special interest groups, state mandates, evidence-based evaluations, value added measures and the implementation of Common Core standards will keep this issue at the forefront of the national conversation.

Data analyzed for the 15 studies conducted between 2009-2012 involved more than 3,000 teachers and approximately 100,000 students in six urban districts. Phase I of the project affirmed the significance of student ratings as predictors of teacher effectiveness, accurate observation ratings and multiple measures. Phase II consisted of the use of data for feedback and evaluation, the interaction of multiple variables and measures and the value of evaluation frameworks.

The three editors have served as Pre K-12 teachers, policy consultants, researchers and professors. The 34 contributing editors, including leading teacher evaluation researcher Charlotte Danielson, represent the fields of research and statistics, university curriculum and instructor professors, as well as for-profit and nonprofit groups, including Educational Testing Service. Noticeably absent were professors of educational administration who prepare school leaders and who are actively engaged in cooperative research projects consulting with local districts and state boards of education.

This book is of value to academic researchers, professors and policy analysts. School district directors of research and assessment and a few superintendents with a penchant for research might find the text and/or portions of this book to inform their practice. However, the lengthy and wieldy tome would be of little value to the typical superintendent, who is dealing with complex issues, challenges and demands from multiple constituents. Superintendents seeking practical applications of researched-based teacher supervision, evaluation and professional development models would be better served by examining the work of highly respected practitioners in the field -- Marzano, Danielson, McGreal, DuFour and others.

Successful superintendents already implement systemwide school improvement initiatives that are not only researched-based, but also have the support, leadership and engagement of university partners, professors of educational leadership, AASA members and AASA state affiliates. Successful superintendents know that effective teaching is at the heart of school improvement. Effective supervision is vital for superintendents to meet the goal of universal success for all students.

Reviewed by Margaret A. Noe, professor of educational leadership, Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Mo.



Education is SpecialEducation is Special for Everyone: How Schools Can Best Serve All Students
by Janet D. Mulvey, Bruce S. Cooper, Kathryn F. Accurso
and Karen Gagliardi, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2014, 167 pp. with index, $28.95 softcover

Since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, public schools are required to provide a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities. Education is Special for Everyone questions the consequences of inclusion for students learning at average and above average levels.

The authors, professors who have experience as teachers and administrators in K-12 schools, begin with a brief history of special education trends, especially inclusion, in public schools. They note that policies addressing special needs students impact all students, yet the effects on the general education population are rarely addressed. Teacher preparation is not adequate for addressing the wide variety of students found in each classroom and school leaders are faced with the difficult task of providing adequate resources to address the educational needs of all students. The resulting educational experience is mediocre at best, yet lawmakers continue to pass underfunded mandates at the expense of the overall school experience.

This book takes a hard look at the impact of current practices regarding special education programs in public schools across the country. The authors are highly critical of increased demands on public schools as funds become more difficult to secure. They urge the educational community to consider the impact of special education programming on the total school environment before it is too late.

Reviewed by Edythe B. Austermuhl, superintendent, Berlin Township School District, West Berlin, N.J.

SevenSeven Myths About Education
by Daisy Christodoulou
, Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2014, 133 pp., $30.95 softcover

I expected Seven Myths About Education to be a breeze given its small size, but I was pleasantly surprised by my misconception. The author, a research and development manager at ARK Schools, described as an education charity in the United Kingdom, sets forth a text applicable to a U.S. audience.

I was captivated by the manner in which Daisy Christodoulou presents each myth, the path by which people came to support the statement of belief and an alternative perspective that deflates the myth. I found myself making notes that often contained those infamous five letters -- PARCC.  

As a student, parent and educator, I recognized the myths in action in each role during the past 30 years of my post-secondary education life. In a supervisory capacity, there were pages on which I have notations about the Charlotte Danielson model of teacher evaluation, our school district’s teacher evaluation framework and the Common Core standards.

The powerful concluding words of the book are evident in our everyday lives — knowledge liberates.

Reviewed by Hope Blecher, supervisor of language arts literacy, North Plainfield, N.J.


Total LiteracyTotal Literacy Techniques: Tools to Help Students Analyze Literature and Informational Texts
by Pérsida Himmele
and William Himmele, ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2014, 151 pp. with index, $28.95 softcover

In Total Literacy Techniques, authors Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele, both associate professors at Millersville University in southeastern Pennsylvania, share more than 50 teacher-tested tools and techniques for students in grades 3-12.

With contributions from Keely Potter, a middle school language arts teacher in Tennessee, the text includes both student and teacher insights in addition to the aforementioned teacher-tested tools and techniques. Student reflections on their own literary practices and personal journeys are included, which helps the reader make the connection between the content of the book and applied practice.

Throughout the book, several templates, surveys, rubrics, reading conference question banks, conversation simulations and examples are provided. Additionally, the text includes step-by-step directions for applied practice in relevant chapters. These items will assist teachers as they attempt to transition the content into applied practice within their classrooms.

 Through the use of the proven tools and techniques shared throughout this text, practitioners will have a strong source for “helping students comprehend, analyze, discuss, and create text that enhances students’ growth as reflective learners.” This book will surely help teachers in their effort to engage their students in both reading and writing.

Practicing school administrators, instructional coaches and teachers should find this text helps them understand effective literacy techniques and how to support all “students in their development as lifelong, independent, and critical thinkers, readers, and writers.”

Reviewed by Denver J. Fowler, assistant principal, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, Gahanna, Ohio

Triple FocusThe Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education
by Daniel Goleman
and Peter Senge, More Than Sound, Florence, Mass., 2014, 78 pp., $14.95 softcover

The subtitle of The Triple Focus suggests its approach to education is new, yet it isn’t. But it is also not the approach commonly seen in today’s education environment, focused on quick-fix test score improvements driven by misguided policy mandates.

Authors Daniel Goleman, known for his landmark advocacy for social emotional learning, and Peter Senge, whose 1991 book The Fifth Discipline introduced leaders worldwide to systems thinking, affirm and advance changes appropriate for an interdependent, complex world.

Goleman and Senge begin by outlining their respective views of SEL and systems thinking to show how teachers, principals and administrators can improve the efficacy of their work with students and simultaneously better prepare young people for life. They outline new ways for wise leaders to address the change process in order to improve student learning outcomes, noting that the industrial-age models for schooling have only changed incrementally.

The educational strategies described by Goleman and Senge are well known to effective teachers and administrators. Difficulties with implementation have caused resistance to these ideas in the past, but Goleman and Senge suggest strategies can make a positive difference. Engaging teachers, parents and policy makers in a systems approach takes leadership, creativity and careful planning. It also takes patience to avoid making it a mandate.

Thoughtful educators will see the wisdom of this short, but carefully crafted book. It is an essay that outlines an effective strategy that can improve student achievement and effectively counter ill-devised, top-down mandates to improve student achievement.

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel, adjunct professor at Whitworth University, Spokane, Wash.



Why I Wrote This Book...

Fuhr“This book was born as a result of being on the front lines for a quarter of a century. Schools will only be as great as their teaching force. Therefore, it is the responsibility of administrators to have the moxie to deal with any teacher who is marginal or borderline. This book gives specific examples of these types of teachers and remedies for improvement.”
Donald L. Fuhr, AASA emeritus member, Seneca, S.C., on co-authoring (with Mason Gary) No Margin for Error: Saving Our Schools From Borderline Teachers, Second Edition (Biblio Publishing)


Turnover and Trust

A doctoral study by Edgar B. Camacho for the Ed.D. at Walden University examined the impact of frequent superintendent succession on levels of trust and morale in small school districts.

Camacho found a significant relationship between frequent turnover and a decline in trust in districts that had two or more leadership changes within six years. But he found no effect on personnel morale.

One implication of the study is that districts can sustain high levels of trust and build leadership capacity by providing training to school boards on the impact of frequent turnover.

Copies of “Frequent Superintendent Succession: The Impact on Personnel Trust and Morale” are available from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or

Bits & Pieces

Charter Schooling

As part of a larger effort to improve the conversation about charter schools, Public Agenda and the Spencer Foundation have released a set of nonpartisan charter school resources called Charter Schools In Perspective.

The resources include a guide to charter school research on topics such as student achievement, finances, governance and diversity.

Find the resources at

Teens’ Mental Health

Researchers at University College London and the Anna Freud Centre have published “Mental Health Difficulties in Early Adolescence” in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

They studied changes in adolescents’ mental health between 2009 and 2014 and found that most aspects were stable, but girls had greater emotional problems in 2014 than in 2009.

Learn more at

Case Management

A report detailing first-year results of the Communities In Schools program, “Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out,” has been released by MDRC.

After one year, CIS students were more likely to view education as valuable and to report having positive relationships with adults and peers. Improvements in attendance, academics and discipline were not yet discernable.

Read the full report at

Scoring Principals

The journal Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis has published a paper that examines the use of student test scores as a measure of principal performance.

The research analyzes three approaches to assessing performance through test measures and compares them against non-test methods.

Read the abstract at

Home Communication

Harvard and Brown universities have released a new study, “The Underutilized Potential of Teacher-to-Parent Communication: Evidence from a Field Experiment.”

The study says struggling students’ academic performance improves when teachers are in regular communication with their parents, especially with specific advice for how to improve students’ grades.

Access the study at

Disability Outcomes

Review of Educational Research has published a systemic review of research that examines the relationship between experiences in school and post-school outcomes for students with disabilities.

Predictors of success include aspects of education, employment and independent living.

Read the abstract at

Teachers’ Judgments

The Journal of Social Policy has published “Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment.”

The University of London study found teachers stereotype students according to their level of poverty, gender and ethnicity, regardless of academic achievement.

The study can be found at

AASA Journal

Insight on how a college of education is working to develop principals to lead with confidence and racial competence is the lead research article in the Summer 2015 issue of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice.

A second article reports results from a study of principal evaluation and supervisory feedback.

The quarterly publication is intended for higher education members as well as school leaders.

Publication Awards

AASA’s Conference Daily Online received the top honor in its category at the 35th annual EXCEL Awards, which honor the best in association publishing nationwide. The four-day e-newsletter, produced at the 2015 national conference, received the silver medal in the online conference publication category.

Also, School Administrator magazine received the Award of Excellence for its November 2014 issue (“Signs of Things to Come: Eight Trends for Future-Focused Leaders”) in the National School Public Relations Association’s 2015 Publications and Electronic Media Contest. The conference e-newsletter received an Award of Merit.

Nearly 1,000 entries were submitted to NSPRA’s competition.

Community College Project

AASA and Hobsons announced a joint CGI America Commitment to Action to improve access to community colleges.

The project convenes high school, school district and community college leaders to create better pathways for the transition.

Visit for more details.