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October 1, 1997

Books for the Busy Administrator

Educators' calendars fill up quickly in the fall. Here are 10 "Steller Picks," books that invite you to pause and ponder the big picture. They offer advice and food for thought on public education and your constituencies—students, parents, policymakers, and the community at large.

1. Is There a Public for Public Schools?

Is There a Public for Public Schools? by David Mathews (Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation Press, 1996). $9.50.
In this notable commentary on our deteriorating commitment to public schools, Mathews argues that public schools will remain out of favor and languish unless and until the citizens in each city, town, and village reclaim their schools and demonstrate a willingness to repair what they perceive as being broken. First, however, they must rebuild their communities.
Across the nation, Mathews observes, the loss of a sense of community has further eroded the foundations of public schools. He believes that a stronger "civic infrastructure" and a healthier public life would, in turn—although there is no guarantee—produce popular mandates for good public schools. In short, he says, "There is no escaping the logic which insists that public schools can't exist without publics" (p.76).
Mathews's keen ear for social and political behavior reflect his broad experience and decade-long research into the relationship between the public body and schools. The president of the Kettering Foundation, he has also served as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Ford and as president of the University of Alabama.

2. Where He Stands: Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers

Where He Stands: Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers by Dickson A. Mungazi (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1995). $49.95.
Whenever the definitive history of American education in the 20th century is written, one of the leading characters will be Albert Shanker. As head of the American Federation of Teachers, he had his share of detractors. To some, he was a scheming proponent of collective bargaining who pursued his ambitions with unabashed fervor. To most educators or serious observers, however, Al Shanker emerged in the last 15 years of his life as an educational icon, dedicated to the marriage of professionalism and common sense.
Mungazi chronicles Al Shanker's formative years, the prelude to his ascension to power, and the historical context of the rise of teachers' unions. As a junior high mathematics teacher in the early 1950s, Shanker saw four areas as central to his vision: improving teachers' pay and working conditions, instituting collective bargaining in all school operations, improving teachers' expertise, and informing the public of the importance of public schools and the educational reforms needed to serve the changing society.
This biographical account does not reveal the inner man, but it does capture Shanker's public persona, and in so doing, significantly furthers our understanding of American education in this century.

3. Banishing Bureaucracy: The Five Strategies for Reinventing Government

Banishing Bureaucracy: The Five Strategies for Reinventing Government by David E. Osborne and Peter Plastrik (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997). $25.00.
Conservative taxpayers often refer to public schools as "government schools"—the ultimate put-down. They see bureaucracy as institutional cholesterol, clogging up the lifeblood of our educational organizations. Even though federal officials have launched a series of projects with the express purpose of "Reinventing Government"—the title of Osborne's 1992 bestseller, few school districts have attempted to reinvent themselves. If local school systems remain idle, the authors warn, others will impose reinvention—from above, in the case of state-mandated charter schools, and from below, in the form of home schooling.
By reinvention the authors mean "the fundamental transformation of public systems and organizations to create dramatic increases in their effectiveness, efficiency, adaptability, and capacity to innovate." Such change generates a built-in drive to improve. As a prime example in education, they cite Minnesota's open enrollment plan, which makes schools accountable to parents.
The "Five Cs" of government reinvention are: Core Strategy (purpose), Consequences (incentives for job performance), Customers (feedback from recipients or clients), Control (empowering staff to do what is needed), and Culture (replacing old habits with entrepreneurial approaches). Educators, say the authors, will have to translate these strategies for their use. They will find guidance in practical success stories in the United States itself, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and Britain.

4. Does Money Matter? The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement and Adult Success

Does Money Matter? The Effect of School Resources on Student Achievement and Adult Success, edited by Gary T. Burtless (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution Press, 1996). $39.95.
The answer to the title question may be obvious to educators or policymakers, but not to economists or researchers in school finance, 12 of whose opinions on the subject are brought together in this collection of essays. The writers demonstrate that the relationship between more money and student achievement depends on how student performance is measured. Researchers using standardized test scores generally have not found a statistically significant relationship between the scores and total pupil expenditures. One surprising finding, however, was that adults earn more in the job market when they come from higher spending K–12 institutions.
Practitioners can easily fault the methodology of much of this research. Regardless of an educator's—or politician's—view, each can find ample material from one or another of these studies to support it. Moreover, part of this work is only for the mathematically brave or those who love statistical formulas. Still, it is worth reading to become better informed. And I'll be looking for a sequel: Money Does Matter!

5. Every Child, Every School: Success for All

Every Child, Every School: Success for All by Robert E. Slavin, Nancy A. Madden et al. (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 1996). $27.95.
All children can learn. Educators everywhere recite this mantra. It is reinforced by positive affirmations that students recite and by graphics displayed in hallways and on stationery. High expectations are set and small gains noted. Now what?
The subtitle of this book, "Success for All," refers to a 10-year-old Title 1 reform approach to help children in reading and language arts. The program incorporated the work of a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers—including Slavin and Madden. A newer component, "Roots and Wings," adds mathematics, social studies, and science to the "Success for All" arsenal.
The authors conclude that some children in the program are still not achieving at high levels, and that we therefore need stronger early interventions. That's what they offer in their "Every Child, Every School" program—a practical approach that can make a positive difference in learning.
Educators who are oriented to curricular issues and those most concerned with teaching methods for elementary school students will both appreciate this book. The authors lead readers step by step through the program, offering concrete examples and sample lessons. The only hitch is that the program calls for a team effort, meaning that you should buy enough copies for your entire staff.

6. The Public Orphanage: How Public Schools Are Making Parents Irrelevant

The Public Orphanage: How Public Schools Are Making Parents Irrelevant by Eric Buehrer (Dallas, Tex.: Word Publishing, 1995). $14.99.
Parents want more and are demanding it. Teachers are putting in more time and effort. New programs are constantly being churned out. Yet, many believe public schools are a mess. Why? This author claims schools have become "The Public Orphanage" by usurping parents' responsibility for caring for their children. As Buehrer sees it, public schools have been wrongly transformed into social service centers. Some chapter titles give away much of the plot: "Sex Education and School Clinics," "Feminism and the Classroom," "The New Liberal Arts 101," "Multiculturalism," "The Gay Nineties: Homosexuality in the Classroom," "Pedophilia: The Next Civil Right," "The Feds Are Coming!"
Readers could conclude that the barrage of rhetoric and anecdotal reports are more than sufficient to alter perceptions of the public schools' current mission. That conclusion would be premature. In the end, a silver lining appears through the dark clouds in the form of "encouraging signs" that public schools are "becoming schools again."
Buehrer also offers 10 suggestions for holding off the public shift away from public schools and 16 recommendations for parents—even very conservative folks—on how to work with public schools. For those who want to bridge ideological gaps, the last 30 pages show how.

7. Lessons from Privilege: The American Prep School Tradition

Lessons from Privilege: The American Prep School Tradition by Arthur G. Powell (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996). $35.00.
This book will rank with Powell's earlier work, The Shopping Mall High School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985) as a classic on American schools. He unveils the inner workings of traditions that seemingly favor private schools over their public counterparts. But with this peek into the world of educational advantage, he also acquaints readers with principles that can enliven any school. This is a scholarly piece that is easy on the eyes and the heart.
Powell shows that prep schools cannot guarantee success. And he casts aside various misconceptions. For example, he describes prep school students of average abilities as working extremely hard to keep up with their more gifted companions, something they would not have done in another setting.
The power of educational community, however, propels teaching and learning to heights that would not otherwise be reached. Personal attention and academic coaching obviate the need for a mechanized guidance system or structured safety net. Strict standards and a united academic push—collectively supported—create a sense that everyone is moving toward the same vision.

8. Dealing With an Angry Public: The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes

Dealing With an Angry Public: The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes by Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field (New York: The Free Press, 1996). $25.00.
What with teacher bashing, union busting, administrative purges, and the like, educators may feel that they are the only ones under the gun. Take heart. This book is filled with examples showing that a segment of the public will react negatively to nearly any new initiative in any field—and that these reactions have become sophisticated and volatile.
Many organizations—public and private—must now "Deal with an Angry Public" and educators can learn from their experiences. The authors outline principles of "the Mutual-Gains Approach" to negotiating with, rather than fighting, the opposition. To wit: Acknowledge the other side's concerns; encourage joint fact-finding; offer contingency plans to minimize any adverse effects and promise to compensate victims of knowable but unintended effects; accept responsibility, admit mistakes, and share power; act in a trustworthy fashion at all times; and build long-term relationships.
The authors repeatedly make the point that we must not ignore the public's fear, anger, and frustration. Left unattended, these feelings are eroding confidence in the institutions that hold our society together.

9. Rewards and Reforms: Creating Educational Incentives that Work

Rewards and Reforms: Creating Educational Incentives that Work, edited by Susan H. Fuhrman and Jennifer A. O'Day (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996). $32.95.
Baseball teams often offer certain players extra pay for every home run beyond 20 they hit in a season. Many other businesses also offer incentive programs. So why not offer rewards or incentives for educators—particularly when reforms aren't implemented fast enough and performance isn't high enough? Certainly this is not a new idea. But as this comprehensive compendium shows, this movement is gathering steam. Scholars and practitioners from both educational and noneducational settings describe a variety of incentives and rewards.
Casual readers may find more information here than they desire, but anyone with more than a passing interest in "Educational Incentives that Work" will find no better resource.

10. Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water

Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water by Peter B. Vaill (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996). $24.00.
The fierce pace of change and the chaotic sense of organizational life these days led Peter Vaill to coin the phrase "permanent white water" in his previous book, Managing as a Performing Art (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989). The phrase refers to the new situations into which people are being continually thrust. According to Vaill, the only way to ride out this turbulence is to never stop learning.
The author, however, goes beyond the cliches and testimonials about lifelong learning. He focuses on how to conduct training and educational programs more effectively. He wants readers to view his philosophy of learning as a radical manifesto, in sharp contrast to the more institutionalized forms of schooling or staff development. Educators can read this treatise on two levels: for guidance in teaching and for themselves and their colleagues. From either vantage point, Learning as a Way of Being is stimulating.

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