Tag Archives: school days

School Days in America

You can hear the pinewood burnin’/You can hear the school bell ring/Gotta get up near the teacher if you can/If you wanna learn anything… – Bob Dylan, “Floater (Too Much to Ask)”

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In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better by Richard DuFour (Solution Tree, $34.95, 256 pages)

Money Where the Mouth is

In the “old days,” Mr. Zimmerman’s conventional wisdom might have been considered the best advice going on how to do well in school. Conform, comply, raise your hand, turn in your work on time, please the teacher, memorize facts, get your “A” – and away we go. Some will go to college, some will not, and que sera sera. But times have changed. We know better now, and the stakes are too high to continue to proceed in a business as usual approach. Despite this, far too many schools and districts across the country – much less policy makers and elected officials, refuse to address culture, adjust practice, and change education policy in ways that establish systems and funding mechanisms to support a changing profession.

Imagine if you went to a doctor who butchered your knee instead of performing a simple scope? Yet, all too often emotion and nostalgia, not knowledge, drive decision making in public education; the system goes limping along. Then, when low results do not coincide with high expectations, it’s blame the teacher and fire the superintendent time.

The title of Rick DuFour’s latest book, In Praise of American Educators, is a tad deceiving. While he does indeed laud educators for their many accomplishments – such as record graduation rates – he also addresses the urgency for improvement. However, unlike many who criticize for profit or personal gain, DuFour actually offers a solution. Not surprisingly, that solution is Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

PLCs are not a structure or a program, but, rather, a way of life focused on professional collaboration and capacity building in which it is unacceptable for some students to fall short of mastery. Learning targets are clearly identified, student progress monitored in real time, and a system of interventions and enrichment for all students institutionalized. DuFour cites the top research from leaders in the filed, most notably Fullan, Hattie, Marzano, Hargraeves, Stiggins, McTighe, and Darling-Hammond.

For educators who have embraced DuFour’s work, many of the concepts will be familiar. But while the approach and presentation is unique and insightful at times, I don’t think this book was primarily written for educators. I think the intent of this book is to move a larger audience to both sensibility and action. Though many educators will read and enjoy this work, like Diane Ravitch’s mea culpa The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn’s Coherence, or Sir Kenneth Robinson’s classic TED talk, How to Escape Education’s Death Valley, the book’s greatest impact would be if those in positions of power and the general populace actually read it, and – even better yet, listened.

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DuFour is battling cancer. In the Acknowledgments section of the book he writes, “It is because of them (his professional colleagues) that I know the number of educators embracing PLCs will continue to grow and flourish long after I am gone.” For the good of the kids, and for the good of the country, let us hope he is right, as he has been so many times before. Oh, and thanks, Rick.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of the Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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School Days

Where You Go (Nook Book)

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Process Mania by Frank Bruni (Grand Central Publishing, $25.00, 218 pages)

“For too many parents and their children, getting into a highly selective school isn’t just another challenge, just another goal. A yes or no from Amherst or Dartmouth… or Northwestern is seen as the conclusive measure of a young person’s worth, a binding verdict on the life that he or she has led up until that point, an uncontestable harbinger of the successes or disappointments to come. Winner or loser: This is when the judgment is made. This is the great, brutal culling. What madness. And what nonsense.”

Frank Bruni has the good sense to argue that adult life may begin with one’s acceptance into a college, but it does not end there. Students are responsible for what they make out of their education, whether at an elite or less well known university. As he states, “Great educations aren’t passive experiences; they’re active ones.” He builds up his case by noting that several prominent and successful leaders in our society attended smaller, less “prestigious” colleges. Condoleeza Rice, for example, attended the University of Denver as an undergraduate. Steve Jobs, of course, dropped out of college, as did Bill Gates. Did Rice and Jobs and Gates turn out to be losers? Failures? Not exactly.

Bob Morse, who heads the college rankings program at U.S. News & World Report, did not go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati before getting his MBA from Michigan State. As Morse has concluded, “It’s not where you went to school. It’s how hard you work.”

Bruni emphasizes that some students will feel more comfortable at a small college offering a “more intimate academic environment,” even if schools like Kenyon, Denison, St. Lawrence or – a school I’m adding to his list – the University of the Pacific (UOP) are “less venerated than Princeton, Brown and Cornell.” For some, smaller colleges are “ideal environments: especially approachable, uniquely nurturing.” (UOP hangs banners reminding its students that it offers “Professors who know your name.”)

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In this calm, forthright book, Bruni tries to reduce the “madness” of the college admission process, noting that there are several inherent flaws and biases that applicants have little or no control over. For example, a particular college may need a couple of trombone players for the band. If you are the first or second trombone-playing applicant, you may get a large packet offering you admission and a scholarship. If you’re the third trombonist applicant, you’ll likely receive a thin envelope containing a rejection notice. If life, as John F. Kennedy stated, is not fair, than neither is the process of determining who gets into our colleges and universities.

Students who suffer the consequences of unfair admissions policies will learn that it will not be their last experience with life’s unfairness. What counts is their positive response to adversity and their perseverance in making the best of whatever circumstance they have to settle for.

Bruni’s book would be an excellent purchase for high school students who feel threatened by the highly competitive process of seeking admission to a so-called “elite” university. Reading his book may help such students to calm down, and feel encouraged to investigate various colleges, not just the “status” schools that their classmates may lust after. (Any school can offer a fine, valuable education to students ready to demand a lot from themselves and their environment.) This book is also a near indispensable guide for the parents of current high school students.

Where You Go… reminds the reader, young or old, high school student or adult parent, that “there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything (in life) hinges.” Some, in fact, will find that a valuable lesson can be learned via being rejected by one’s top choice universities. One young woman, a graduate of the famed and “charmed” Phillips Exeter Academy, was rejected by all five of the colleges she applied to. She states that, “There’s a beauty to that kind of rejection, because it allows you to find the strength within.” That young woman started up a new federally-supported public elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona. A loser? Hardly.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Thank you to Daniel D. Holt for serving as editor on this piece.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-where-you-go-is-not-wholl-youll-be-an-antidote-to-the-college-admissions-mania-by-frank-bruni/

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