Notable Books in Education 2008

By Kathleen Vail

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson
McGraw-Hill, $32.95, 238 pages
Snapshot: Harvard Business School professor Christensen and his co-authors show how his “disruptive innovation” business principle should be applied to public education.
The buzz: “The authors do not lay blame, but with Christensen’s laser-sharp analysis they peel back all the root causes of public perception and changing goal posts for education and what it has done to the institution over time.” -- Backbone Magazine
You want to read this if: You are interested in business theory’s relevance in education and in the yet-unrealized potential of education technology.

Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right
Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder
Teachers College Press & Economic Policy Institute, $19.95, 280 pages
Snapshot: Rothstein and his coauthors outline a new accountability plan for the broad goals of education rather than testing in two or three narrow subjects.
The buzz: ‘’A superb and provocative analysis of where we’ve gone wrong on accountability and what we need to do to fix it. The book is a must-read for those seeking answers for reducing our nation’s tragic achievement disparities.’’ -- Susan B. Neuman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education
You’ll want to read this if: You’re sick of No Child Left Behind but see the advantages of accountability.

Measuring Up: What Educational Testing  Really Tells Us
Daniel Koretz
Harvard University Press, $29.95, 368 pages
Snapshot: Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Koretz writes about the strengths and limitations of standardized tests, based on a popular Harvard course for students without an extensive mathematics background.
The buzz: “Never have I seen a clearer or more sensible exploration of our testing frenzy.” -- Washington Post
You’ll want to read this if: Your eyes glaze over whenever the subject of standardized test scores comes up.

Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting!
Sandra Tsing Loh
Crown, $23, 288 pages
Snapshot: National Public Radio commentator and performance artist Loh writes about her travails with the Los Angeles public school system in getting her 4-year-old daughter into a “suitable” kindergarten.
The buzz: “Particularly good is Loh’s rendition of conversations with yuppie parents whining about the difficulty of finding kindergartens in L.A. worthy of their allegedly gifted children: ‘It’s very HARD for gifted children!’, she quotes one mother saying.” -- Washington Post
You’ll want to read this if:
You’ve ever been beset by annoying parents.

The Race Between Education and Technology
Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz
Belknap Press, $39.95, 496 pages

Snapshot: Two Harvard economists argue that technological breakthroughs are outpacing public education in the United States, creating a nation of severe inequality.
The buzz: “The good news is that if Goldin and Katz are right, the cure for income inequality is one most Americans would intuitively support: improving mass education.” -- Financial Times
You’ll want to read this if: You consider helping children prepare for a global and changing economy a priority.

Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation
Bob Wise
Jossey-Bass, $24.95, 304 pages
Snapshot: Wise, the former governor of West Virginia and current president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, urges sweeping changes to our secondary education system.
The buzz: “Mr. Wise believes (as does Bill Gates) that America’s high schools are for the most part obsolete, inherently ill equipped to meet the needs of 21st century students. The system needs to be re-made, reinvented.” -- New York Times
You’ll want to read this if: You’re worried about the high national dropout rate or want to rethink how well your high schools are doing with your students.

Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality
Charles Murray
Crown Forum, $24.95, 224 pages
Snapshot: The coauthor of The Bell Curve, Murray argues that college should be the destination of academically gifted students, and the rest should be channeled into other forms of training.
The buzz: “What Mr. Murray is really saying is that, contrary to White House policy, there should be lots and lots of children left behind.” -- New York Times
You’ll want to read this if: You think that schools should not prepare all students to attend college.

Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America
Donna Foote
Knopf, $24.95, 352 pages
Snapshot: Former Newsweek correspondent Foote follows four Teach for America teachers at a Los Angeles high school.
The buzz: “[Foote’s] inside view of TFA’s self-reinvention demonstrates what relentless reflection on, and revision of, a mission and its methods can accomplish.” -- Slate
“We learn why Teach For America has become so popular with top college graduates and why it has done so little to lift the apathy and mindlessness that infest urban schools.” -- Washington Post
You’ll want to read this if: You want to find out what works and what doesn’t in urban reform.

Stand for the Best: What I Learned After Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner-City Charter School
Thomas M. Bloch
Jossey-Bass, $24.95, 240 pages
Snapshot: The H&R Block CEO and son of the company’s founder, Bloch writes a first-person account of a midlife career change as an inner-city math teacher who later starts a successful charter school.
The buzz: “[Bloch’s] second career also cemented his opinions about American education, including a horror of social promotion, with students passed along even if they have not met minimum requirements. He wants more accountability for teachers. No Child Left Behind is an effort in that direction, but the evaluation formula is not right, he said.” -- Chicago Tribune
You’ll want to read this if: You’re intrigued by how a millionaire businessman views public schools from the inside.

Those Who Dared: Five Visionaries Who Changed American Education
Carl Glickman, editor
Teachers College Press, $17.95, 176 pages
Snapshot: Influential education reformers Deborah Meier, John Goodlad, James Comer, Ted Sizer, and Hank Levin reflect on the challenges they’ve faced and lessons learned.
The buzz: “If you were assembling the leading American thinkers and writers about education, you would have to include these five.” -- Washington Post
You’ll want to read this if: You’re curious about the roots of prevailing school reform or you’re looking for inspiration.

The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do
Peg Tyre
Crown, $24.95, 320 pages
Snapshot: Newsweek writer Tyre delivers her take on the ongoing national debate about if and why boys are falling behind girls’ achievement in school.
The buzz: “Tyre presents years of research and reporting from schools around the country and arrives at a gut-punch of a conclusion: Education in the United States is not geared to boys.” -- Washington Post
You’ll want to read this if: You believe boys are being shortchanged and are looking to bolster your position.

Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America
Paul Tough
Houghton Mifflin, $26, 304 pages
Snapshot: New York Times journalist Paul Tough chronicles the efforts of urban reformer Geoffrey Canada to create and sustain the Harlem Children’s Zone Project -- two elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school, all charters.
The buzz: “One thing Tough puts in stark relief is the fact that the goal of equality in education has been replaced with exhortations for excellence, a nice way of saying that every community is on its own, including communities of poor black kids who need the most help and suffer the worst effects of isolation.” -- Los Angeles Times
“Canada isn’t satisfied with propelling selected children to a better life; his goal is to “contaminate” the entire culture of Harlem with aspirational values, disciplined self-improvement and the cognitive tools to do better than those who came before.” -- New York Times
You’ll want to read this if: Your district serves children in poverty or if you wonder how we might solve the problem of intergenerational poverty.

We welcome your suggestions for books that other school leaders should read as well. If there is a book published in 2008 that you feel should have been on the list, send us an e-mail at with the title and the reasons why. You might see your suggestions in a future issue.

Kathleen Vail ( is the managing editor of American School Board Journal.