Reading & Resources

School Administrator, August 2017

Book Reviews
Assigning Blame: The Rhetoric of Education Reform
by Mark Hlavacik,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2016, 199 pp., $30 softcover

In Assigning Blame: The Rhetoric of Education Reform, Mark Hlavacik, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of North Texas, expands on the theory that much education reform is preceded by someone blaming someone or something else (e.g., bureaucrats protecting their own interests, failure to desegregate education and housing).

Hlavacik tests his theory by analyzing the rhetoric of four visions that have competed for control of America’s public school system — Milton Friedman’s free market, “A Nation at Risk,” Jonathan Kozol’s desegregated America, and No Child Left Behind legislation — and finds that these visions have often been promoted by identifying blame.

While this analysis of the rhetoric of education reform may be interesting to education historians, the typical superintendent is all too familiar with explanations, defenses, scapegoating, rationalizations and excuses, and will gain little from analyzing blame as it has been used to promote national educational reform.
Reviewed by Louis Wildman, professor of education, California State University-Bakersfield

Be the Change: Reinventing School for Student Success 
by Linda Darling-Hammond, Nicky Ramos-Beban, Rebecca Padnos-Altamirano and Maria E. Hyler, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2016, 264 pp., $24.95 softcover

In Be the Change: Reinventing School for Student Success, Linda Darling-Hammond and co-authors  Nicky Ramos-Beban, Rebecca Padnos-Altamirano and Maria E. Hyler tell the story of an innovative public high school in East Palo Alto, Calif., that went from a failing school in a high poverty-stricken community to a high-performing school.

The school’s unique design modified after successful small schools in New York City offers instruction that engages students in performance-based, real-world learning. Most students who come to school are not ready to learn, catch up, graduate and successfully go on to college.

Each chapter discusses aspects of student support systems such as student diversity and teacher professional development programs. The authors conclude that the answers are found not in governance changes but in a long-term commitment to building resourceful, community-based schools that connect caring teachers with families and children.

Be the Change is most useful for educators who are involved in urban education and school reform and want to turn around failing schools. Darling-Hammond’s expertise and years of educational research come together to provide sound guidelines for school improvement.
Reviewed by Diane E. Reed, associate professor and director, Educational Leadership Program, St. Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y.

The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World
by Nadia Lopez with Rebecca Paley, Viking, New York, N.Y., 2016, 266 pp., $26 hardcover

If you are a school system leader looking for a way to improve your schools’ test scores, The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World might not be for you.

If you are a school principal or one who aspires to be, this book should be on your reading list.

Nadia Lopez and Rebecca Paley bring to light the major issue in education — do we educate our students to be able to do well on state and national tests or do we educate the whole child to be successful in school, the community and world?

Lopez is the founding principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This book follows the journey she traveled from underfunded startup to ultimate success in one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City. Her focus was to end the downward spiral that keeps many inner-city children trapped in generational poverty without hope of escaping.

This book shows how one person can make a difference in the lives of many through education and hard work. Lopez challenges many commonly held concepts about education and how education can be used to engage the already disadvantaged and underprepared students, teachers, administrators and even the educational system, itself. The authors also bring to light the power of social media and the role it can play in many areas of our lives. 

The Bridge to Brilliance is filled with common-sense ways of dealing with children. Caring, loving and providing a safe environment are the basis for quality education. Many readers will be shocked by the number of hours this principal and her teachers spent changing the world along with their students. 
Reviewed by Jim Hattabaugh, assistant professor of educational leadership, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga.

How Will You Measure Your Life?  
by Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Mass., 2017, 80 pp., $9.99 softcover
How Will You Measure Your Life? by renowned author, professor and innovative leader, Clayton Christensen, is a wise, inspiring and incredibly quick read. Framing one’s career within a greater context, Christensen shares how we can employ the same principles of management and innovation for building strong organizations to personally creating a principled and high quality life. 

Christensen shares the questions he asks his MBA students to consider upon completion of his course at Harvard. He asserts that these questions are ones all leaders need to personally explore: How can I be happy in my career? How can I be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness? and How can I live my life with integrity?

In discussing each question, Christensen applies a management theory to a story from his own life that personalizes his insight and offers guidance to his readers. Believing in the noble power of management when practiced well, this tiny book is a big reminder of the significance of purposeful leadership that helps others learn and grow.

The value of this book rests in its simple, unapologetic wisdom for appreciating what truly matters in shaping one’s life and organization. 

For busy school leaders, How Will You Measure Your Life? requires little investment in reading time, but delivers big on the promise of thoughtful, invaluable lessons in life and leadership. 
Reviewed by Mary B. Herrmann, clinical assistant professor of education policy and leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room
by Jonathan C. Erwin,
 Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis, Minn., 2016, 200 pp., $39.99 softcover

The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room is a valuable resource for educators to use in classrooms or throughout a school. Author Jonathan Erwin, an educational consultant, explains why school culture matters and the impact it can have on students and staff.

Erwin provides a blueprint for establishing a positive school climate and includes step-by-step instructions in how to involve various stakeholders to implement a supportive and effective school atmosphere.  

He gives detailed information on holding a community meeting to discover the core values of the community, bringing those values to life and integrating them into the academic curriculum, and inspiring student leadership. Readers can implement Erwin's suggestions from start to finish or jump in at any step. He also provides templates for letters and activities.  

Erwin provides details about teaching social-emotional skills to students. These skills are also valuable to know when working with adults, as there are five basic human needs for all of us: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun.

For those wanting to develop a positive and supportive culture in classrooms, this book is a guide. Schools wanting to provide supportive learning environments for students and staff will also find this book valuable. 
Reviewed by Kristen Kendrick-Weikle, superintendent, Warrensburg-Latham Community Unit School District 11, Warrensburg, Ill.

The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect
by Michele Borba, Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis, Minn., 2016, 288 pp. with index, $34.99 softcover

The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention: Best Proven Practices to Combat Cruelty and Build Respect by Michele Borba is directed toward educators looking for effective ways to reduce bullying on their campuses. 

Borba presents key evidence-based practices that have been shown to reduce the impact of bullying, giving educators practical and tested strategies that will assist their schools or districts strengthen an existing program or build a new one. 

On page one of the book, Borba states her belief that “Bullying is learned, and it can be unlearned.” She then lays out the evidence and processes that can help schools make deep commitments to building empathy and reducing or preventing bullying, and its impact on everyone at a school.

The book quotes current practitioners to demonstrate the depth of the problem of bullying in schools. It also cites eye-opening statistics about who is targeted by bullies, such as a 2013 Pediatrics study that found a third of children surveyed reported being bullied for their allergies.  

Borba gives brief explanations of social and emotional learning, positive behavioral interventions and supports, restorative justice, jigsaw cooperative learning, the Responsive Classroom and other programs or practices. She directs readers to outside sources that will give more information, but she doesn’t endorse particular programs, and encourages schools to survey stakeholders and customize a program that addresses local needs.

After sharing information and examples of successful practices in the U.S. and abroad, Borba concludes by examining what she calls The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention — rules, recognize, report, respond, refuse and replace. Sample surveys and reporting forms, multistep processes to address problem areas and other practical tools that a reader could replicate to enhance an existing program or start a new one are provided. Her “inside out” approach relies heavily on stakeholders at the school, requiring more staff and parent time than a one-shot school assembly or other quick fix, but provides a realistic approach for changing school culture.
Reviewed by Bob Schultz, adjunct faculty, Brandman University, Irvine, Calif.


Coaching Leadership
A doctoral dissertation for an Ed.D. at Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., measured the effectiveness of coaching on the leadership practices of superintendents.

Michelle Harmeier targeted superintendents in seven counties in California who participated in leadership or executive coaching as a form of professional development. Their interviews were coded using AASA’s Professional Standards for the Superintendency.

All superintendents in the study reported they had received support in more than one of the eight AASA standards, usually from a retired superintendent. The leadership training was often a blended model of coaching that included both mentoring and coaching strategies and resulted in a positive experience for all superintendents.
Copies of “The Impact of Coaching on the Leadership Practices of California Public School Superintendents” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or

Twitter Use
Can superintendents successfully use Twitter to inform and support teachers, principals, students and the community?

Michael Q. Roth, in a doctoral dissertation at University of Pennsylvania, conducted a four-stage mixed-method research study to look into how superintendents use Twitter. After establishing how many superintendents had Twitter accounts and drawing a random sample from that population, Roth coded a random sample of tweets for content related to learning, leading and leveraging.

He found 17 percent have Twitter accounts and the tweet content often focused on leveraging influence instead of learning or leading. The superintendents used Twitter to promote transparency for their districts, inspire change, advocate for funding and policy, and model effective technology use. The tweets also provided direct connections with students.

Copies of “Superintendent Use of Twitter: Learning, Leading and Leveraging Through Social Media” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“Over my career, I saw issues arising repeatedly in subtly different contexts but consistently requiring a controlled and often data-driven response. Those responses require some maturity and a distanced perspective to best mitigate negative outcomes. The book was written to address complex questions — the benefits of redshirting kindergarten, the fallacy of giving students zeroes, managing adolescents’ responses to stress, etc. It’s crafted to be an education leader’s best friend.”

Angela Farmer, assistant professor of leadership and foundations, Mississippi State University and AASA member since 2014, on writing School Days 101 (Kendall Hunt, 2017)


ESSA Practices
Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education has launched a new website to provide information on programs that meet the evidence standards defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Evidence for ESSA is designed for school system leaders and others interested in ESSA evidence standards.

School Calendars
Resources for Planning the School Calendar 2017-18” is now available from the National School Public Relations Association.

Designed for complete planning, the guide provides historical dates, cultural and ethnic holidays, federal holidays and a listing of national conferences through 2019.

High-Stakes Scores
The National School Public Relations Association has released “Communication Planning and Strategic Tactics for Releasing High-Stakes Test Scores.”

The 26-page guidebook features public relations principles on releasing test scores, dealing with results of new tests and comparing scores across districts.

Social Development
The National Bureau of Economic Research has released a study of social development of 1,123 students in grades 6-10 in California schools.

The research found having computers at home increased the amount of time these students spent on social media, e-mail, games and other entertainment, but provided no evidence they were less likely to participate in sports or after-school activities.
Student Success
Addressing the Life Ready component of AASA’s Redefining Ready Campaign, the Be Life Ready initiative provides resources to ensure students possess important life skills.

Resources include a guidebook, PowerPoint presentation with presenter’s guide, videos and posters that highlight information for school staffs to use to encourage students to reach their full potential.
Warning Indicators
The Institute of Education Sciences has released a study on whether early-warning indicators work well for English learner students.

A comparison of attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions for students in six school districts in Washington state showed that early indicators are not a good tool for identifying future dropouts.

Media Literacy
Amplifying youth voice and using media to support civic engagement are goals of a new online hub launched by KQED, a San Francisco-based public radio and TV station.

KQED Learning and KQED Teach provide professional resources covering media foundations, photography and infographics. Multimedia content includes experiential activities and ideas for engaging projects.

Four-Day Weeks
Cost savings was the primary focus of a Brookings report by Paul T. Hill and Georgia Heyward that examines the four-day school week.

In interviews with district and school leaders in Idaho, they found that while parents appreciated longer school hours that matched their own work hours, teachers reported difficulty in keeping student attention after three-day weekends and the savings was minimal because of fixed costs.

Discipline Equity
The Institute of Education Sciences provides a guide to help educators determine if any ethnic groups are disproportionately suspended or expelled.

The guide offers ways to analyze data to find any inconsistencies among different ethnic groups and outlines a process to promote equity.
Safety in Schools
Crime in schools has declined over the past two decades, according to “Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2016.”

The National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that fewer students reported being bullied and there was a decrease in victimizations.
School Bus Travel
Does riding the school bus affect student absence rates?

Michael Gottfried of the University of California, Santa Barbara examined school bus-taking data from 11,000 public school kindergarten students and found that children who took the bus to school were less likely to be absent than their peers.

Read more
SEL Resources
Navigating Social and Emotional Learning from the Inside Out,” a guide to expand social and emotional learning, looks at 25 evidence-based programs and provides resources about curriculum and methods. It also details how to adapt programs for after school and summer.

Peer Tutoring
Fourth graders who tutor younger students in reading and the students they tutor demonstrate gains in vocabulary, comprehension and strategy use, according to a study at University of Maryland.

Researchers paired kindergarteners with 4th-grade “reading buddies” and encouraged them to discuss STEM-related books they’d read after a teacher-led preparation session earlier in the week. Students were tested before and after the 14-week session, and both English learners and native English speakers showed improvement.

Arts Education
Child Trends has identified “Five Ways the Arts Are Good for Kids,” a report based on research from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The report links participation in the arts to higher grades and test scores, graduation from postsecondary education and higher levels of literacy and civic engagement, especially for children who are economically disadvantaged.

Spring Journal
The Spring 2017 issue of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice includes an article about superintendents’ role in legislation and policymaking at the state level; an article about teacher observation and evaluation for measuring teacher effectiveness; and a book review of Defying Standardization: Creating Curriculum for an Uncertain Future by Christopher H. Tienken.

Digital Environments
A series of case studies featuring members of AASA’s Digital Consortium highlight the creation of dynamic, digital learning environments by superintendents.

Created by AASA and Discovery Education, the studies offer best practices and strategies that help districts transition into areas of innovation, creativity and technology.

Bereavement Resources
The Coalition to Support Grieving Students, of which AASA is a founding member, provides tools and informational resources to meet the needs of students and other members of the school community in grief over a loss.