Reading & Resources

School Administrator, November 2018

Book Reviews
Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay
by Doris A. Santoro,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2018, 224 pp. with index, $31 softcover

Doris Santoro distinguishes between teacher burnout and demoralization in her book Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay, which describes the crisis inflicting many teachers and causing them to leave the profession. It is this distinction through which Santoro helps the reader have hope for the teaching profession.

Santoro, an associate professor of education at Bowdoin College, acknowledges the very real danger that teacher burnout can have on the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn. However, she recognizes that in many cases, sources of burnout are things a teacher can identify and resolve with a little bit of coaching or other assistance. “Burnout signals that something is amiss with a teacher who could otherwise be doing good work in her position,” she writes. 

It is the notion of demoralization that is far more threatening, insidious, systemic and destructive to the teaching profession than burnout. For Santoro, demoralization “derives from teachers’ inability to enact the values that motivate and sustain their work.” What teachers are being asked to do by outside entities like state boards, policy makers and testing/accrediting agencies — the things they are compelling their students to do — are contrary to teacher values. In some instances, says Santoro, the teachers fear that they may in fact being doing harm to the children.

Yet there is hope. Santoro devotes the second part of the book to ways to combat conditions that invite demoralization and its consequence, burnout. This is the part of the book superintendents should consider. It suggests school leadership and teacher groups and unions as sources for re-moralizing teachers. 

Many superintendents are familiar with the challenges of teacher attrition, but they lack strategies to attack the forces that push excellent teachers out of the classroom. Santoro’s model of leadership can prove to be an excellent source for professional learning among central office staff and school-based leaders to create spaces for teachers to do good work.

Reviewed by Zach Kelehear, vice president for instruction and innovation, Augusta University, Augusta, Ga.

Everyday Courage for School Leaders
by Cathy Lassiter,
Corwin, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2017, 204 pp. with index, $33.95 softcover

Everyday Courage for School Leaders, written by educational consultant, Cathy Lassiter, affirms that a missing piece in the current narrative related to effective school leadership is the acknowledgement of the courage it takes to lead a school. Courage is the antecedent to effective instructional leadership, progressive human capital management and organizational excellence. Lassiter argues that school leaders need to act courageously every single day under increasingly complex conditions, to ensure equity and excellence for the students and communities they serve. 

The book progresses from a focus on understanding courage to the imperative of acting courageously. The author begins with articulating core principles and defining the different domains of courage including moral, intellectual, empathetic and disciplined courage. 

The first section of the book details each domain and makes a compelling argument about the importance of courage in everyday leadership. The second section describes the practices that are essential for courageous leaders. These practices are related to trust, accountability and risk-taking. The author refers to these practices as the “three cups of courage.”  

A particular strength of this comprehensive and thoughtful book is the overarching assumption that effective leadership begins with understanding and believing in oneself. Courage is not a special trait reserved for a chosen few, but rather one that can be learned and strengthened with the right mindset and practice. 

Driven by an ambitious purpose to enhance a leader’s inner strength through practice, Lassiter provides a coherent framework for effective leadership with everyday courage at the core. Richly resourced with principal cases studies and an abundance of self-reflective tools, Everyday Courage for School Leaders serves as a roadmap for making courage — an often invisible, yet essential trait — an explicit and intentional leadership practice. 

Reviewed by Mary B. Herrmann, clinical assistant professor, Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Schools, Systems, and States
edited by Frederick M. Hess
and Max Eden, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 250 pp. with index, $31 softcover

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is 392 pages long with 10 major sections/titles. The reality is both aspiring and practicing school leaders, as well as stakeholders, may not be able to carve out the time required to read the act in its entirety. Furthermore, they may not be able to fully comprehend what it means for their schools, states and the nation’s education system as a whole. 

In The Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Schools, Systems, and States, (a volume in Harvard Education Press’s Educational Innovations Series), editors Frederick Hess and Max Eden have successfully assembled some of the nation’s leading researchers, policy analysts and journalists to examine ESSA in its entirety while clearly disseminating this information within each chapter, in a thoughtful and concise manner. This analysis includes the history of the act, starting with the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) of 1965 to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and, finally, to ESSA of 2015.

Key elements of the text include an in-depth review of how ESSA was passed and what it really says (especially as it applies to Title I — a formula grant focused on the “Education of the Disadvantaged”) in those 392 pages. This well-balanced analysis of ESSA includes a chapter making a case for ESSA, immediately followed by a chapter making a case against ESSA, both with strong arguments for each decisive stance on the bill. To this end, readers will have the opportunity to see both the positives and negatives associated with ESSA. 

In addition, readers will be delighted to find a chapter devoted to how ESSA influences state policy. In this chapter, an unblemished report of how federal policy shapes state policy is clearly outlined with reports on two hot topics: Common Core (including standards and assessments) and school choice, among others. 

In the chapter that follows, a connection between ESSA and the urban school setting is made. In essence, the reader will learn what ESSA means for our nation’s urban public schools as it applies to accountability, reporting requirements, resource allocation, assessments and the underlying issue of state capacity. 

In the final two chapters, the authors discuss if ESSA is progress or regress, and offer an analysis of the past 50 years from ESEA to ESSA. In the conclusion, editors Hess and Eden reveal three potential pitfalls and the unintended consequences ESSA will most surely have on our schools, systems and states, while discussing what may be the future of ESSA. 

My only criticism of the text is the lack of content dedicated to ESSA and what it means for our nation’s suburban and rural schools. I strongly believe the text would have benefited from chapters dedicated to these two district locales, in addition to the chapter focused on the urban school setting. Nevertheless, this book will surely benefit all stakeholders in the preK-12 educational setting, as well as those individuals preparing aspiring school leaders and educators in the higher education setting.  

Reviewed by Denver J. Fowler, program coordinator and assistant professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, California State University, Sacramento, Calif.

Fearless Conversations School Leaders Have to Have
by Irving C. Jones Sr.
and Vera Blake, Corwin, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2018, 190 pp. with index, $32.95 softcover

The book Fearless Conversations School Leaders Have to Have is really about fearless leadership. Irving Jones and Vera Blake believe that, in order for today’s school leaders to be successful, they must be prepared to recognize and execute strategies that encourage staff members to work at their full potential. At the same time, it is imperative to build trust and strengthen collegiality among teachers, families and the community. This book is written to address the leadership skill development of central office supervisors, school administrators, aspiring administrators and teacher leaders in their efforts to create an environment for school success.
This book provides practical strategies for school-wide improvement. Readers can learn from interviews and case studies that illustrate the importance of suggested practices. Approaches are provided that help leaders move their thinking from customary methodologies toward more innovative leadership reasoning. 

The content provided is supported by both research and common sense. Snippets of sample interactions bring clarity to identified strategies and can help prepare leaders for difficult conversations. Included are examples of mistakes to avoid and commonsense approaches to problems leaders often face. It can be used as a handbook or guide to strengthen leadership capacity in school systems. Although some of the scenarios can be a bit tedious and idealistic, this book contains sound reasoning for recommendations that are included. There is clearly a focused intention to empower readers in facilitating change to improve opportunities for students, teachers and other stakeholders. 

Fearless Conversations is organized into chapters that include spotlights on effective practices, data collection strategies, planning guides and reflective questions. There is also a Daggett System for Effective Instruction questionnaire that can be completed as a team to create action plans for school improvement.

The authors want leaders to become fearless in their quest to improve schools. They describe leaders who know how to seize the moment to have honest and rich discussions about data that generate thinking around common goals. This can happen while also supporting teachers in their efforts to infuse creativity and innovation into classroom learning, but it can only occur when leaders have the courage to have fearless conversations. 

Reviewed by Jeffrey J. Smith,
superintendent, Balsz School District, Phoenix, Ariz.

Leading with Resolve and Mastery: Competency-Based Strategies for Superintendent Success
by Robert K. Wilhite, Jeffrey T. Brierton, Craig A. Schilling
and Daniel R. Tomal, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 162 pp. with index, $32 softcover

Leading with Resolve and Mastery, by Robert Wilhite, Jeffrey Brierton, Craig Schilling and Daniel Tomal, is a comprehensive primer on what it takes to succeed as a superintendent today. They look at how the superintendency has evolved and summarize the 2015 Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL). For new or aspiring superintendents, this is a quick landscape review.

The authors, represent broad backgrounds with experience in K-12 leadership, the superintendency, business management and corporate work. Currently, they all work in higher education. 

Early in the book they address the issue of resolve, urging superintendents to impact culture and move from teaching to learning. Their research highlights the importance of collaboration, vision, instructional leadership and strategic planning. They go on to advocate for a “third way” which intentionally integrates learning communities, core competencies and systems thinking.  

The rest of the book addresses mastery of the new national PSEL. They provide a succinct summary for each of the standards as well as current trends and illustrations from their experience. Each chapter includes case studies, discussion questions, references and a cross reference to the new PSEL standards.   

This book will be a valuable resource to new superintendents preparing for interviews or moving into new positions. New board members may also find the book helpful in becoming more fully aware of the wide range of district leadership. There is an immense amount of material summarized in a relatively short book, and the authors highlight the skills, challenges and trends that are most likely to help superintendents succeed by Leading with Resolve and Mastery. 

Reviewed by Larry L. Nyland, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle, Wash.

Public School Finance Decoded:  A Straightforward Approach to Linking the Budget to Student Achievement 
by Jay C. Toland,
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2017, 103 pp., $22 softcover

Public School Finance Decoded: A Straightforward Approach to Linking the Budget to Student Achievement by Jay C. Toland, chief financial officer for Scotland County Schools in Laurinburg, N.C., was not what I expected. I was hoping to find a research-based discussion of correlations of budget expenditures with measures of student achievement. Although a number of factors are listed as contributing to student achievement, there are no citations to be found.

Toland makes the case that there is only so much money to go around and that it behooves administration to channel those funds to programs that best result in increasing the probability of student achievement. To that end, he advocates for the finance department to have a “seat at the table” during budget deliberations. 

Achievement in the book appears to be measured historically and comparatively for district programs. That is, is there an upward or downward trend, and how does one school’s rating in the district compare to the others? These trends are then matched to trends in per pupil expenditures.

The bulk of the book is more about efficiency. Toland correctly asserts that money wasted on inefficiency could and should be reallocated and spent on strategies to increase student achievement. Good tips are provided on where to look in transportation, food service, maintenance and operations, technology, etc. 

An administrator might find this book helpful as he or she searches for ways to reallocate expenditures to programs deemed to be more successful in increasing student achievement. 

Reviewed by Leonard H. Elovitz, clinical supervisor, Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J.

Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap (2nd edition)
by Paul C. Gorski,
Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2018, 233 pp. with index, $29.95 softcover

I don’t read with sticky notes. I don’t generally highlight while reading. I certainly don’t take pictures of book pages and tweet out my excitement. All of those happened with Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty.

After hearing Paul Gorski at the School Reform Initiative Winter Meeting in Denver some years ago, his passion, practicality and advocacy have been on my mind. This book allowed me to continue a conversation with him, just through text.

Recommended for any educator or those who support them — superintendent, principal, teacher, teacher candidate, board member — Gorski’s logic is unparalleled as he lays out the case of poverty being a societal ill. Until our society does something about it, schools will continue to carry the lion’s share of Band-Aid approaches. 

However, Gorski doesn’t stop at offering a political treatise; instead, he also lays out a clear framework for “equity literacy” — a must-need for any educator in America who works with students and families of various economic means. 

Reviewed by Thomas Van Soelen, president, Van Soelen & Associates, Lawrenceville, Ga.

You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!: And 18 Other Myths About Teachers, Teacher Unions, and Public Education
by William Ayers, Crystal Laura
and Rick Ayers, Beacon Press, Boston, Mass., 2018, 240pp., $16 softcover

You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones!: And 18 Other Myths About Teachers, Teacher Unions, and Public Education, is not light reading. Each of the 19 myths, as presented by William Ayers, Crystal Laura and Rick Ayers, can be read and discussed separately from the preceding chapter. In this book, it is not clear which author wrote which myth and the accompanying reality check. I also felt as if, at times, I was being reprimanded rather than being part of a discourse. 

The authors, educators, scholars and activists, introduce some newer terms such as “tourist teacher” and Latinx, and mention African-American students more than once.

I posit that some of what the trio states is what keeps education leaders going to work each day. Most official curricula do not support flexible, discovery-based learning. As such, good teachers must “have the courage to explore learning with their students on their own terms,” the authors write. They contend these risks are worth taking.

As school leaders journeying in education, we begin and end with the recognition of the humanity not only of our students and what they bring to class, but also of our teachers and what they bring to class. It is a symbiotic relationship at best that, throughout my reading of this book, was jostled until the closing words of the last reality check. 

Reviewed by Hope S. Blecher, curriculum coordinator, Yeshivat He’Atid, Teaneck, N.J., and adjunct professor, Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J. 

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“Courageous leadership is needed to disrupt oppressive systems that have perpetuated marginalization. To make needed changes, leaders must build support and coalitions that survive the inevitable challenges associated with transformation. I wrote this book to share experiences and anecdotes to describe a culture development process that will result in exceptional achievement for all students and communities.”

Luvelle C. Brown, superintendent, Ithaca, N.Y., and AASA member since 2012, on writing Culture of Love: Cultivating a Positive and Transformational Organizational Culture (WGW Publishing, 2018)


Efficient Expenditures
A 2018 doctoral study by Jeanne M. Bradley at St. John’s University analyzed school district expenditures over five years to gauge their spending practices.

The research, based on Long Island, found that all school district expenditures had increased, but fiscally efficient districts spent more than 60 percent of their budgets on teacher salaries and less than 10 percent on other instructional salaries.

Districts with the lowest efficiency ratios had a greater proportion of expenditures in the other instructional salaries category.

Copies of “Evaluating the Efficiency of Long Island School Districts Using Data Envelopment Analysis” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


Principal Attrition

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics found 82 percent of public school principals in 2015-16 were in the same school the following year after indicating they had a major influence on evaluating teachers.

Denver Discipline Reform
AASA published a new resource on school discipline, “Reforming Discipline in Denver Public Schools: A Three-Pronged Approach for Equity and Justice.”

The document discusses how leaders, community partners and university researchers devised strategies jointly. Denver’s philosophy views disciplinary action as an opportunity to help the student learn, understand and repair whatever wrongdoing was committed.

Film Focus at Conference
The 10-part unscripted documentary series “America to Me,” airing on the Starz cable network, will be the basis of a Thought Leader session at AASA’s 2019 National Conference on Education. The session will include a 30-minute segment of the series followed by a facilitated discussion.

Visit for the broadcast schedule of the series, which focuses on racial, economic and class issues during an academic year at Oak Park-River Forest High School in suburban Chicago. Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Steve James produced the series.