Reading & Resources

School Administrator, October 2018

Book Reviews
Competency-Based Education: A New Architecture for K-12 Schooling
by Rose L. Colby,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 220 pp. with index, $31 softcover

Competency-Based Education author Rose Colby, a lecturer at Plymouth State University, promotes education as “an industry” which produces graduates who meet proficiency on defined competencies. Her book provides resources for implementing a competency-based curriculum, which allows students to attain competence in a variety of ways. She is motivated by the observation that too often students qualify for graduation without the expected competencies of a graduate.

Colby promotes the same framework as former Assistant Secretary of Education Chester Finn, who claimed that “any given reform” would henceforth “be judged a success only to the extent that it boosts educational outcomes.” Both Colby and Finn applaud enforcement of such school policies in the name of accountability and efficiency.

What competency-based educators forget is that education involves both passing on to the next generation what we think is of most worth, as well as facilitating individual student talent. Colby and Finn speak of “outcomes” as being all important, when they should know that artists and scientists do not attain eminence by pursuing the most efficient trail toward passing exit exams, getting rid of seat time and turning education into a race to graduation. Rather, they linger to investigate ideas that interest them.

There is no question that we should benchmark student achievement on the Common Core State Standards to how well students in the highest-performing countries perform—countries such as Canada, Finland, Japan and Singapore. But what these countries have recognized is that national progress is increasingly being determined by the discovery and application of new, marketable ideas. Hence there is a need for both competency-based and investigatory education.   

There is a basic opposition in life between the desire to preserve the past and desire to be open to change. In education, we want to teach core objectives and competencies, and on the other hand, we want students to challenge our assumptions, investigate, surpass our accomplishments and develop a personal identity. Competency-based education alone is not sufficient.

Reviewed by Louis Wildman, emeritus professor of education, California State University-Bakersfield, and author of Let’s Share Our Ideas on Education Leadership

Creating Research-Practice Partnerships in Education
by William R. Penuel
and Daniel J. Gallagher, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 241 pp. with index, $31 softcover

PK-12 programs have had a very interesting relationship with colleges and universities over the years. Both have tended to operate in isolation, with little interplay between the two, except during times of pre-service field placements or graduate degree attainment (to support PK-12 salary increases or certification renewals). However, these traditional relationships are changing, and it appears that it will be to the benefit of not only the individual systems, but of the PK-20 students within those systems.

Utilizing a case study approach, William Penuel and Daniel Gallaher provide the reader of Creating Research-Practice Partnerships in Education solid historical, theoretical and practical supports to encourage more formal relationships between PK-12 school systems and higher education programs. These formal, longitudinal partnerships build upon existing structures and focus on the development of collegial support mechanisms so all participants can assemble the resources and capabilities that they have available to bring them to a mutually supportive environment where true synergistic research-practice partnerships can develop.

Basing their narrative on actual situations, the reader is provided suggestions for supports to facilitate the development and maintenance of true collegial longitudinal relationships, where field practitioners have as much impact and voice as do their higher education counterparts. With the establishment of mutually respectful and supportive relationships and interactions across staffs, the development of true research-practice partnerships can emerge. When this is completed, the ability to have a focus on meeting the varied needs of both systems have a better opportunity to be identified, so effective programs can be implemented to meet these needs.

Much of the text is devoted to the relationships that need to be developed, with the focus on designing infrastructures that adaptively grow to meet the needs of the players, present and future. Backed up by what is currently known from an empirical and research perspective on partnerships, the authors provide a vision for quality supports necessary to create, maintain and scale effective partnerships.

The authors include extensive appendices that provide the tools and templates to guide organizations wishing to get started in these important research-practice activities. They start with practical supports to build true collegial relationships across the two groups, moving into the logistical and practical issues related to needs assessment, goal identification and program development. These resources are not prescriptive in nature; they form a solid basis upon which organizations can guide and develop the supports and ground rules to undergird their important activates.

At the university level, we have had many opportunities to interact with local districts and programs to provide supports for their faculty and students. This traditional ivory tower perspective, however, has not allowed our constituents to provide the university with the types of information and supports necessary to guide our programs and research. This text gives wonderful support as we attempt to create more synergy across our efforts to develop truly PK-20 inclusive supports and programs.

Reviewed by Mark E. Deschaine, assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning
by John Spencer
and A.J. Juliani, IMPress, San Diego, Calif., 2017, 205 pp., $26.95

Are you looking to move from student engagement to student empowerment and ownership of learning? John Spencer and A.J. Juliani have written a very practical and inspirational book on how to do just that, called Empower. Order a dozen copies to distribute to your trailblazer teachers and watch your students soar!

The authors have a conversational tone and help build a case for innovation in education. We are not to prepare our students for something, rather we are to help students prepare themselves for anything. This requires teachers and leaders to loosen the reins in order to allow students to “own” their learning. No longer do we want to develop students into experts of compliance. We should prepare students who are ready to create, communicate and collaborate.

Spencer and Juliani really inspire reflection by suggesting that modern learning settings not be teacher-centered but student-driven, where students help co-design their learning experiences. Such a powerful concept! When learning is developed by the learner, they have more agency, and belief in themselves that they are competent. If your school or district is just beginning a journey toward personalized learning, this book is a great place to start, by having teachers consider their mindset. 

If you want to stretch your thinking as a leader, read this book and replace the word “student” with “teacher.” How are we designing systems to support teacher agency, development and ownership over their own learning and growth? Shift your leadership mindset by incorporating ideas presented by Spencer and Juliani. You can also check out YouTube for many short clips that you can share with your teachers during faculty meetings or teacher institutes. Be prepared to transform your system after reading this book. 

This book is recommended for district and building leaders, technology leaders and instructional coaches. 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Freeman, assistant superintendent of innovative learning, teaching and technologies, Fremont School District 79, Mundelein, Ill.

Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator's Dilemma
by Charles A. O'Reilly III
and Michael L. Tushman, Stanford Business Books, Stanford, Calif., 2016, 262 pp. with index, $29.95 hardcover
Innovation is the flavor of the day in schools, but how should public educators approach innovation to ensure it becomes embedded in the culture and is not just the next failed "initiative?" Charles O'Reilly and Michael Tushman provide valuable insight in their latest book Lead and Disrupt.

It is typically helpful for organizations to develop a common understanding of important priorities or these concepts become difficult to operationalize. In the case of innovation, O'Reilly and Tushman suggest that the concept of "Explore and Exploit" is the way to innovate, such that leaders and employees can successfully navigate the change process and remain relevant. They explain how identity is the key to both success and failure and give several specific examples of how thriving companies such as the Ball Corporation and Amazon have thrived, established an identity and developed a structure in which they do both simultaneously well. Others, which have not, have become extinct.

The successful companies capitalize on what they already do well (exploit), and separate innovation from continuous improvement. They experiment (explore) in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.  

Some private industry concepts translate to education and others do not. In this case, as schools across the country rush to get their collective heads wrapped around how to innovate successfully, Lead and Disrupt, with leadership tips sprinkled throughout and reinforced at the end, definitely does.

Reviewed by David Moyer, superintendent, Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205, Elmhurst, Ill.

Messaging Matters: How School Leaders Can Inspire Teachers, Motivate Students, and Reach Communities
by William D. Parker,
Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2018, 138 pp. with index, $24.95 softcover

William D. Parker, a former teacher and principal who currently serves as executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals and Oklahoma Middle Level Educators Association, is an avid blogger and podcaster, so writing a book on messaging was a logical next step. Messaging Matters provides the rationale, techniques, resources and strategies for positive communication between schools and parents, staff, students and the community.

Communication has long been held as an important function of school and district administrators so, in many ways, Messaging Matters takes on a timeless topic, but it does so in a timely fashion. Many of the resources the author shares are current and new, but, like much of what current technology brings us, may eventually be replaced with yet something else. Keeping up with the most effective tools of today is a constant battle and this text includes an arsenal that school and district leaders can use to win that battle.

What transcends beyond today’s day and age is Parker’s rationale for messaging with teachers, students, parents and the community. Building positive school culture, modeling what one expects in teachers and other staff, promoting what others perceive about you and your school, and celebrating success are important functions of leadership, but, without intentionality, are often overlooked or are done haphazardly.

The chapters are rich with references to websites and technology tools, such as PowToon, Biteable and Hootsuite, but also give value to being visible and having face-to-face conversations. This book is beneficial for anyone wishing to establish and implement a plan for effective messaging for their school or district.   

Reviewed by Judy Paolucci, superintendent, Smithfield Public Schools, Smithfield, R.I.

The Power of Unstoppable Momentum: Key Drivers to Revolutionize Your District
by Michael Fullan
and Mark A. Edwards, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2017, 99 pp. with index, $24.95

In The Power of Unstoppable Momentum, Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards examine the systemic change that has taken place in school districts centered on a system that integrates technology, culture and pedagogy. Much of the book centers on Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD), where Edwards was superintendent from 2007-2016.   

The authors describe how the human, social and decisional capitals of teachers are interlinked into a fabric that invigorates individuals. The fabric created also generates a shared leadership model that enables this momentum to continue over time. This energy is palpable and contagious and moves whole school districts forward.

There is a continuing conversation in the book that emphasizes the totality of change and the vitality it creates. The “All In” philosophy is pervasive throughout the reading. While much of the book centers on MGSD, other districts that have gone through this transformation are also highlighted later in the book.

This book can be read in a couple hours, but it needs to be internalized for a longer period of time. It is intended for individuals at all levels of the educational community, although aspiring leaders might benefit the most.

Reviewed by Rob Clark, superintendent, Milton-Freewater Unified School District, Milton-Freewater, Ore.

Rigor and Assessment in the Classroom
by Barbara R. Blackburn,
Routledge, New York N.Y., 2017, 135 pp., $31.95 softcover

When I first read the title of this book, I thought “Oh, great! Another generic book on rigor and assessment, as exciting as nailing Jell-O to a wall!” As prophesy predicts and history reveals, I was truly wrong in my initial, improper assessment, i.e., judging a book by its cover.

Author Barbara Blackburn brought a reservoir of knowledge to the table in Rigor and Assessment in the Classroom. She is not only a highly sought-after consultant, but is also a bestselling author of 16 books and an award-winning professor at Winthrop University. 
Blackburn forthrightly acknowledges that assessment is a challenging aspect and issue in today’s classrooms, therefore, espousing teachers to focus on assessments that one can use on a regular basis in the classroom. She postulated her book and its content on those ideas that can help teachers improve instruction through things they can control. Her book succinctly outlines the various types of rigorous assessment that can be used, e.g., formative, summative, performance-based, differentiated assessments and its concomitant grading and feedback activities.

Blackburn gets down to business in Chapter One by stating instructional rigor is a key component of effective instruction. Afterwards, she promulgated her definition of “rigor” to mean “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and demonstrates learning at high levels.”  Student engagement, she emphasizes, is a critical aspect of rigor.

She suggests that assessment, in addition to rigor, is a key part of the learning process. To her, assessment informs both teacher and student, as it shows what the students know or don’t know, thereby allowing an adjustment in the instruction process if such results dictate reteaching is necessary. In her belief, assessment must be comprehensive while using multiple types of assessment frequently and accurately.

Blackburn states that student involvement is a key to effective assessment. Involvement is depicted by helping to create assessments, coming up with content questions and creating rubrics for tasks. A recurring reminder is made that feedback is a most important aspect of assessment, for it positively impacts student learning and achievement. She emphatically states that “without appropriate feedback … assessments lose their adequacy if not effectively communicated.”

Reviewed by Leon T. Hobbs, president/CEO, Adroit Wordsmith, Buford, Ga.

Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable
by Michael Lubelfeld, Nick Polyak
and P.J. Caposey, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2018, 168 pp., $30 softcover

Student voice, engagement and participation in public schools occur throughout the world on a daily basis, yet how much of this involvement is superfluous and nonessential, as opposed to true and meaningful decision making? 

Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable, penned by Michael Lubelfeld (then-superintendent of Deerfield, Ill., Public Schools #109), Nick Polyak (superintendent of Leyden High School District #212 in Franklin Park, Ill.), and P.J. Caposey (superintendent of Meridian Community Unit School District 223 in Stillman Valley, Ill.), describes an overarching push for the increased involvement of students at the community, district, school and classroom levels while providing many successful examples of this principle in action.

My absolute favorite quote in the book is easy to miss. How you feel about this key phrase dictates whether or not this is a book for you, in my opinion. “Kids have greatness within them” speaks to the rationale behind why every teacher and administrator first felt drawn to a career as a professional educator. This also provides a classic reference for why this volume matters, and how its content is invaluable to school leaders interested in transforming schools into student-centered institutions. Not only does this book explain why inclusion of student voice in schools is desired, but it also makes the case for how it is crucial for schools to truly strive for improvement and utilize data from the system’s end users to guide it: the kids.

This work presents some fairly progressive ideas regarding student involvement, but this is far more than mere conjecture or academic theory. Each of the authors hails from an award-winning school district ensconced in student achievement and sustained growth, not only through the state of Illinois, but throughout the Midwest and beyond. While some of the notions brought forth represent mere ideas (student input in teacher evaluations), others are shown to be currently in place and successful (student representation on the locally elected school board). These examples should temper any initial skepticism that may cause some to avoid implementation of these great ideas due to the fear that “this would never work here.”

In addition to the many successful examples of including student voice in school district leadership, each chapter is preceded by Stop-Think-Act questions and followed by Ask-Support-Know-Empower-Monitor questions. Not only does this assist in visualizing how these ideas would potentially look in your own district, they also provide a starting point for meaningful discussion in a book-study format among school leadership team members (hopefully, including students).

Overall, this book is one I would highly recommend to school district leaders that are interested in pursuing new methods of including student voice, perspective and experiences to assist in the development and guidance of school district improvement plans. The most progressive of school leaders will almost certainly fall in love with this work, while some that take a more traditional approach to leadership will be able to, at minimum, find some takeaway ideas to eventually incorporate into their district. Whether reading this ignites several new initiatives involving students or simply inspires one or two new attempts at involving students, any increase will cause leaders to understand just why the inclusion of student voice is so invaluable.

Reviewed by Todd Dugan, superintendent, New Holland-Middletown Elementary School District 88, Middletown, Ill.

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“After traveling much of the world, visiting schools and speaking with students, parents, educators and school leaders, I believe we must lead schools differently in the digital age, where most, if not all, stakeholders are digital natives. I aimed to clearly outline what it means to effectively lead schools in the 21st century, while also providing all of the necessary resources for the reader.”

Denver J. Fowler, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies, California State University, Sacramento, and AASA member since 2011, on writing The 21st Century School Leader: Leading Schools in Today’s World (Word & Deed Publishing, 2018)


Superintendent Stressors
What factors most significantly increase the amount of stress experienced by superintendents?

In doctoral research for an Ed.D. in educational leadership in 2017 at Ball State University, Amber Targgart found that the top stressor was complying with state, federal and organizational rules and policies. School board relationships and task overload were also contributors, according to her survey of 184 superintendents in Indiana.

Women reported higher stress in areas of decision making and feeling unqualified. Targgart said the results highlighted a need for collaborative professional development, especially for women superintendents.

“Stress in the Superintendency” is accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or
Doctoral Degrees
The perceived importance of a doctoral degree to school system executives was the focus of a 2018 dissertation for an E.D. degree at Azusa Pacific University.

Robert D. Hennings interviewed 11 doctorate holders working in high-level posts in K-12 administration to identify the professional benefits of a doctorate. The study revealed key areas where a doctorate added value, and Hennings suggested these insights would be important to school leaders considering a doctorate in education.

Copies of “Is Having a Doctorate Value Added? A Qualitative Study of Doctoral Degree-Holding California K-12 Administration Executives” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


Crisis Communication

The 4th edition of the National School Public Relations Association’s “The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual” is designed for reviewing and revising crisis plans in schools and districts.

A comprehensive resource on 21st-century threats to schools, the manual provides guidance on practice drills, security audits, threat assessments and emergency use of social media. It includes materials for staff professional development.

Order the book for $158 at

Marketing Schools
The National School Public Relations Association published “Having an Impact on Learning,” a set of public relations strategies for school districts for communicating with staff, students and parents to build a positive school reputation.

The book includes insight on how to define student achievement, talk about progress and connect with parents about their children.

Order the book for $21 at

School Improvement
Improving School Improvement, a new electronic book published by the Center for Mental Health at UCLA, offers a distinctive framework for school improvement that addresses barriers to learning and teaching.

The book, co-authored by Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor, covers personalized teaching, special education and school accountability.

Equity Toolkit
CoSN has updated its Digital Equity Toolkit to include “Supporting Students & Families in Out-of-School Learning.” The new version spotlights ways that schools and districts have successfully addressed equity challenges.

Urban Violence
In schools where students have a high exposure to violence, standardized test scores may be as much as 10 percent lower than test scores in safer schools, according to a new report by Julia Burdick-Will, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, in the June 2018 issue of Sociology of Education.

The students feel less safe, have more disciplinary problems and trust less in their teachers, the study said.

Congressional Programs
The majority of Congressionally authorized federal programs produced only small positive effects, if any, in 13 randomized controlled trials, according to a study from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Only one program demonstrated sizeable effects — the Defense Department’s National Guard Youth ChalleNGe.

School Expenditures
A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics found total revenues and expenditures per pupil increased across all public school districts during the 2015 fiscal year. The report also provides regional breakdowns.

Median expenditures per pupil in independent charter school districts were lower than those in noncharter school districts.

Civics Education
The 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education features an in-depth, data-driven look at the state of social studies and civics education in U.S. schools. Three chapters assess trends, examine state policy and provide a look at the nation’s social studies teachers.

Teach for America
The impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes was systematically reviewed by the Campbell Collaboration.

Four studies compared Teach for America-prepared teachers to novice teachers and alumni of the program to veteran teachers and found only small positive impact for pre-K through 2nd-grade teachers on reading, but not math.

Superintendent Bloggers
More than two dozen AASA members who are active bloggers have been added to the member bloglist on the association’s website.

You can find links to 101 blogs maintained by superintendents and other central-office leaders at

The bloglist is managed by the staff of School Administrator.

Legislative Corps
AASA members can stay informed about federal affairs through the AASA Legislative Corps. An e-newsletter each Friday keeps school system leaders up-to-date on news in the nation’s capital that affects public schools.

To sign up for this time-saving member benefit, contact Sasha Pudelski at