Reading & Resources

School Administrator, September 2018

Book Reviews
Building Equity: Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners
by Dominique Smith, Nancy Frey, Ian Pumpian,
and Douglas Fisher, ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 216 pp., $28.95 softcover

I had just read School Administrator editor Jay Goldman’s “What’s Happening” report from AASA, in which he mentioned that the AASA governing board had added equity to its mission statement. The new statement reads: “AASA, The School Superintendents Association, advocates for equitable access for all students to the highest quality public education, and develops and supports school system leaders.” 

“Equitable access for all students” is a lofty goal, but how do school leaders make sure that is more than the new mission on the wall and is truly the way schools function? It just happened that when I went to my mailbox that day, I received a book titled Building Equity: Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners to review. Now that I’ve read it, I can say that this may be the right book at the right time.

 “We offer this book to support your work to map a vision of equity for your school and promote concrete actions to achieve it,” is how the four educators connected with San Diego State University describe their hopes for the book. The authors remind us that “Equality is rooted in the concept of fairness, and a fair race is impossible when its various runners start at different distances from the finish line, and the course takes them over very different terrains.”

They share a taxonomy of equity with “physical integration” at its base, “opportunity to learn” in the center and “engaged and inspired leaders” at the top. Chapter by chapter, they share examples that illustrate the challenges and some potential improvements from the viewpoints of students and educational leaders. They offer two similar sets of statements called “Building Equity Audits” that can be used to survey students and teachers about not only the attitudes, but more importantly, the actions taking place to make a school more equitable.

Some of the survey statements like “We are a culturally competent staff,” and “We do not use tracking to group or schedule students,” for staff or “I feel safe at school,” and “I am challenged in my classes,” for students can be used to establish a baseline for how people feel about the school experience and could highlight problem areas. Other statements like “We invite families to get involved in school events and decision making,” “Students are provided authentic and applied learning experiences that link with their goals and aspirations,” or “Teachers notice students’ individual instructional needs and have systems to differentiate as needed,” require measurable actions to implement the vision of equity.

The successful application of the premises in this book will require an honest assessment that moves beyond being satisfied with having powerful programs for some students. It forces a closer look at opening opportunities to categories of underserved students who are not currently able to access those programs. Opportunity to learn (OTL) is too often correlated with socio-economic factors and meritocracies where OTL is earned by students who have been tracked for success and granted entrance into the most challenging courses while others were not given those opportunities. As the authors remind us, “It’s hard to learn what you haven’t been taught.” 

Asking the tough questions and making the kinds of changes cited in Building Equity will not be easy, but this book offers some concrete support for creating more equity in schools one policy and program at a time. The 2018 statement from the AASA Governing Board puts AASA at the center of efforts to push for “equitable access for all students to the highest quality public education,” and books like this can help school leaders make that mission statement a reality.

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, educational consultant, Roseville, Calif.

Challenges Facing Suburban Schools: Promising Responses to Changing Student Populations
edited by Shelley B. Wepner
and Diane W. Gómez, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2017, 126 pp., $25 softcover

Challenges Facing Suburban Schools is authored by fourteen different individuals with a wide range of experience and success in the K-12 and university settings. Throughout the book, they share their thoughts, insights and experiences related to the many challenges facing today’s suburban school districts. 

The book begins with an overview of the rapid growth and development of suburban communities throughout the 1950s when American suburbs grew at a rate of 47 percent compared to an overall American population growth rate of only 19 percent. During this time, American suburban areas were portrayed on shows such as “The Brady Bunch” and “Leave it to Beaver.” As the authors point out throughout the book, much has changed in our schools.

Throughout the eight chapters, many topics are discussed and a variety of views are shared by the authors. The early sections focus on the changing demographics of suburban districts and the increasing diversity related to race, economics and linguistics. Deeper into the book there are multiple chapters focusing specifically on language barriers and instructional strategies designed to better support English language learners.

Each chapter begins with three bullets that help highlight the main ideas and concludes with three questions designed to promote more discussion. While I found these two features very helpful, at times the book felt very rooted in academic research and was somewhat challenging to follow. The book is a good resource for school leaders in districts with rapidly changing student demographics who might be looking for specific strategies and instructional support. However, for the educator looking for a general overview related to suburban schools, this particular book might be too detailed and research-based for this purpose.

Reviewed by Justin B. Henry, superintendent, Goddard Public Schools, Goddard, Kan.

The Critical Advantage: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in School
by William T. Gormley Jr.,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 235 pp. with index, $31 softcover

At any time in the history of schooling in the United States, there is a trend promoted as it being necessary for the student’s future and the good of the nation. Author William Gormley, a noted professor at Georgetown University, in his book, The Critical Advantage: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in School, argues that even with many schools joining the trend to teach critical thinking, many more need to join and every school needs to do a better job of teaching the skill to their students.

Throughout the history of education in America, the emphasis has been on providing knowledge. Schooling has been about teaching the facts. John F. Kennedy declared what he thought education should do when he said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” Albert Einstein was ahead of his time and would have advocated for the present-day trend to teach critical thinking skills. He said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” He would have been comfortable with the paramount importance of the current trend to teach “critical thinking skills.”

During the research and writing of this book, the author visited many schools and reports on how they are successfully implementing the teaching of critical thinking skills. Those accounts scattered throughout the book give readers good insight into how different strategies work and how they might be implemented in their own schools.

A major contribution in this book is the relationship between critical thinking and other forms of thinking, including creative thinking and problem solving. The author wants each taught, starting in kindergarten. 

Gormley advocates for the teaching of critical thinking as the remedy for big problems faced by our nation. He offers critical thinking skills as the cure for the recent surge in partisanship in our nation. 

The author concludes the book with an acknowledgement that teaching critical thinking should extend outside the classroom to politicians to improve their own deliberative discourse. He presents critical thinking as a model for future citizens and for parents, who can ask good questions at the dinner table. Indeed he advocates enhancing students’ critical-thinking skills involves everyone and not just teachers in the school.

Reviewed by Darroll Hargraves, management consultant, School and Community Resources, Wasilla, Alaska

How to Use Grading to Improve Learning
by Susan M. Brookhart,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 170 pp. with index, $27.95 softcover

In How to Use Grading to Improve Learning, author Susan Brookhart provides practical and very real examples of grading principles that support learning. Teachers, building-based administrators, district administrators and even pre-service teachers will be challenged to reflect upon current grading practices and policies, and ask themselves whether their current practices focus on student learning and allow for the involvement of students in assessing their own work. 

As an independent educational consultant, author, professor emeritus and adjunct faculty member in the school of education at Duquesne University, Brookhart focuses on the belief that grades ought to reflect student achievement of learning goals and that grading policies ought to support and motivate student learning.  

The book opens with questions for self-reflection and establishes baseline terminology, thereby contributing to a thorough understanding of the work. District and school leaders will immediately recognize the value of specific examples of the various topics covered within the book as well as options for moving forward, including the value of communicating with all stakeholders.   

Brookhart divides the book into three sections and shares stories for each strategy to illustrate the points she is making. Wherever district leaders may be in the sojourn toward using grades to improve learning, this book will offer reasonable actions to consider along the way for communicating with staff, students, and parents.  

Reviewed by Lisa M. Antunes, assistant superintendent, Hillsborough Township School District, Hillsborough, N.J.

Measuring What We Do in Schools: How to Know If What We Are Doing is Making a Difference
by Victoria L. Bernhardt,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 139 pp. with index, $28.95 softcover

How do we know if what we do in schools is making a difference? In fact, how do we measure what we do? The real question is not if we are making a difference, but whether that difference is being demonstrated in the success of our students. Underlying that is the critical component of whether and how our teachers are engaging in continuous improvement.

Victoria Bernhardt, the author of Measuring What We Do in Schools, presents a number of critical components in measuring what we do, engaging in continuous improvement, evaluating programs and organizations, and a case study to pull it all together. In short, she presents a template that any organization can follow if it wants to begin the trek toward continuous improvement through systems thinking. Obviously, Bernhardt has deep experience with this process and readily shares it as a means to an end of continued student academic improvement.

There is value in this book for those who want to embark on this continuous journey of improvement and even room to evaluate processes already in place. After all, it begins with teachers who are willing to engage in self-reflection and want to ensure a high level of performance for students in their classrooms.

As I read this book, I reflected on my many years of professional development in public schools, and the professional development and supervision courses I have written and taught at the master’s and doctoral levels. The author nicely parallels what is reflected in current research about improvement processes.

The critical element necessary to implement such programs is time, which is difficult to make available. Administrators’ and teachers’ schedules are very rigid and not all schools have the luxury of bringing in substitutes or covering classes so that a program similar to what the author presents can be implemented.

In summary, this book is a “must read” for those who either have an improvement program in place or who want to implement an improvement program knowing that there are financial and time costs implied in such a venture.

Reviewed by Kurt W. Eisele, assistant professor, department of educational leadership, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The Perfect Assessment System
by Rick Stiggins,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 120 pp., $24.95 softcover 

Rick Stiggins is a rock star of educational assessment with scholarly credentials and a following among practitioners for his work on “assessments for learning.” He has now retired as president of the Assessment Training Institute. Over his life’s work, he has been consistent with the idea that the main purpose of assessment is to help both the teacher and student learn better.

More specifically, Stiggins desires for the purpose of assessment to be clear: “What will this test be measuring? Will the results be used to support student learning, or will the results be used to certify whether or not learning has occurred? Who will use the results and what decisions will they make based on these results?”

According to Stiggins, what is needed is a comprehensive redevelopment of assessments in American education. Not everything has to be tossed, but it all must fit into a pattern that provides appropriate information. The professional criteria of composing and piloting individual items is satisfactory, but we have lost a broad view of why assessments are given and what to do with the results. Annual assessment has a place along with periodic formative assessments. The relationship with curriculum should be much stronger.

A shortcoming of this book is the lack of attention to curriculum. In “the perfect assessment system,” there would be a perfect curriculum system as well. The author acknowledges this flaw and sidesteps the issue by admitting that he is not a curriculum expert. He does advocate for the utilization of 10 high quality academic standards per subject per grade. He would like assessments to move well beyond multiple choice, timed standardized tests.

A key ingredient for a universally perfect assessment system would be for everyone – teachers, administrators, parents and even students – to be trained in assessment literacy, including knowing how to develop and interpret tests of various kinds. While the author accepts the huge costs and difficulties of reaching this status, he maintains it is possible. Within these pages are outlines and models for fundamentally sound assessments that could serve as a starting point for educating more educators about assessment protocols and instrumentation. This vision is noteworthy, but in the opinion of this reviewer, it will be decades before education advances beyond scattered pilots of “perfect assessment systems.”

A most significant element of Stiggins’s proposals is the impact upon the future learning of students. “A student’s emotional response to assessment results will determine what that student decides to do about those results: keep working or give up.” He provides ways, such as model work samples, to keep students in control of their own learning and motivated for the long term.

The last chapter, “The Costs and Benefits of Perfection”, describes the action steps to produce The Perfect Assessment System. Readers should understand that the mere pursuit can produce a better system for teachers and learners.

Reviewed by Art Stellar, vice president, National Education Foundation, Hingham, Mass.

School Days 101
by Angela Farmer,
Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, 2017, 104 pp., $37.92 softcover

In School Days 101, Angela Farmer addresses a cornucopia of topics ranging from the common (senioritis) to the unusual (non-graded-primary). The author, a former superintendent and a current assistant professor of education leadership at Mississippi State University, provides a concise description of challenges faced in education today, along with proposed solutions or strategies.

Farmer does not delve deeply into any one issue, but rather touches upon several subjects (33 in all). Each area addressed is often laced with a direct citation for supportive research or an organization, like the Pew Charitable Trust, credited with supporting the point of view taken by the author. With some of the topics in the book, however, the author seems to rely more on her own experience as a parent and educator; for example, when she advocates for the value of establishing a morning routine for children and parents with a distribution of duties.

For educators, the value of this book is not a new revelation; rather, it can serve as a refresher for practicing administrators or possibly a general introduction to those individuals entering the field of education.

For the experienced and informed educator, School Days 101 does not offer any new insights, but as I was reading it, this book struck me as a primer, especially designed for new school board members who could acquaint themselves with some of the more common concerns that impact the world of education today.

Reviewed by Marc Space, superintendent, Grants/Cibola County Schools, Grants, N.M.

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“No one could tell a story like my grandmother, the late Addie Terrie Mills. In harnessing her art of storytelling, I wrote this book to inspire others with the leadership lessons I’ve collected along my journey to becoming the first woman of color to be appointed as a permanent superintendent in Monroe County, N.Y. … The 31 lessons are based on my personal and professional leadership experiences and can be used as a daily dose of leadership.”

Lesli C. Myers, superintendent, Brockport Central Schools, Brockport, N.Y., and AASA member since 2012, on writing Life’s Leadership Lessons (WGW Publishing, 2018)


Social Media Use
Has social media use changed the superintendent’s role as gatekeeper of school district information and communication?

Joan W. Henry addressed that question in her dissertation for an Ed.D. at Northern Arizona University in 2017. She studied 23 district superintendents in Arizona.

Most superintendents agreed that social media should be used to deliver positive messages that highlight their districts and actions. They acknowledged they were nontraditional gatekeepers of school communication and indicated they had assistance in disseminating, monitoring and receiving information through social media.

The superintendents learned that the public researched and spread information about them through public and private social media domains.

Copies of “Social Media Use by Arizona K-12 Public Unified School District Superintendents” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery has a medium to large effect on students’ reading over the course of four years.

An evaluation of the one-to-one reading intervention for struggling 1st graders measured 6,900 students’ scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills total reading assessment.

Summer Intervention
Early readers who have not mastered basic decoding and fluency may require more help than a typical summer reading program can provide, according to a University of North Carolina at Charlotte study.

The study provided students in the experimental group with 15 intensive hour-long sessions using the Sound Partners program five times a week for three weeks and reported no statistical significance.

Condition of Education
The National Center for Education Statistics has released “The Condition of Education 2018,” which reports that 18 percent of public school teachers in 2015-16 had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program.

Free Eyeglasses
In a study by Robert Slavin of the Center for Research and Reform in Education, reading scores for children who were provided with free glasses improved more than those for students who did not need glasses.

Student Views
Students with more positive views of mathematics, reading or science performed better on the corresponding NAEP assessment, according to a new report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Changing Schools
Changing Schools is McREL International’s award-winning, biannual magazine, which explores topics that matter to educators and features in-depth articles, research reviews and success stories.

Teacher Familiarity
Assigning students to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance as teachers get to know their students and adapt their teaching styles accordingly, says a report in Economics of Education Review.

Teacher Stress
A report in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions found that teachers in high-stress, high-burnout and low-coping classes were associated with the poorest student incomes.

KIPP Schools
KIPP elementary and middle schools produced sizable, statistically significant effects on reading and math achievement in a new report from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The study, which measured KIPP schools in nine states and Washington, D.C., found increases of 5 to 10 percentile points over two years.

AASA Journal
The fall issue of the AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice focuses on accountability in school leadership for student learning. The journal will be posted at on Oct. 1.

Contact Editor Kenneth Mitchell of Manhattanville College at about submitting articles for future issues of this peer-reviewed publication.

Humanitarian Nominees
AASA seeks nominations by Oct. 26 for the 2019 Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award, which honors leadership in equity and excellence. To qualify, AASA members must demonstrate a commitment to the advancement and mentorship of women and minorities into positions of educational leadership.

Visit the Awards and Scholarships section at or contact Stephanie St. John at

Crisis Toolkit
AASA’s new School Safety and Crisis Planning Toolkit identifies effective practices for safety and security before, during and after a crisis. Resources were contributed by the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National School Boards Association and the National School Public Relations Association.

24-Hour Crisis Hotline
To assist school district leaders in time of school and community crisis, AASA has established a 24-hour hotline managed by Joseph Erardi, former superintendent of Newtown Conn., Public Schools. The hotline telephone number is 571-480-0313.

A select group of safety leaders will provide peer-to-peer guidance about school shootings, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, suicides and other major incidents. Visit for details.