The “Future of Reading”: Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

Motoko Rich:

For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage.
But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.
Among their choices: James Patterson’s adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series of comic-book-style novels.
But then there were students like Jennae Arnold, a soft-spoken eighth grader who picked challenging titles like “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, of which she wrote, partly in text-message speak: “I would have N3V3R thought of or about something like that on my own.”
The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on.

2009-2010 Read On Wisconsin Book Club Reading List

Via email:

Dear Read On Wisconsin! Book Club Members,
Welcome to the 2009-2010 school year!
We are pleased to announce that we have finalized the book selections! Thanks to the hard work of our Literacy Advisory Committee (LAC), we have decided on wonderful collections for all age groups. Each submission was carefully considered, and we feel that our assortment features inspiring books that will both enrich and entertain students. We think that you will all be very pleased with these engaging and inspiring choices!
We look forward to hosting Reading Days at the Residence this upcoming school year. Please check this website often for dates and details. We remind you that for each book, the LAC has developed discussion questions. Please encourage your students to be active participants in the student web log. As always, we welcome any questions or feedback regarding the book club or Reading Days.
On Wisconsin!
Jessica Doyle
First Lady of Wisconsin
Ashley Huibregtse
Assistant to the First Lady


F in Exams

Richard Benson:

Q: What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A: He says goodbye to childhood and enters adultery.
Q: How can you prevent milk turning sour?
A: Keep it in the cow.
We’ve all been there. You’ve been studying hard, the day of the BIG test arrives, you turn over the paper, and ‘what the *&%@ does that mean?!’ Not a clue.
Some students, rather than admit defeat, choose to adopt a more creative approach to answering those particularly awkward exam questions.
Packed full of hilarious examples, this book will bring a smile to the face of teachers, parents and students alike – and anyone who’s ever had to sit a test.

Grabbers – first sentences from new books

San Francisco Chronicle:

I enter the lobby of Claire Nightingale’s apartment building, here to tell her I have murdered her only son.
“In This Way I Was Saved,” a novel by Brian DeLeeuw
My mother says she can’t listen to love songs anymore.
“Not That Kind of Girl,” a memoir by Carlene Bauer
One evening, as Shahid Hasan came out of the communal hall toilet, resecured the door with a piece of looped string, and stood buttoning himself under a dim bulb, the door of the room next to his opened and a man emerged, carrying a briefcase.
“The Black Album, a novel (republished with “My Son the Fanatic”) by Hanif Kureishi

Rent, Read and Return

Stephanie Lee:

Students frequently rent DVDs to watch in their dorm rooms, but soon they may start checking out something much heavier and pricier: textbooks.
Saying they offer an alternative to the textbook industry’s bloated prices, a growing number of companies are renting new and used titles at reduced prices. Among them are Chegg, BookRenter and the Follett Higher Education Group, which will test drive a rental service at campus bookstores this fall. They join a number of colleges that have already started their own on-campus programs.
With all of them, the concept is essentially to pay to check out textbooks as if they’re out of a library — only there are more copies and titles, and they can be used for longer periods of time. Through Chegg, for instance, a student searches for a book and rents it for up to a certain number of days, such as up to a quarter or a semester. Users are promised discounts of 65 to 85 percent off the list price, but if they don’t return a book on time, they are charged full price. The same punishment applies to doodling in the margins, since the books are meant for reuse. As a disclaimer on Chegg warns: “Highlighting in the textbook is OK — to a certain extent. Writing in the book is not accepted.”

Singapore Math Workbook Only Purchase Discussion (No textbooks or teacher guides) at the Madison School Board

26MB mp3 audio file. Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole raised a number of questions regarding the purchase of $69K worth of Singapore Math Workbooks (using Federal tax dollars via “Title 1“) without textbooks or teacher’s guides at Monday evening’s Board Meeting. The purchase proceeded, via a 5-2 vote. Ed Hughes and Beth Moss supported the Administration’s request, along with three other board members.
Related Links:

The Madison Math Task Force Report [3.9MB PDF] found that local elementary school teachers used the following curricular materials (page 166):

What, if anything has the Math Task Force report addressed?

Babysitting has figured in much of society’s angst over teen culture and the changing American family

Laura Vanderkam:

Like many girls, I began my adventures in babysitting when I was 11 years old. It was in the late 1980s, after I had taken a Red Cross course to become “babysitter certified,” acquiring expertise in dislodging an object from a choking baby’s throat and learning to ask parents for emergency phone numbers. During my roughly four-year career, there were highs, like using my babysitting contacts to co-found a lucrative summer day camp in my neighborhood, and lows: bratty children and stingy parents, such as one mom who would have me come over 45 minutes early but wouldn’t start the clock until she left and always wrote out a check when she got back — even though, considering my $2-per-hour rate, she probably could have paid me from change in the bottom of her purse.
My experiences were fairly typical of those encountered by millions of young women, as I might have suspected at the time and as I am thoroughly convinced after having read “Babysitter: An American History,” a scholarly examination of the subject by Miriam Forman-Brunell. Ms. Forman-Brunell is a history professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, but she is also a mother who reports that she has hired a bevy of babysitters.
Babysitting, the author says, has always been a source of tension: “Distressed parent-employers have suspected their sitters of doing wrong ever since the beginning of babysitting nearly one hundred years ago.” Before that, extended families or servants ensured that someone was watching the kids, but with the rise of the suburban nuclear family, parents looking to preserve adult intimacy in their marriages were forced to seek help elsewhere. Since most either weren’t willing to or couldn’t pay adult wages, the labor supply was reduced to young teens who wanted money but didn’t have other ways of earning it.

Reroute The Pre-K Debate!

Andy Rotherham:

It just can’t be a very good sign that when someone raises serious questions about one of the liveliest and controversial issues in our field those questions are ignored or distorted and caricatured. I’ve heard Checker Finn’s new book on pre-kindergarten education referred to as an anti-pre-k book (it’s not), an intemperate attack on the pre-k movement (it’s critical, sure, but let’s assume they’re not as vulnerable as the kids they serve), or dismissed as simply too conservative to be taken seriously by the field (again it’s not).
That doesn’t mean it’s a flawless book. Sara Mead has engaged with it and points out some problems with the analysis (in particular Finn overstates current participation levels – especially from a quality standpoint – and that’s no small thing given his underlying point) and she also rounds up the other writing on it. But in general there hasn’t been a lot of discussion of Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut’s points about current program coordination, costs and how to think about costs, quality, and universality. These are not small matters; they cut to the heart of what is likely to be a massive public investment in an important strategy to improve outcomes for economically disadvantaged youngsters.

The Cyber Way to Knowledge

James Glassman:

Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment ranks the education levels of 15-year-olds around the world. The most recent test, in 2006, brought back results from 30 industrialized nations that were hardly inspiring for U.S. teachers and parents. American students’ science scores lagged behind those of their counterparts in 20 countries, including Finland, Japan, Germany and Belgium. The numbers from the math test were even worse: The U.S. came in 25th. The “rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools — famously so described in 1983 by a government report called “A Nation at Risk” — would now appear to be about chin-high.
In response to “A Nation at Risk,” Terry Moe and John Chubb in 1990 published “Politics, Markets and America’s Schools,” which identified special-interest groups — mainly teachers unions — as the culprits in preventing the reforms urged in the report. Now Messrs. Moe and Chubb have returned to the subject with “Liberating Learning,” a more optimistic sequel. The authors believe there exists a magic bullet that is capable of shattering the unions’ political power and, at last, bringing the sort of reform and excellence to U.S. K-12 education that might make U.S. students competitive with Finnish teenagers. The ammunition? Technology.

Teenage readers are gravitating toward even grimmer fiction; suicide notes and death matches

Katie Roiphe:

Until recently, the young-adult fiction section at your local bookstore was a sea of nubile midriffs set against pink and turquoise backgrounds. Today’s landscape features haunted girls staring out from dark or washed-out covers. Current young-adult best sellers include one suicide, one deadly car wreck, one life-threatening case of anorexia and one dystopian universe in which children fight to the death. Somewhere along the line our teenagers have become connoisseurs of disaster.
Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why,” which is narrated by a dead girl, came out in March 2007 and remains on the bestseller list in hardcover. The book is the account of a fragile freshman named Hannah Baker who kills herself by overdosing on pills and sends audiotapes to the 13 people she holds responsible for making her miserable in the last year of her life. There may be parents who are alarmed that their 12-year-olds are reading about suicide, or librarians who want to keep the book off the shelves, but the story is clearly connecting with its audience–the book has sold over 200,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan.
For those young readers who find death by pill overdose inadequately gruesome, there’s Gayle Forman’s “If I Stay,” which takes as its subject a disfiguring car wreck. The book has sold a robust 17,000 copies in its first two months on sale, and was optioned by Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the film “Twilight.” The story follows an appealing cellist named Mia who goes on a drive to a bookstore with her unusually sympathetic ex-punk-rocker parents. When a truck barrels into their Buick, Mia hovers ghost-like over the scene. She sees her family’s bodies crushed, then watches on as her own mangled body is bagged and rushed to the hospital. Lingering somewhere between this world and the next, Mia must decide whether to join her parents in the afterlife or go it alone in the real world. The brilliance of the book is the simplicity with which it captures the fundamental dilemma of adolescence: How does one separate from one’s parents and forge an independent identity?

Peanut Butter Politics & The Widget Effect

Jonathan Alter:

“education is the dullest of subjects,” Jacques Barzun wrote in the very first sentence of his astonishingly fresh 1945 classic, Teacher in America. Barzun de- spised the idea of “professional educators” who focus on “methods” instead of subject matter. He loved teachers, but knew they “are born, not made,” and that most teachers’ colleges teach the wrong stuff.
Cut to 2009, when Barack Obama thinks education is the most exciting of subjects. Even so, Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, get Barzun. They understand that the key to fixing education is better teaching, and the key to better teaching is figuring out who can teach and who can’t.
Just as Obama has leverage over the auto industry to impose tough fuel–economy standards, he now has at least some leverage over the education industry to impose teacher-effectiveness standards. The question is whether he will be able to use it, or will he get swallowed by what’s known as the Blob, the collection of educrats and politicians who claim to support reform but remain fiercely committed to the status quo.
Teacher effectiveness-say it three times. Last week a group called the New Teacher Project released a report titled “The Widget Effect” that argues that teachers are viewed as indistinguishable widgets-states and districts are “indifferent to variations in teacher performance”-and notes that more than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory. The whole country is like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon, except all the teachers are above average, too.

Related: teacher hiring criteria in Madison.

Leaving “No Child Left Behind” does not depend on more teachers or more money, but selfless children

via email:

It’s time to move away from “differentiated curriculum” which is really segregated learning, to student-centered cooperative education.
It’s time to embrace what the children have to teach our world: their cooperative, creative, and compassionate spirit.
It’s a shame we continue to spend more money to prevent children from sharing learning and ideas with each other and our world.
Us adults would stand to learn much on how to alleviate economic woes, if we cooperated with the regenerative spirit that children keep trying to impart in our world.
I’ve been a sub for a while in this district that continues to bow down to parents who care only about self-serving educational models while exploiting resources, schools, and our community.
Since I’ve resolved that I probably will never be hired as a full-time teacher, I’ve written a book recently published called The Power of Paper Planes: Co-Piloting with Children to New Horizons.

Dave Askuvich,

Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever

Laura Miller:

As tragedies go, not getting what you want is the straightforward kind, and getting it can be the ironic variety. But there is also the existential tragedy of not knowing what you want to begin with. That’s the species of catastrophe recounted in Walter Kirn’s memoir, “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever,” the witty, self- castigating story of the author’s single-minded quest to succeed at a series of tests and competitions that took him from one of the lowest-ranked high schools in Minnesota to Princeton. As Kirn, a noted critic and novelist, tells it, in childhood he leapt onto a hamster wheel baited with “prizes, plaques, citations, stars,” and kept rattling away at it until his junior year in the Ivy League, when he suffered a breakdown that left him nearly speechless.

The Next Age of Discovery

Alexandra Alter:

In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.
In the process, they’re uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versions of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.
A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.


Tim Harford:

Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting By Joshua Gans
What happens when Mr Spock meets Dr Spock? The answer is Parentonomics, an autobiographical account of how an economist used his professional training in game theory to bring up his three children.
Joshua Gans describes his experiences in the labour wards, changing nappies and dealing with tantrums, spousal absences and sibling rivalry – all the while explaining what he did or did not do, the economic principles involved, and whether any of it worked as a parenting strategy.
The obvious question is whether this is supposed to be good advice or some kind of joke. There is no ambiguity in Parentonomics: Gans is not joking. Thankfully, he can be very funny. Although he is an academic – a professor at Melbourne Business School – his writing has a professional snap. While the advice is intended to be useful, readers will come to their own conclusions about that. It does at least tend to be thought-provoking.

A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family’s Adventure in Fighting Autism

Motoko Rich:

When Rupert Isaacson decided to take his autistic son, Rowan, on a trip to Mongolia to ride horses and seek the help of shamans two years ago, he had a gut instinct that the adventure would have a healing effect on the boy. Mr. Isaacson’s instinct was rewarded after the trip, when some of Rowan’s worst behavioral issues, including wild temper tantrums, all but disappeared.
Now the publisher of Mr. Isaacson’s book about the journey, “The Horse Boy,” has a similar instinct about the market potential of his story, and is hoping for its own happy ending.
Little, Brown & Company, which released “The Horse Boy” on Tuesday, has a lot riding on its success: the publisher paid more than $1 million in an advance to Mr. Isaacson before he and his family had even taken their Mongolian trip.
Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said booksellers had already placed orders high enough to justify a first printing of 150,000 copies.

UC Berkeley professor takes on school spending
In his book, “The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity,” W. Norton Grubb argues that how much is spent is less important than how it is spent

Mitchell Landsberg:

SDo we spend enough on public education? What does it mean that California has fallen from near the top of per-pupil spending in the United States to very near the bottom?
Money has long been at the center of debates over education. Now a book from a UC Berkeley professor argues that the entire debate is wrongheaded.
In “The Money Myth: School Resources, Outcomes, and Equity” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2009), W. Norton Grubb argues that how much we spend is less important than how we spend it. For decades, Grubb says, school spending has inexorably risen, while student achievement has stayed relatively stagnant. Maybe it’s time to look at which expenditures actually improve education, he argues, and which are a waste. The Times’ Mitchell Landsberg spoke to Grubb about his book.
Let me try to boil down the message in your book: Money matters, but only if it’s spent well. Is that right?
That’s certainly one of the conclusions, absolutely. And again, this phrase that I use constantly in the book is, “It’s often necessary, but it’s not sufficient.” So it’s finding what the necessary resources are in the school and then directing money and other resources — like leadership, vision, cooperation, collaboration — to them that makes a difference. And part of the point is an attempt to move the debates away from money to resources, because a lot of the debates in school finance have just been about money.

How To Be A Genius

Forbes – Scott Berkun
Have you got what it takes to be seen as a genius? Do you really want to?
Geniuses don’t exist in the present. Think of the people you’ve met: Would you call any of them a genius in the Mozart, Einstein, Shakespeare sense of the word? Even the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants don’t call their winners geniuses.
We throw the g-word around where it’s safe: in reference to dead people. Since there’s no one alive who witnessed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pee in his kindergarten pants or saw young Pablo Picasso eating crayons, we can call them geniuses in safety, as their humanity has been stripped from our memory.
Even if you believe geniuses exist, there’s little consensus on what being a genius means. Some experts say genius is the capacity for greatness. Others believe it’s that you’ve accomplished great things.
Forget this pointless debate. Chasing definitions never provides what we want: a better understanding of how to appreciate, and possibly become, interesting creative people.
Be obsessed with work
Show me a genius and I’ll show you a workaholic. Van Gogh produced 2,000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (or 1,100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s four works of art a week for a decade. He didn’t even get started until age 25.
Da Vinci’s journals represent one clear fact: Work was the center of his life. He had neither a spouse nor children. Picasso was a machine, churning out 12,000 works of art. He said, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it” and made good on that boast. Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, plus dozens of sonnets, poems and, of course, grocery lists.
These are people who sacrificed many ordinary pleasures for their work.
The list of lazy geniuses is short. There are burnouts, suicides and unproductive years in retreat–but none could be called slackers.
Have emotional or other serious problems
For all their brilliance, most geniuses did not live well-adjusted lives. Picasso, Van Gogh, Edison, Einstein and Nietzsche (and most major modern philosophers) were often miserable. Many never married or married often, abandoned children and fought depression.
Newton and Tesla spent years in isolation by choice and had enough personality disorders to warrant cabinets full of pharmaceuticals today. Michelangelo and da Vinci quit jobs and fled cities to escape debts.
Kafka and Proust were both hypochondriacs, spending years in bed or in hospitals for medical conditions, some of which were psychological. Voltaire, Thoreau and Socrates all lived in exile or poverty, and these conditions contributed to the works they’re famous for.
Happily positive emotions can work as fuel, too. John Coltrane, C.S. Lewis and Einstein had deeply held, and mostly positive, spiritual beliefs that fueled their work.
But the real lesson is that all emotions, positive or negative, provide fuel for work and geniuses are better at converting their emotions into work than more ordinary people.
Don’t strive for fame in your own lifetime
Most people we now consider geniuses received little publicity in their lifetimes compared with the accolades heaped on them after their deaths. Kafka and Van Gogh died young, poor and with little fame.
Desiring fame in the present may spoil the talents you have. This explains why many young stars have one amazing work but never rise to the same brilliance later: They’ve lost their own opinions. Perhaps it’s best to ignore opinions except from a trusted few and concentrate on the problems you wish to solve.
To focus on learning and creating seems wise. Leave it to the world after you’re gone to decide if you were a genius or not. As long as you’re free to create in ways that satisfy your passions and a handful of fans, you’re doing better than most, including many of the people we call geniuses.

Two Teachers, 16,000 Students, One Simple Rule

Richard Kahlenberg:

Jay Mathews is a bit of a journalistic oddball. Most reporters see the education beat as a stepping stone to bigger things, but much to his credit Mathews, who writes for The Washington Post, returned to covering schools after an international reporting career. He is best known for his book on Jaime Escalante, who taught low-income children in East Los Angeles to excel in AP calculus and was featured in the film “Stand and Deliver.” Now Mathews is back to profile two young teachers — Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin — who founded the wildly successful Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a chain of 66 charter schools now educating 16,000 low-income students in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
While I have some quarrels with the book’s implicit and explicit public-policy conclusions, “Work Hard. Be Nice” provides a fast-paced, engrossing and heartening story of two phenomenally dedicated teachers who demonstrate that low-income students, if given the right environment, can thrive academically. In 52 short and easily digestible chapters, Mathews traces the story of two Ivy League graduates who began teaching in Houston in 1992 as part of the Teach for America program. Both struggle at first but come under the tutelage of an experienced educator, Harriett Ball, who employs chants and songs and tough love to reach students whom lesser teachers might give up on. Levin and Feinberg care deeply: They encourage students to call them in the evening for help with homework, visit student homes to get parents on their side and dig into their own pockets to buy alarm clocks to help students get to school on time. In Mathews’s telling, it’s hard not to love these guys.

The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 — the number of days in a year — is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?
Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number — as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?
Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic — possibly divine — order that we simply discovered. That’s the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?
Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio’s theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a “simply put” distillation.
An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings — in this case, 16 or fewer — came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age

John Siracusa:

I was pitched headfirst into the world of e-books in 2002 when I took a job with Palm Digital Media. The company, originally called Peanut Press, was founded in 1998 with a simple plan: publish books in electronic form. As it turns out, that simple plan leads directly into a technological, economic, and political hornet’s nest. But thanks to some good initial decisions (more on those later), little Peanut Press did pretty well for itself in those first few years, eventually having a legitimate claim to its self-declared title of “the world’s largest e-book store.”
Unfortunately, despite starting the company near the peak of the original dot-com bubble, the founders of Peanut Press lost control of the company very early on. In retrospect, this signaled an important truth that persists to this day: people don’t get e-books.
A succession of increasingly disengaged and (later) incompetent owners effectively killed Peanut Press, first flattening its growth curve, then abandoning all of the original employees by moving the company several hundred miles away. In January of 2008, what remained of the once-proud e-book store (now called was scraped up off the floor and acquired by a competitor,
Unlike previous owners, Fictionwise has some actual knowledge of and interest in e-books. But though the “world’s largest e-book store” appellation still adorns the website, larger fish have long since entered the pond.
And so, a sad end for the eReader that I knew (née Palm Digital Media, née Peanut Press). But this story is not just about them, or me. Notice that I used the present tense earlier: “people don’t get e-books.” This is as true today as it was ten years ago. Venture capitalists didn’t get it then, nor did the series of owners that killed Peanut Press, nor do many of the players in the e-book market today. And then there are the consumers, their own notions about e-books left to solidify in the absence of any clear vision from the industry.

Obama Should Acknowledge His Catholic School Roots

William McGurn:

Of the many parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, one has eluded all coverage: Both attended Catholic school as children. In fact, while JFK may have been the Irish Catholic from Boston, he spent less time at the Canterbury School in Connecticut than did young Barry (as he was then called) at St. Francis of Assisi in Indonesia.
At a time when America’s 6,165 Catholic elementary and 1,213 secondary schools are celebrating Catholic Schools Week, President Obama’s first-hand experience here opens the door to a provocative opportunity. In his inaugural address, the president rightly scored a U.S. school system that “fail[s] too many” of our young people. How refreshing it would be if he followed up by giving voice to a corollary truth: For tens of thousands of inner-city families, the local parochial school is often the only lifeline of hope.
“When an inner-city public school does what most Catholic schools do every day, it makes the headlines,” says Patrick J. McCloskey, author of a new book called “The Street Stops Here,” about the year he spent at Rice High — an Irish Christian Brothers school in Harlem. “President Obama has a chance to rise above the ideological divide simply by giving credit where credit is due, by focusing on results, and the reason for those results.”

Geoffrey Canada and Education’s Future

Jay Matthews:

I have devoted many years to writing about schools, but much of the time I am really writing about poverty. Paul Tough has devoted several years to writing about poverty, but much of the time he is really writing about schools.
This is apparent in his insightful book “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.” You don’t see the words “schools” or “education” in the title, but be assured this is one of the best books ever written about how poverty influences learning, and vice versa.
As usual, I am late reviewing the book because I took my time reading it. I got a copy in September, when it came out. Books like this I like to absorb slowly and carefully. I keep them in a small room in my house where I know I will be alone, at least for short periods of time. It makes for great concentration, even if my reviews always miss their deadlines.
I have institutionalized this personal failing by creating the Better Late Than Never Book Club, of which Tough’s book is the latest featured selection. The club — which sells no books and offers no discounts, sorry — celebrates volumes I consider so important that I review them even if they are months, and in some cases years, past their publication dates.

Poor behavioral effects on gifted students due to them sitting bored and stagnant in classes

What Do They See in Me That I Don’t See in Myself?:

Jesse wished he could run away, far away. Someplace where no one knew him. A place where everything wasn’t his fault and nothing was beyond his reach… Jesse Hardaway is used to things being his fault. It’s just him and his mom at home, and she’s always yelling at him. School is like home, only about ten times worse! He’s in fifth grade special education and has to battle ADHD and an anger/behavior disorder every day. If he isn’t in trouble, he’s getting into it. The only thing Jesse is sure of is that the world is against him, and he is ready to give up.
One good thing Jesse has in his life is his best friend Davess, who never stops trying to look out for him. At school, Mrs. Abogar and Ms. Dubose try to look out for him too, though Jesse doesn’t know why and wishes they would stop.
Here it comes, Jesse thought, the thing that drives me nuts. That irritating thing that they are so known for. That thing that makes you wonder whether you should hug them or yell at them. The famous Punishment-with-a-Smile. I hate it… But very soon he is about to discover that these two women not only understand him, for some reason they actually care about him.

via a Nikki Callahan email.

“The Trouble With Textbooks”

Greg Toppo:

In 2004, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, a San Francisco think tank, launched an effort to address “anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism” in American education, from K-12 to higher education. Its book, The UnCivil University, focused on the USA’s colleges and universities.But the effort also gave rise to an extensive survey on the political, religious and social beliefs of university faculty — some of whom admitted to holding strong prejudices against evangelical Christians.
The researchers say they found a politically active, vocal minority — especially within Middle East studies departments — that held strong anti-Israel positions. Many of the same professors holding what the researchers found were strong political biases are often tapped to review K-12 social studies, history and geography textbooks, which explain religious history, among other topics, to very young children, the institute says.
So authors Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra looked at 28 textbooks over nearly five years — finding what they call “glaring distortions and inaccuracies,” many centered on the books’ treatment of Israel, Judaism and Christianity. Aside from their findings on how religions are treated, their new book, The Trouble With Textbooks (Lexington Books, $21.95), which appeared on shelves this fall, in part explores problems with the textbook approval process.

Critical Thinking

The Pioneer Institute [April 2006]
A Review of E.D. Hirsch’s The Knowledge Deficit (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who published Cultural Literacy in 1987, arguing that there was knowledge which every student ought to have, has now published another book, The Knowledge Deficit, (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) suggesting that the bankruptcy of the “transfer of thinking skills” position has lead to preventing most U.S. schoolchildren, and especially the disadvantaged ones who really depend on the schools to teach them, from acquiring the ability to read well.
Not too long after the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. mental measurement community convinced itself, and many others, that the cognitive skills acquired in the study of Latin in school did not “transfer” to other important tasks, one of which at the time was teaching students “worthy home membership.”
As a result, not only was the study of the Latin language abandoned for many students, but at the same time the “baby”–of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Tacitus, Virgil and others–was thrown out with the “bathwater.” In losing the language, we also lost Roman history, law, poetry, and prose.
In place of this classical knowledge which had been thought essential for two thousand years, the mental measurement community offered “thinking skills,” which they claimed could be applied to any content.

Professor Hirsch reaches back beyond the mental measurement folks to Thomas Jefferson, for someone who shares his view of the value of the knowledge in books:
“In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift. Jefferson’s plan of book learning was modest compared to the Puritan education of the seventeenth century as advocated by John Milton.” (p. 9)


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Jonah Raskin:

Still, “Outliers” is unabashedly inspiring. Education is at its vital heart; teachers and parents ought to put it on Christmas lists and bring it to PTA meetings. The students in my own classes, many of whom never seize opportunities, and blame others for failures, would benefit greatly by reading Gladwell’s provocative and practical book about the landscape of success.

Gladwell’s website. Jeffrey Trachtenberg has more.

Faulkner or Chaucer? AP Teachers Make the Call

Valerie Strauss:

At Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County, teacher Jeanine Hurley’s English class finished “The Canterbury Tales” and just started “Hamlet.” Senior Raphael Nguyen says he doesn’t spend a lot of time on homework because Hurley doesn’t give much.
At Langley High School in Fairfax County, teacher Kevin Howard’s English class is studying “Othello” after reading William Faulkner’s “Light in August.” Senior Ryan Ainsworth, 17, said he does an average of 75 minutes reading and writing each night because Howard can pour it on.
Although students in these classes don’t read the same works, they are taking the same course: Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition. And their teachers have the same goal: for students to learn how to connect text to meaning through skills assessed on the AP exam in May.

Out of the Ordinary: Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers

Michelle Barone:

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Crime
“Woosh! Splat!’ A gooshy, white spitball whizzed past Julia’s ear. It smushed onto the blackboard and stuck. Julia watched a wet stream travel down from the wad. It left a shiny black trail on the board. There was only one person in the room who would do such a thing. Julia knew who it was.
Julia knew what would happen next. It was the same thing that happened every time Teddy Parker misbehaved.
Miss Crawford, the teacher, spun around and faced the class like a fighter squaring off against an opponent. “Who made this spitball?” she demanded.
Julia clamped her skinny legs together and froze in her seat. Her knobby knees bumped each other.
“Who made this spitball?” Miss Crawford repeated.
“It wasn’t any of the sixth graders,” said Frank O’Malley, a blond haired, Irish boy. He stood, as was the custom, to speak for his age group.
Julia knew she was expected to answer. She was the only fifth grader in the room who spoke English. The other fifth grade girl sat wide-eyed with sealed lips.
Julia wished they didn’t have to go through this ritual every time Teddy Parker acted up. Teddy’s family came to Phippsburg long before Julia’s. Teddy lived in a real house. Julia’s family lived in an old boxcar that had been taken off of the rails. There were other families from Italy, Ireland, and Greece living in the boxcar section of town.
Julia didn’t know why Teddy was a trouble maker. He was luckier than all of the other kids. Teddy’s father ran the coal mine where everyone else’s father worked.
The fourth graders didn’t do it,” said a girl popping up and down in one motion.
Julia had missed her turn to answer.
“It wasn’t any of the third graders, Miss Crawford,” said another girl.
“The second graders didn’t do it,” said Teddy’s sister, Paulina.
A small boy stood. “It wasn’t the first grade, Teacher,” he said.
There will be a punishment for this, “Miss Crawford Said.
“Whoever made this spitball will have to come to the front of the room.”
Julia watched Miss Crawford focus on Teddy. He shifted in his wooden seat at the end of the sixth grade row.
“What do you have to say, Teddy?” asked Miss Crawford.
Julia looked at Teddy sitting in his new clothes from Denver. He wore a new shirt under a new sweater, new knickers, and new knee socks. Julia guessed his underwear was new, too. Teddy’s clothes were the right size, not patched and baggy hand-me-downs like Julia’s. Most of the kids were dressed like her, in clothes that had once been worn by their parents.
Julia watched Teddy slowly rise. He stepped out to the side of his desk. Julia waited for Teddy to make his confession. It was his chance to show off every day. She knew in a moment he would proudly walk to the front of the room, stand on tip toe, and place his nose on a chalk dot Miss Crawford drew on the board. The class would watch him stand there on pointed toe while he took his punishment. Miss Crawford wouldn’t make Teddy stand at the board for a whole hour like she would any other student. Teddy was her pet. She’d call off his punishment after five or ten minutes.
It was the same every time. Nothing exciting ever happened in Phippsburg. Why couldn’t it be a little bit different this once?
Julia reached up and felt a rag curl in her hair. Mama tied the rags into her hair last night. Julia liked how the curls made a soft half circle around her plain face.
Julia closed her eyes and made one silent wish. “Please let something exciting happen today for a change.”
She opened her eyes and blinked three times for good luck.
Miss Crawford was waiting for an answer. Teddy straightened his shoulders and drew in a long, deep breath.
“Miss Crawford, I must tell the truth,” he said.
“Yes, you must,” said Miss Crawford.
All eyes were glued on Teddy Parker.
“It was…Julia!” he announced.

Kiselev’s Geometry: Book II, Stereometry

Alexander Givental, via email:

The Stereometry book adapted from Russian by A. Givental is the second part of the legendary Kiselev’s Geometry. It first appeared in 1892 as a second half of a single textbook and, for a long time, the two co-existed between the same covers. Indeed, the idea of a plane was introduced on page 1 while the last chapter of the book (that followed the stereometry part) was devoted to the geometric constructions in two dimensions. Kiselev’s Geometry has demonstrated an unusual staying power, being in an uninterrupted circulation for a good part of a century. (For the historic outline, see the review of the first part.) As a matter of fact, the first part of the book met with stiffer competition so that, while its rule was weakened in the 1960s, the second part reigned in the textbook market well into the 1970s.
The combined 1980 edition came out under the title Elementary Geometry for teacher colleges with a Foreward by A. N. Tikhonov who observed, albeit with some reservations, that the pedagogical mastery with which the book was written, the simplicity and consistency of the exposition, kept the book from becoming obsolete.

Talking with Jeremy Miller, Author of “Tyranny of the Test”

Benjamin Austen:

Jeremy Miller is the author of “Tyranny of the Test,” the September cover story. The article, which explains how No Child Left Behind has changed the structure of our schools-and how “teaching the test” takes more away from students than it gives-was based on his years of experience working as a test-prep “coach” for Kaplan, Inc. Associate Editor Ben Austen follows up with Jeremy Miller now that the issue is on newsstands.
1. At some point last year, you decided you wanted to write about working for Kaplan in New York City’s public schools. This kind of reporting, in which the participant’s journalistic intentions are not made explicit, is always complicated. But the issues here seemed to be compounded by your background as a full-time classroom teacher and by your desire to succeed at a job that you increasingly saw as problematic. What were some of the difficulties you faced in reporting this story?

The Pencil

A book by Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman:

“One day that little pencil made a move, shivered slightly, quivered somewhat . . . and began to draw.”
Welcome back Banjo, the boy from THE RUNAWAY DINNER! Once a pencil draws him, there’s no telling what will come next — a dog, a cat, a chase (of course), and a paintbrush to color in an ever-expanding group of family and friends. But it’s not long before the complaints begin — “This hat looks silly!” “My ears are too big!” — until the poor pencil has no choice but to draw . . . an eraser. Oh no! In the hands of Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman, can anything but havoc and hilarity ensue?
The creators of THE RUNAWAY DINNER and PREVIOUSLY team up to imagine the comical world that comes to life when a lonely pencil starts to draw.

Madison School Board OKs Nov. referendum

Tamira Madsen:

Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.
The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.
Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.
One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Andy Hall:

Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.
Nerad said the district would work “day and night” to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.


“I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We’re going to do our best to provide good information,” said Nerad.
Some citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.
“Our schools are already underfunded,” said one man.
However, others spoke against the plan. “This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.


Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.
“I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions,” said Nerad. “But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids.”
The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.
“This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison’s taxpayers’ checkbooks,” said Madison resident David Glomp. “It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving.”

NBC 15:

“We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn’t mean they’re anti-school or anti-kids,” says board member Ed Hughes.
Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.
“What’s a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that’s the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. “How much longer can we do this?”
The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.
The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.

Much more on the planned November, 2008 referendum here.
TJ Mertz on the “blank check“.

When Learning Has a Limit

Ben Wildavsky:

Since the release of “A Nation at Risk” 25 years ago, we have seen the introduction of top-down standards (including the No Child Behind Act), the spread of a bottom-up school-choice movement (including vouchers and charter schools), and the advent of entrepreneurial programs, like Teach for America, that combine a market-oriented approach with a focus on academic results.
Meanwhile, record numbers of students aspire to higher education, not least because the economic returns to a college degree are, despite a recent leveling off, indisputable. Thus all sorts of people are busy trying to make sure that more high-school grads get a shot not only at enrolling in college but at finishing it.
None of this much impresses Charles Murray. In “Real Education,” he suggests that teachers, students and reformers are all suffering from a case of false consciousness. “The education system,” he says, “is living a lie.”
The problem with American education, according to Mr. Murray, is not what President Bush termed the “soft bigotry of low expectations” but rather the opposite: Far too many young people with inherent intellectual limitations are being pushed to advance academically when, Mr. Murray says, they are “just not smart enough” to improve much at all. It is “a triumph of hope over experience,” he says, to believe that school reform can make meaningful improvements in the academic performance of below-average students. (He might have noted, but doesn’t, that such students are disproportionately black and Hispanic.)

Real Education by Charles Murray.

Free digital texts begin to challenge costly college textbooks in California

Gale Holland:

Would-be reformers are trying to beat the high cost — and, they say, the dumbing down — of college materials by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost online texts.
The annual college textbook rush starts this month, a time of reckoning for many students who will struggle to cover eye-popping costs of $128, $156, even $198 a volume.
Caltech economics professor R. Preston McAfee finds it annoying that students and faculty haven’t looked harder for alternatives to the exorbitant prices. McAfee wrote a well-regarded open-source economics textbook and gave it away — online. But although the text, released in 2007, has been adopted at several prestigious colleges, including Harvard and Claremont-McKenna, it has yet to make a dent in the wider textbook market.
“I was disappointed in the uptake,” McAfee said recently at an outdoor campus cafe. “But I couldn’t continue assigning idiotic books that are starting to break $200.”
McAfee is one of a band of would-be reformers who are trying to beat the high cost — and, they say, the dumbing down — of college textbooks by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost digital texts.

Yian Mui & Susan Kinzie:

The rising cost of college textbooks has driven Congress and nearly three dozen states — including Maryland and Virginia — to attempt to curtail prices and controversial publishing practices through legislation. But as the fall semester begins, students are unlikely to see much relief.
Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks range from $700 to $1,100 annually, and the market for new books is estimated at $3.6 billion this year. Between 1986 and 2004, the price of textbooks nearly tripled, rising an average of 6 percent a year while inflation rose 3 percent, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. In California, the state auditor reported last week that prices have skyrocketed 30 percent in four years.
“It’s really hard just paying for tuition alone,” said Annaiis Wilkinson, 19 and a student at Trinity Washington University who spends about $500 a semester on books. “It really sets people back.

Well worth looking into, including in the K-12 world.

Factory for Unhappy People

The Economist:

MORMONS, military and McKinsey are the three Ms said to characterise the student body at Harvard Business School (HBS). Philip Delves Broughton, a British journalist, was none of the above, yet he was prepared to spend $175,000 for a chance to attend this “factory for unhappy people”. He never completely fitted in, perhaps because he largely shunned the prodigious alcohol-driven networking for which MBAs are famous, or perhaps because he did not really want to devote his life to getting rich. Yet his engaging memoir suggests he found it a positive experience.
Mr Delves Broughton did not set out to write a book about the course. Nor is this probably the book that HBS would choose to mark its 100th birthday, which it is celebrating extensively this year. Yet anyone considering enrolling will find this an insightful portrait of HBS life, with detailed accounts of case studies and slightly forced classroom fun, such as the students on the back row–the “skydecks”–who rate the performance of their peers. (“HBS had two modes, deadly serious and frat boy.”)

What They Teach You At Harvard Business School

From Crayons to Condoms: The Ugly Truth About America’s Public Schools


The American public school system, once the envy of the world, is now a cesspool of political correctness, ineptitude and violence, yet its administrators demand – and receive – far more funding per child than do higher-performing private and religious schools.
From “teachers” who can barely comprehend English to the elevation of foreign cultures and ideals above our own, from the mainstreaming of violent juvenile felons to demands that “queer studies” be considered as vital as math, our classrooms have become havens for indoctrination, sexual license and failed educational fads.
In From Crayons to Condoms, you’ll experience today’s public schools as never before, through the voices of parents and children left stranded in the system, the same voices that teachers unions and school administrators are determined to stifle. Here’s a “must-read” for every parent concerned about their child’s future, and for every taxpayer sick of being dunned endlessly to prop up a failed system.

via Barnes & Noble. Clusty Search: Steve Baldwin & Karen Holgate.

The 25 Best Boarding School Books

Sarah Ebner:

Books about boarding school have always been popular, but they’ve often been seen – like the schools themselves – as old fashioned and well past their sell-by date. This may no longer be the case – for the school, and their fictional equivalents.
The Boarding Schools Association say that both independent and the 35 state boarding establishments, are in robust health. The numbers of boarders is up for the first time in three years.
Meanwhile Wild Child, a film about an 16-year-old American sent to a British boarding school to be “tamed” is released next week, while School Friends, a new boarding school series aimed at girls of eight and up, is published at the end of August. Its publishers are claiming that it’s “Malory Towers for the new Millennium.” My daughter is already a fan, proclaiming concisely that she “really, really likes them.”

Parenting, Inc: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting

Emily Bazelon reviews Pamela Paul’s new book. “How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers — and What It Means for Our Children.”

Parenting books tend to fall into two categories. There are the advice books that play on readers’ anxieties, urging parents to scale ever greater heights on behalf of their kids. (Try harder! Move faster! Buy more!) And then there are the anti-advice books that promise to deflect all of this anxiety-mongering by helping parents ward off the latest sales pitch.
Pamela Paul and Carl Honoré seek to fit into this second category. And yet their books are as anxious about staving off anxiety as any advice book is about stoking it. The effect is a bit like being told to calm down by someone whose neck veins are bulging.
Paul’s focus is on the money that parents spend, and her premise is pretty unassailable: It’s hard not to buy things for your kid, especially if you can afford it. Paul calls this “the anxiety of underspending.” Baring her own wallet, she writes, “No matter what I do, someone else seems to be doing enviably more or improbably less, and either way, their child and family seem all the better for it.”

Put School Curricula over Buildings

John Torinus:

The West Bend School Board, chastened by a two-to-one defeat of its $119 million referendum for improved facilities, is seeking input from the community on how to go forward.
To their credit, district leaders have done that all along. But they still missed the mark on gauging what the community wanted.
One thing is clear: just coming back at a slightly reduced total will probably not work. The margin of defeat was too large. So, some creative thinking is needed.
My own guess is that the referendum failed on two counts: its sheer size in dollars was too much for taxpayers to swallow and it lacked vision.
It’s hard to get excited about bricks, mortar and maintenance, necessary as they are.
It would be exciting, though, to come up with a program of study that would allow our young people to compete better in the globalizing world.
A stunning new book, “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek columnist and perhaps the most insightful journalist in the country, outlines the challenges facing the United States and its next generations.
He calls it “The Rise of the Rest” and generally says the rise into prosperity of other countries can be a positive for America if we react in the right way.

The Future of Reading

Ezra Klein:

The title of a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts was “Reading at Risk.” The follow-up, released in November 2007, upped the ante. “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” placed the consumption of Moby Dick up there with questions of poverty and health care. Weighty stuff. Around the same time, Newsweek published a cover story entitled “The Future of Reading”—I assumed the gist was along the lines of, “Nobody will be doing any, and the Russians will win.” I was wrong. In an almost uniquely American take on the subject, Newsweek decided to peer past the decline in reading and instead enthuse about the creation of new, expensive technologies that would help us read—namely, Amazon’s Kindle. The newsmag’s decision made a sort of perverse sense. After all, books may be in sharp decline, but compared to, say, 1992, reading on computer screens is way, way up. If you could put books on a computer screen, and maybe connect that to the Internet, you might really have something.

What Do Children Read? Harry Potter’s Not No. 1

Jay Matthews:

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States will reveal today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.
Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling’s Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result.
“I find it reassuring . . . that students are still reading the classics I read as a child,” said Roy Truby, a senior vice president for Wisconsin-based Renaissance Learning. But Truby said he would have preferred to see more meaty and varied fare, such as “historical novels and biographical works so integral to understanding our past and contemporary books that help us understand our world.”
Michelle F. Bayuk, marketing director for the New York-based Children’s Book Council, agreed. “What’s missing from the list are all the wonderful nonfiction, informational, humorous and novelty books as well as graphic novels that kids read and enjoy both inside and outside the classroom.”

Author Works To Prevent Reading’s ‘Death Spiral’

Valerie Strauss:

He’s got a serious new title: the very first officially declared U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. But author Jon Scieszka is on a mission to get schools and parents to lighten up when it comes to selecting books for children.
It’s time, he said, for reading to be fun again.
Scieszka was picked recently by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to fill the newly created role, designed to raise the profiles of reading and good books for young people. He is traveling the country, talking to adults about how to get children to read more, especially those who find reading a chore.
Legions of children know him from his award-winning books, including “The Stinky Cheese Man,” and his Web site, which promotes books for boys. He also has Trucktown, a new series for preschool and kindergarten students, who wouldn’t be at all surprised by his unorthodox views about reading, although some adults might.
The way he sees it, parents and teachers should:

What Books When?

Valerie Strauss:

Parents at Green Acres, a private school in Montgomery County, complained this month when a teacher read to a group of third-graders from a book containing gruesome descriptions of violence against enslaved Africans and the conditions on the ships that brought them to the United States. They said the children were too young for the difficult theme and graphic language.
At Deal Junior High School in the District, some parents wondered why their children were reading books this year that they considered too easy for advanced seventh-grade students (“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson) or books without much literary merit (“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey.)
The episodes illustrate how difficult it is for librarians, teachers and parents to match children with the right book at the right age in an effort to turn young people into lovers of reading. And experts say that process is becoming increasingly complicated.

10 Signs of What Is Not a Crummy Poor-Kid School

Jay Matthews:

Two engaging books came out a year ago, each so compelling I planned a major column with guest commentators and debates and confetti and dancers and rock music. Then life intruded. I never got it together. Now my only face-saving option is to make these books the latest selections to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column’s way of heralding works that I never get around to reading when I should.
The books are ” ‘It’s Being Done’: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools” by Karin Chenoweth, and “Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools,” by Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner. My mistake was to see the two volumes as yin and yang, left and right, liberal and conservative, a distillation of the education wars, when they are in some ways complementary. So I will do Chenoweth’s book today and Nichols-Berliner in two weeks.
I need to issue a bias alert for ” ‘It’s Being Done.’ ” Chenoweth is a former Washington Post columnist whose work I have admired for many years. She said she was hired by the Achievement Alliance–a coalition of five educational organizations–to find and describe “schools where poor children and children of color do better than their peers in others schools.” She profiles several regular public schools that meet her criteria. But the most interesting part of the book is her description of a school she removed from her list, even though its test scores looked good.

19th Century School Textbooks

Nietz Old Textbook Collection:

The entire texts of all books in the collection can be searched. Searches will retrieve every title containing the search term. Clicking on a title link recovers bibliographic information about the book and a list of pages where the search term was located. Choosing a link to an individual page displays an image of the page.

Best Book Chapter of the Year

Jay Matthews:

I was ready to like Peter Sacks’ new book, “Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education.” He is a terrific reporter with a keen sense of weak spots in conventional wisdom about schools. And since the word “class” in the title of this column has always had a double meaning, I was eager to read the work of someone who shared my view that socioeconomic differences are at the root of our failure to help many of our brightest kids get the educations they deserve.
It turns out Sacks has written an exceptional book, with one particular chapter that blew me away. But my first quick read made me grumpy, for reasons that have more to do with my own personal flaws and biases than his good work.
I started with the Washington thing, what all we journalists working in our nation’s capital do when checking out a new book — look for our names in the index. Sadly, I wasn’t there. Well, maybe the acknowledgments? No again. The fact that Sacks and I have never met, as far as I can remember, may have something to do with that. Still, it wasn’t a good beginning for me.

Our School Author Joanne Jacobs Milwaukee visit 3/23/2007

via email:

Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds (Palgrave Macmillan) brings readers inside a San Jose charter high school that prepares students who are “failing but not in jail” to succeed at four-year colleges.
The book just came out in paperback. I’ll be in Milwaukee Friday, March 23 to speak at Marquette’s Soup and Substance lunch at noon at Alumni Memorial Union, 1442 W. Wisconsin Ave., in room 163 [Map]. The lunch is open to the public. I’ll also do a reading at Schwartz Bookshop, 2262 S. Kinnickinnic Ave at 7 pm [Map].
Most Downtown College Prep students come from Mexican immigrant families and read at the fifth-grade level when they start ninth grade. DCP promotes the work-your-butt-off style of education. Teachers don’t tell students they’re wonderful. They tell them they’re capable of improving, which is true. The school now has one of the highest pass rates in San Jose on the state graduation exam. All graduates go to four-year colleges.
Our School has received good reviews in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Washington Post, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sacramento Bee, Teacher Magazine and elsewhere.
After 19 years as a Knight Ridder columnist, I quit in 2001 to write “Our School,” freelance and start an education blog,, which now draws more than 1,000 visitors a day.
With all the despair about educating “left behind” kids, I think people should hear about a school that’s making a difference.

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

Virginia Tufte:

In Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, Virginia Tufte presents and comments on – more than a thousand excellent sentences chosen from the works of authors in the 20th and 21st centuries. The sentences come from an extensive search to identify some of the ways professional writers use the generous resources of the English language.

Book: Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe about Our Schools, and Why It Isn’t So

Jay P. Greene:

In Education Myths, Jay P. Greene takes on the conventional wisdom and closely examines twenty myths advanced by the special interest groups dominating public education. In addition to the money myth, the class size myth, and the teacher pay myth, Greene debunks the special education myth (special ed programs burden public schools), the certification myth (certified or more experienced teachers are more effective in the classroom), the graduation myth (nearly all students graduate from high school), the draining myth (choice harms public schools), the segregation myth (private schools are more racially segregated), and a dozen more.

Watch or listen to a recent Jay Green Speech here.

Balancing Mission & Money in Higher Education

Lewis Collens reviews Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp.

David Kirp’s excellent book “Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line” provides a remarkable window into the financial challenges of higher education and the crosscurrents that drive institutional decision-making. He reminds us that the coin of the realm in higher education is the quality of education and research, and he cautions that the pursuit of dollars can debase the coin of the realm.
Kirp explores the continuing battle for the soul of the university: the role of the marketplace in shaping higher education, the tension between revenue generation and the historic mission of the university to advance the public good.