Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best Education Books of 2014

Here is one person's year end list of the books that every informed educator and champion of public education should read very soon, if not now.

The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation, by Anthony Cody, NY:Garn Press.

If, like me, you were a big fan of Cody's late lamented Living in Dialogue column in Education Week, you will find more of Cody's thoughtful, informed critiques of the corporate education reform movement in this book. Here Cody, one of the true heroes of public education, aims his arrows directly at reformer in chief Bill Gates and he hits bullseye after bullseye. To understand how one person and one person's money can spread a mistaken idea from Seattle to Chicago to New York to the White House to your neighborhood school pick up Cody's impassioned and thoroughly readable book.

A Chronicle of Echoes: Who's Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, by Mercedes K. Schneider, Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press

If Cody focuses on the damage done to public education by Bill Gates, Schneider seemingly takes on every other corporate education reformer in her book. Schneider provides us with a sort of field guide to corporate education reformers. Name a reformer and Schneider will provide a detailed account of her/his misdeeds. Those of you familiar with Schneiders writing from her blog deutch29 (and if you aren't you should be) will be familiar with Schneider's penchant for finely detailed investigative reporting, skilled analysis of data and air of indignation.

50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America's Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education, by David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass, NY: Teachers College Press

Berliner and Glass are two highly respected researchers who use their knowledge of research to systematically dismantle every canard of the corporate education movement. Name an issue: charter school superiority to public schools, international tests showing the failure of our public schools, merit pay will improve teacher performance, class size doesn't matter, retention will improve achievement, money doesn't matter, education will lift the poor out of poverty. Berliner and Glass take on each of these issues, present the reformer argument and then cite research to show how wrong they are.

50 Myths is the perfect book to have on hand when in the company of those who carp about charters, choice and "bad" schools. Clear and easy to read, this is a book you will refer to over and over.

Rethnking Value-Added Models in Education: Critical Perspectives on Tests and Assessment-Based Accountability, by Audrey Amrein Beardsley. NY: Routledge

Here is a book that every teacher must read in the era of standardized test-based accountability. In school after school, in state after state, teachers are being judged (in small or large part) on value-added models (VAMs) based on student performance on standardized tests. Amrein-Beardsley is the foremost authority on  VAMs in the country. She created the blog Vamboozled! as a forum for information and criticism of VAM based accountability measures. In this book, Amrein-Beardsley takes a scholarly approach to the dismantling of the research and rhetoric behind VAMs.

Her conclusions: VAMs are unreliable, invalid, nontransparent, unfair, full of measurement errors, and being used inappropriately to make key decisions about teacher retention, termination and pay. Other than that they are just peachy.

Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers and the Attack on Public Education, by John Kuhn. NY: Teachers College Press.

John Kuhn is one part story teller, one part evangelist and one part passionate champion of public education. Through personal narrative, historical reference, sound research and righteous indignation he lays waste to the corporate education reform movement in his compelling new book. What I love about Kuhn's writing is that his well told stories and carefully cited sources give way at times to bursts of passionate advocacy that have the reader, at least this life-long educator, primed to storm the beaches of the Gates Foundation or the Halls of Teach for America if necessary, to do what is right by children, teachers, parents and public education. You can read my full review of the book here.

Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency, by Jan Miller Burkins & Kim Yaris. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

This one is for all my literacy instruction friends. Burkins and Yaris cut through all the Common Core standards gobbledy-gook to provide teachers with a clear eyed approach to bringing children to reading by developing both the skill and the will to read. The authors, both former teachers who have become influential voices in the literacy field through their blog, Burkins and Yaris - Think Tank for the 21st Century Literacy, worry that the current mania surrounding standards and accountability will draw teacher's attention away from a broader vision of students as readers and people. They offer up a book of practical lessons and knowing advice to help teachers stay true to their literate selves and true to their students literacy needs in the strange new world that is education in the 21st century. You can read my full review here.

So there you have it. The books that have helped me through another year of public education insanity. What books did I miss? What would you recommend? I would love to hear from you here on the blog or over at the Russ on Reading Facebook page.

Have a Happy New Year and keep reading!

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