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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 09/ 3/2010

The decade’s best education books?

By Valerie Strauss

The magazine Education Next is conducting a poll of its readers to determine the “best books” of the past decade in the education world, and though the voting continues, the trend is clear: Most of the top books are critical in some way of today's education reforms, and the No. 1 book, by Diane Ravitch, slams them.

The poll is hardly scientific, of course, but the results are ironic; books by the top three editors listed first on the magazine masthead, men who support many of today’s education reforms, are faring poorly in the voting.

The magazine listed 41 books (though missed some important works) and asked readers to choose three. It doesn’t define what “best book” means, but, presumably, it means best and most important content.

As of late Thursday night, here are the leading books, with the percentage each has captured in the voting. Note the commanding lead of the top book:

1) Diane Ravitch. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. (Basic Books, 2010) 21.6%

2) Linda Darling-Hammond. The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. (Teachers College Press, 2009) 7.6%

3) Daniel T. Willingham. Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. (Jossey-Bass, 2009) 6.7%

4) E. D. Hirsch. The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) 6.2%

5) Deborah Meier. In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization (Beacon Press, 2002) 5.3%

Any regular reader of this blog will know that I wouldn’t argue a bit with the top results.

I think Ravitch's work, one of the very rare education books to become a bestseller, is terrific. I've written about it as well as about Darling-Hammond's book, urging everybody to read them, including President Obama. Willingham writes every Monday for this blog and I've posted pieces by Meier and Hirsch.

Meanwhile, the top three editors of Education Next as listed on the magazine's masthead are: Editor-in-Chief Paul E. Peterson, Senior Editor Chester E. Finn Jr., and Executive Editor Frederick M. Hess (who sometimes blogs for The Answer Sheet). It should be noted that Hess is one of four executive editors listed in alphabetical order and by virtue of his name is first.

Here’s how the books of those three men are doing in the voting:

Chester E. Finn Jr. Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform since Sputnik. (Princeton University Press, 2008) 0.6%

Frederick M. Hess. Common Sense School Reform. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) 0.5%

William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson. The Education Gap: Vouchers And Urban Schools. (Brookings Institution Press, 2002) 0.4%

Take a look at the poll. Do the results mean anything? What books do you think are missing? What books do you think every parent should read?

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By Valerie Strauss  | September 3, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Reading  | Tags:  best education books, best education books of the decade, daniel willingham, diane ravitch, ed next's poll of books, education next, education next's poll, linda darling-hammong, poll of education books, the death and life of the great american school system, why don't students like school?  
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Teach like a Champion and The First Day of Schoo

Posted by: ktksmom | September 3, 2010 6:34 AM | Report abuse

The results should say something to the politicians, legislators, the DOE and to Obama's administration.

Read the top three books then try to tell this nation with a straight face that we are headed in the right direction!

Posted by: rsolnet | September 3, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Lemov's Teach Like a Champion is the best book for real teachers in the last ten years.

Posted by: tjbrookshire | September 3, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that the Congress and the American public don't know about these books. Therefore they will believe everything Blarney Duncan and his friends in the press say about education reform.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 3, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Ravitch's book is a monumental disappointment. She caved on everything she fought for for over a decade. Courage? I don't think so. It's more like following the direction of the wind.

The other two, Darling-Hammond and Meier are left-wing wacko progressives whose time in social policy has come and gone. Evidence exists in the downfall of Antioch in Silver Springs, Ohio coupled with the termination of the Stanford University School of Education charter school being shuttered by the state of California for chronic under performance. What do the closings of these two wayward schools tell anyone about the feasibility of their philosophies?

Posted by: phoss1 | September 3, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Why is changing your mind in the face of overwhelming evidence considered "bending with the wind"? It seems more like "intelligence" to me.

Posted by: someguy100 | September 4, 2010 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Education and the Cult of Efficiency by Raymond Callahan.

This book was not written within the last decade (although it was reissued not too long ago)BUT, it describes very effectively much of what is going on now in many of the current reform efforts. That era saw the influence of business & 'scientific management' during the changeover of the industrial revolution....... . it mirrors - (predicted?) - our current era of the impact of technology and the obsession with data-driven results. More importantly, the time period set the stage for many of the things we accept as everyday norms in our schools: the "egg-carton" architectural design of most schools came about as a direct result of the efficiency movement.

I studied education in the early seventies when I was introduced to this book, and in the 28 years of teaching that followed, I was constantly aware of how much influence that efficiency movement had down through the years.

I recommend reading "Education and the Cult of Efficiency" if you haven't read it, because it gives a very clear warning of how long a reach into the future the current 'reforms' may have - AND - our young educators just getting started may be very unaware of this kind of impact.

Just two chapters, "the 'Factory System' in Education - the Platoon Schools" and
"Instruction follows Accounting" give a profound sense of the economic forces that drove - and probably still drive - the public schools.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | September 4, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I agree that Ravitch's book belongs on top. It has a greater impact than any other education book.

I strongly disagree with those advocating Lemov. Sorry, but (a) he says nothing really new, and (b) we have previously been down the road of assuming that if people follow certain checklists of behaviors that will make them effective teachers. There is no one model of effective teaching, but were one to look for one characteristic that most effective teachers share it is that they are able to act in a way that makes their students trust them, most often by demonstrating a real caring for them. Here I would suggest the work of Nel Noddings on the ethic of caring might be quite relevant.

I found a couple of notable emissions from the list of 41. I do not know how one can put together such a list with nothing by the late Gerald Bracey. Of his many books, my personal favorite is his last, "Education Hell." I also strongly recommend the latest by Mike Rose, "Why School?"

Posted by: teacherken | September 4, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The must-read books I highly recommend to parents especially, are:

Horace (Rog) Lucido's "Educational Genocide", Angela Engel's "Seeds of Tomorrow", Victoria M. Young's "Education's Missing Piece, and to tie these three together Dr. Yong Zhao's "Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization"

Posted by: gpadvocate | September 5, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Ravitch's book has been documented to be sloppy, dishonest in how it describes scholarly literature, and extraordinarily biased. See, e.g., and all the links therein.

Posted by: StuartBuck | September 7, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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