A new tradition for 2016, an opportunity to look back and reflect, take some pleasure in positive experiences of the year concluding, and pass along some recommendations to others who appreciate such things: sharing my top ten books, tv , meals and hikes. 

Books (Non-Education)

This is a list of of my favorite “non-professional” titles read in 2016, drawn from a list of something over 80 books read in total (every May or June I publish a post of the top ten summer reading recommendations for educators, and it makes no sense to duplicate that here.)

The top three on the list below do stand apart as the very best: McEwan’s Nutshell, so short as to be effectively a novella, I adored and couldn’t put down, amusing and sexy and bizarre as it is.  Wulf’s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, told the story of an early nineteenth century polymath who first deeply recognized and appreciated the interconnectedness of all living creatures, and is gorgeously written (the accompanying title by the same author isn’t quite as great but still very worthy.)  And the third title is the the story of Quanah Parker, who has to be among the very most fascinating creatures ever to exist on the North American continent, and whose story deserves to be as well known and as deeply considered as that of almost any other American.

  1. Nutshell (McEwan)
  2. Invention of Nature  and Chasing Venus (Wulf)
  3. Empire of the Summer Moon (Gwynn)
  4. When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi)
  5. Eligible (Sittenfeld) and Emma (Smith)
  6. Modern Romance (Straub)
  7. Underground Airlines (Winters)  
  8. Underground Railroad (Whitehead)
  9. The Wright Brothers (McCullogh)
  10. TV: The Book (Sepinwall and Zollar-Seitz)

Honorable Mention:  Night Life (Taylor), The Girls (Cline), American Heiress (Toobin), Sapiens (Harrari), The Terranauts (Boyle), Hero of France (Furst), Commonwealth (Patchett), The Innovators (Isaacson).

TV (more…)

Reposted from original posting for client company ProExam.

Most readers are probably familiar with the fascinating curve ball the 2015 Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESSA, has thrown into state-level mandated accountability indices. In addition to a set of “substantially weighted” academic indicators, states are to add to them “at least one additional indicator of school quality or student success beyond test scores.”

Although we are presently in a moment of political uncertainty with regards to the future of all federal policy and legislation, there is some reason to think ESSA will stand as is: it was passed, after all, in legislation by the Republican-controlled House and Senate before being signed by a Democratic President.

Let us first applaud the inclusion of this additional indicator, what the media is usually labeling (though not entirely accurately) the “Non-academic Indicator” (NAI) or “Non-academic Factor” (NAF) to the mix. This is great news: we know today more than ever before how important it is to broaden our gauges of educational effectiveness.

Consider the hugely interesting finding from a 2016 NBER study (C. Kirabo Jackson), which is summarized in a recent excellent report from the Hamilton Project, “Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills”:

When considering only the effect of a teacher on students’ test scores, Jackson finds that higher-quality teachers provide a small boost of 0.14 percentage points to high school graduation rates.

When Jackson considers the effect of teachers on both test scores and noncognitive skill factors, their effect on noncognitive skills is shown to matter more, with higher-quality teachers raising high school graduation rates by 0.74 percentage points.

Moreover, teachers who are adept at raising test scores and teachers who excel at instilling noncognitive skills are often not the same people.

In other words, if and when we incent, recognize, and reward those teachers who successfully raise test scores, and we don’t do the same for those teachers who enhance noncognitive skills, we have the potential unintended consequence of actually depressing high school graduation rates—by driving away or changing the practices of the very teachers having the most positive impact on graduation.

It’s been about a year since ESSA was made law, and in that time much attention has been directed to the new non-academic factors requirement, with some wide debate about which particular additional factor(s) should be selected for inclusion in the state level accountability index. There have been multiple recent studies and presentations, including:

When reviewing these reports, four key themes emerge:

  1. Emphasis on use of multiple NAF data sources
  2. Debate over the pros and cons of the use of SEL measurement
  3. Frontrunner status for chronic absenteeism
  4. Importance of support for educators’ effective use of NAF data and for accompanying evidence-based interventions

Let’s look at each in turn.


Happy to have had this booklet/bundle published today at Getting Smart; it includes a series of recent posts I wrote on the subject as well as additional pieces serving as an introduction and a conclusion to the booklet.

Enjoy, and feel free to contact me to discuss or for more information. Screen-Shot-2016-08-17-at-10.06.14-PM-907x1024

KVtl_fK_Pleased to have had my first Education Week Commentary published late last month, We Should Measure Students’ NonCognitive Skills, and to learn that it was the second most popular article or opinion piece on its website last week.   Below is the “teaser” first few paragraphs, but you can then click through to read the rest at Edweek. 

When a 9th grader in Salt Lake City—let’s call him Arnoldo—refused to do any work in his English class, his teachers weren’t finding a way to connect with him. The school’s social-emotional-learning teacher gave him an assessment of his noncognitive skills and saw he was struggling in resiliency and social awareness. She was able to support Arnoldo with strategies to improve those skills, such as setting small goals and monitoring progress. Arnoldo’s grades and attendance improved, and he began to connect with peers through school activities. Rather than approaching the problem as an academic one, Arnoldo’s teachers focused on the social-emotional skills he needed to be successful.

Recent psychological research has shown the importance of social-emotional learning for student success in the classroom and in life, and many school districts are exploring how to teach and measure noncognitive skills. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires that each state include at least one nonacademic indicator in its school evaluation measures.

Read more:  Education Week, “We Should Measure Students’ Noncognitive Skills.”

Originally posted on Getting Smart, June 17, 2016.

Happy to share this new infographic which I helped to create on this important topic, for client organization ProExam and its new assessment system, Tessera.


Transitioning to a Digital Curriculum – Think Through MathThink Through Math just published an e-book they commissioned me to research and write this spring.

Learn the key decisions and the practical steps required for ensuring your school makes the most of the digital cornucopia from which your students can nourish their hunger for knowledge.

Sections of this “playbook” include: Tactical Moves, Strategic Moves,Teacher Moves, Overcoming Obstacles, and Measuring Success

I want to offer my thanks for their input to this playbook to Sarah Hanawald, head honcho of ATLIS, the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, and Alex Inman, top dog at the edtech consulting firm Educational Collaborators.

Click here or on the image to grab a copy; hope you enjoy.



Once again, I’m delighted to share here my summer reading recommendations for educators.  As with previous years, I present these as a top ten list: these are my favorite ten educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2015-16.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find below the top ten additional suggestions for the best free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for  pleasure suggestions.

For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for

Note: Asterisks attached to book titles indicates the book would be a worthy selection for a faculty summer reading list; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say).

Top Ten List

9780544935280_custom-ccc18fd6f3031c13860f037d26da4c5b9005da3c-s300-c851/ Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why*. (2016) (21k12 2016 Book of the Year)

Paul Tough, a journalist affiliated with NYTimes Magazine, has very recently published a new companion volume to his bestselling and much celebrated 2012 title, How Children Succeed. In that book, he vividly demonstrated through observation, anecdote, and research-review the importance to school success of noncognitive skills such as grit and curiosity.   This new title has been prepared to help provide a better answer to what he’s been asked in every public presentation about his former book: How do we teach children to develop these critically important qualities and attributes?    

It’s not altogether easy to explain why I think this book is so very valuable, and worthy of my annual book of the year nod. It’s not long, just over 100 pages, and it’s not particularly original: it’s largely a rehashing of other people’s research and findings. And I should add, as someone who pays close attention to this topic, I don’t think every assertion made here is entirely accurate; I disagree, partially, with some of his conclusions, including one of his most central claims, that noncognitive skills cannot be taught directly.

But concision has its value: Tough’s beautifully written work carefully reviews the field and then surfaces just a very select, curated we might say, set of activities and initiatives we can do, both our society on the whole and our educational community in particular, to bolster students noncognitive skills in ways which will make a world of difference.   Each of the critical findings or reforms is illustrated or exemplified with succinct descriptions of important actors in this arena, including some of my own favorite (and most admired) educators such as Camille Farrington, Bob Lenz, and Ron Berger.

Tough concludes with a message all educators would benefit from careful reflection: “Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficulties is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging, even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and nations as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is to simply embrace the idea, as those researchers did, that we can do better.”

51ca7cbc35L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2/ Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. (2015) Robert Putnam. This book, of national and political import far beyond education, pairs well with Paul Tough’s new book. Both books unpack how deeply affected children are by the swiftly growing economic gulf of our society, showing the lasting, enormously detrimental effects of growing up in the instability and neglect poverty sometimes (not always) produces in the lives of children.   They also both work to identify and suggest how we might change policy and practice to close the gap and greatly enhance the lives of children.  And,  both highlight the importance of developing children’s noncognitive skills to enhance their success. Putnam, unlike Tough, views the situation through lens both sociological and historical, and conveys how radically changed economic and social dynamics have become such that children of poverty are far more deeply disadvantaged than they were half a century ago.

One lasting message from Putnam is the power of extracurricular activities in supporting student social and emotional growth, and how devastating it has been to see public ed cut funding and demand fees for these programs. “When fees were introduced, one in every three sports-playing kids from homes with annual incomes of $60,000 or less dropped out because of the increased cost, as compared to one in ten kids from families with incomes over $60,000. Within a few decades America’s public schools have thrust the burden of extracurricular activity, and the resulting soft skills benefits, onto the family, reversing nearly a century of settled educational policy, with predicable results in terms of equality of access.”   As someone who spends a lot of time in and around private and independent schools, schools which often ask how they might better serve all, not just a select set, of children in their community, I wonder whether by using their campus resources and coaching they might be able to step in to reduce this extracurricular opportunity gap in public education.

Putnam’s book is haunting, one which should be read by every educator and policymaker. After all, “for America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” (more…)