Time for this year’s Summer Reading for Educators Top Ten List!  These are my ten favorite educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2016-17, and that I recommend for summer reading.   Though I try to make this list pretty current, composed primarily of titles published in the past 18 months, sometimes I am slow to encounter older books, and so I’m not strict about that rule.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find honorary mentions, books that just missed the top ten, and additional suggestions for 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 below indicates the book would be a worthy selection for suggested (or required) faculty summer reading; 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.)

Also,this year, for the first time, I’m making available a complete list of the books I read all (or most) of in the past year.  If you are interested, it is available here. 

NeuroTeach+COVER1/ NeuroTeach: Brain Science and the Future of Education* by Glenn Whitman* and Ian Kelleher (and the 21k12 2016-2017 Book of the Year).    This is a great book, explaining with perfectly clear writing many key insights that mind and brain research is revealing for the improvement of teaching and learning.   It is careful, at least to my non-expert eyes, not to overclaim, but it is also not afraid to be very insistent about what we do know and what that knowledge means for good practice.    The chapter entitled “Top Twelve Research-Informed Every Teacher Should Be Doing with Every Student” ought most certainly to be required reading by every educator everywhere, but if there isn’t time for that, at minimum encourage folks widely to study the “The Unconscionable List (AKA The Despicable Baker’s Dozen): Things a Teacher Should Never Do Again.”  Please. Pretty Please: get this list into the hands of teachers everywhere.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, but I will just put particular attention to what to me is especially novel about it, the chapter on Teachers as Researchers, which brilliantly offers up a different way of thinking about an educator’s professional journey and an alternate career ladder that genuinely professionalizes a profession that has been humiliatingly de-professionalized in recent decades.  Through the embrace of this kind of learning science widely promulgated and deeply embraced, though,it can and I believe will rise again.   Over the past several months in conversation, this title has been my go-to recommendation to clients and colleagues everywhere.  Bravo.

41SqXaZtZ1L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2/ The Space: A Guide for Educators* by Dr. Robert Dillon* and Rebecca Louise Hare (Book of the Year co-runner up).   This is a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is probably no more than 5,000 words: it is intended, I’d infer, less for reading straight through (and returning to a shelf) and more for scanning and skimming and visually appreciating and returning to again and again for inspiration and guidance on how to rethink and redesign your learning spaces.     It recalls in various ways the astoundingly comprehensive 2012 title, Make Space: Setting the Stage for Creative Collaboration book from Stanford Design School that was a 21k12 book of the year runner up on my 2014 list.  But as great as that book is, it is also a bit overwhelming, quite hard to fully appreciate and then internalize.  Part of the power of Dillon and Hare’s succinct book is that it is to the point using diagrams, white space and pictures, asking all of us to rethink how we can provide spaces to collaborate, create, showcase, and be quiet.  They suggest to readers as they peruse this to “take your time. Share with others.  Be the Change.”  And they ask, in something of an epigraph, “What is this book actually nurtured the soul of education and gave us reason to believe that a beautiful world is filled with thoughtful spaces.”

9781119253457.pdf3/Learning that Lasts: Challenging, Engaging, and Empowering Students with Deeper Learning* by Ron Berger, Libby Wooding and Ann Vilin. (21k12 Book of the Year Co-Runner up).    Regular readers here know that I’ve long been a Berger fan-boy; his 2003 Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship is one of my all-time favorites, and his 2014 Leaders of their Own Learning was my 2014 Book of the Year.   Berger is that rare bird in any field, someone who is both a master of his domain and a wordsmith of gorgeous craftsmanship.   This book surveys four major academic disciplines to unpack and consider how disciplinary knowledge and skills can better be cultivated through deeper learning practices, and there are takeaways on almost every page.   Which word comes first in the subtitle?  “Challenging.”  That’s not an accident.   Deeper Learning isn’t something designed to make students more engaged, first and foremost; it isn’t, in Berger’s vision, something we do to make it more “student-centered.”  If it is to last, it has to be serious.   As he writes, “Grappling with new ideas and problems will productive challenge students when they have enough background knowledge to feel anchored, enough scaffolding to feel supported, and enough time and intellectual freedom to wrestle with complex ideas… First, students must be challenged with rigorous, sophisticated material that engages them in higher-order reading, writing, thinking and discussion.  Second,  students must be challenged to gain conceptual understanding they can apply to new situations.”   This is the through-line for Berger’s long career: shifting instructional strategies to student inquiry and production without every compromising on rigor or excellence– quite the opposite.    (more…)

Don’t know how many readers are already aware of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), but probably a pretty high proportion: it has recently received a fair amount of media attention, including in Insider Higher Ed, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post.  My friend and consulting colleague Grant Lichtman has written on it several times as well, including here.  The E.E. Ford Foundation, headed by another friend and colleague of mine John Gulla, recently awarded the MTC its largest-ever donation, of two million dollars

I’m a fan, and feel privileged and grateful for having had the opportunity to attend and participate in the MTC inaugural meeting in Cleveland in April 2016 and the NAIS launch meeting in Atlanta in March, 2017.  I’ve also been, in a small way, advising the MTC in its preparation of sample rubrics for establishing mastery and, this summer, in developing sample student portfolios.

 The journal and website Education Next recently published a sharply framed critique of the MTC, entitled “Fancy Private Schools Want to Abandon High School Transcripts and Grades,” by Chester Finn, President Emeritus of the Fordham Institute, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and longstanding conservative commentator on education. 

After I pointed out on Twitter that as much as I appreciated the value of debate, and thought the piece added some important perspective to the topic, I believe the piece was plagued by error, mis-interpretation, and misunderstanding (at least seven such errors, I wrote).  Having been asked to itemize them, I’ve prepared the following, citing several sections of the Finn piece and then offering my reaction.   My responses are arranged only in the order the items they respond to appear in the Finn piece, and not by any order of importance or priority. 

“A founding group of one hundred of them—dubbing itself the Mastery Transcript Consortium—has set out to eliminate the high-school transcript and the pupil grades that go onto it, seeking instead to press colleges (and presumably employers and graduate schools) to evaluate their applicants holistically, basing those judgments on subjective reviews of the skills and competencies that individual pupils are said to have acquired during high school.”

  1. “Holistically?”   That  is simply not the correct word here; the transcript clearly breaks down analytically each skill or competency and asks teachers to assess them individually, not holistically.   Holistically might be when schools write a single narrative summarizing a student’s overall quality as an applicant, not where it reports with supporting evidence on mastery in a set of distinct competencies.
  2. “Subjective.”  True in the sense that judgment of student work generally is subjective, but not significant in that this is the norm in the evaluation of students: there is nothing distinctive in the MTC anticipated practice.  Because the MTC will support schools in the use of carefully developed and practiced rubrics, and to work to strengthen inter-rater reliability, the resulting awarding of credits and determination of mastery will in the end be less subjective than most current grading practice.
  3. “Said to have acquired.”  The MTC will entail “judgments” being accompanied by evidence, easily available to college admission evaluators, as evidence for the “judgment,” rather than relying exclusively on letter grade “judgments” as is currently the case.   In practice it is quite the opposite of “said to have acquired;” it rather could be better characterized as “demonstrated by evidence as having acquired.”


Tessera teacher playbook cover

Pleased to be able to share a link to a 26 page sample of this new 175 page Social and Emotional Learning (and Noncognitive Skills) Teacher Playbook.   I am one of four “lead developers,” or co-authors on the playbook, along with award winning Salt Lake City teacher Leigh VandenAkker, research scientist Jeremy Burrus, Ph.D., and doctoral candidate Dana Murano.   City High School (Tucson, AZ) Director of College Access Eve Rifkin also contributed to the playbook.

The Playbook is designed for teaching and learning skills and habits of teamwork, resilience, and grit in both middle and high school classrooms; dozens of lessons and classroom activities are provided for each competency.

The sample includes some overview and introductory materials, as well as several sample lessons from the teamwork unit.  The free sample is easily available for download (after a quick registration) here.

The full playbook is, I’m afraid, available only to educators in schools, districts, and organizations using the Tessera SEL system, at the center of which is an innovative noncognitive skill and SEL competency assessment instrument providing schools, teachers, and students reports on student proficiency in six constructs, including teamwork, resilience and grit.  I’ve been advising the Tessera system in its development over the past 17 months.  For more, click here. 


Just published over at NAIS, this 85 page e-book I co-authored with the excellent NAIS Senior Director of Academic Research  Amada Torres provides guidance to school administrators for best utilizing the HSSSE, the High School Survey of Student Engagement, and the new MGSSE, the Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement, for school improvement.

The Table of Contents includes:

While HSSSE used to be widely available through Indiana University for high schools nationally, recently its availability has been limited to only NAIS member schools, and the e-book, published by NAIS, is accordingly only available to NAIS member schools.

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