Category Archives: Book Reviews

Important new books on schools and learning are reviewed here.


Children and Reading Tests

Susan Ohanian has allowed us to print a brief review of Children and Reading Tests, a  book by Clifford Hill and Eric Larson.  Ohanian is a nationally known activist parent who writes extensively and operates a popular website at

Read Children and Reading Tests by Clifford Hill and Eric Larson
Even if you  already know  that reading test questions aren’t fair, reasonable, non-biased, and an accurate assessment of children’s reading ability, you should read this book. It will knock your socks off.

Using methods of discourse analysis, the authors examine not only representative material from reading tests but also children’s responses to that material. In short, they talk to children about why they chose the answers they did, and suddenly the reader is made aware of how biased toward an adult perspective the reading tests are. We see how convincing children’s “wrong” answers are.

The book is particularly attentive to the role of culture in shaping children’s understanding of what they read.
Besides all this, the authors’ style is straightforward and easy going. It is altogether a fascinating book.

The authors make the point that this is rarely written about because researchers can’t get permission to print tests. They were able to use a test that had been mothballed–and so they don’t just describe the scenario, they print the test passage & questions and then give children’s responses. Passages that looked OK to me suddenly were loaded with “culture” when I read children’s responses. Something so seemingly simple as “home.”

I can’t think of any book I recommend as highly as this one.

Susan Ohanian


Speaking in Tones

One of our favorite people in the field of education is Bob Sylwester, recently retired  University of Oregon professor who is a world leader in the field of brain research as it applies to schools and learning.  Although health problems have restricted his once extensive international lecture and training schedule, he continues to write to his friends and is currently finishing up a new book.  We have asked him to allow us to share his latest post with the citizens of the Kennewick School District and he has agreed.  The contents of his note follow.

Dear Friends
The July/August issue of Scientific American Mind (an excellent theme issue on recent memory research) includes Diana Deutsch’s superb synthesis of recent educationally significant research discoveries on the underlying neurobiology of the overlapping relationship between our brain’s language and music processing systems.  It’s good news for those who believe that music education is a very important element of  K-12 education, and bad news for the benighted folks who would eliminate music education in a wrong-headed attempt to reduce costs.

Review: Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground

By Deborah Meier, Brenda Engel, and Beth Taylor.

Why is play important in the lives of children? What crucial aspects of learning are being neglected in the current near-elimination of recess time in public schools?

Playing for Keeps, co-authored by the well-known writer and educational leader Deborah Meier, and two colleagues with equally long experience in schools, explores these questions. Based on close observations on a public school playground, the book shows children at play in a relatively natural, unstructured environment. The reader is virtually there, seeing, listening in, able to appreciate the children’s curiosity, humor, intelligence, and inventiveness. Readers will recognize the children’s voices and ways of thinking, and perhaps be reminded of their own childhood, their own children, or the children they teach. The authors comment on the observations, adding to the reader’s own perceptions. This lively, engaging book makes a strong case for the importance of free exploration, wonder, imagination, and play to the learning and growth of children. It should contribute significantly to the understanding of all those concerned, professionally or personally, with the welfare of our school-age population.

Deborah Meier has spent almost five decades working in public education as a teacher, writer, and public advocate. She is currently a Senior Scholar in the faculty of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. Brenda Engel has taught elementary school art and was on the faculty of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Beth Taylor has taught in preschool through college, including in teacher training, program evaluation, early childhood education, and teaching at the Mission Hill School in Boston.

June 2010 / Paperback, $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-8077-5095-7


Catching Up or Leading the Way


Public schools in the U.S. have been taking a beating in the media for more than 25 years.  We have been told that our schools are failing  and the solution to fixing them is to set standards and test the students to ensure the standards are being adhered to.  The result has been to narrow the curriculum and “test ‘em till they drop.”  Those who have advocated for programs that meet the needs of the whole child have become voices in the wilderness.  Now a new voice arises and is from, of all places, China.

Here is a press release that came out of  Michigan State University last September under the title “Standardized testing hurting U.S. education, new book contends”

EAST LANSING, Mich. – America’s increasing reliance on standardized testing as a yardstick for educational success is a flawed policy that threatens to undermine the nation’s strengths of creativity and innovation, according to a provocative new book from a Michigan State University scholar.

By grading student success on government-set standards in a limited number of subjects such as math, reading and science, Yong Zhao argues the United States is eager to “throw away” one of its global advantages – an education that respects individual talents and does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach.  Zhao’s book, due out in late September and published by ASCD, is called “Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization.” He acknowledges his thesis is “diametrically opposed to the more popular view of what American education should be like in the 21st century.”

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John C. Hattie, (2009), Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800

Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.  London & New York:  Routledge,

Taylor& Francis Group, 379 pp.   ISBN 10:0-415-47617-8, $42.00.

By Donald C. Orlich, Professor Emeritus,Washington State University, Pullman

Don Orlich, Professor Emeritus at Washington State University, and noted education researcher, presents his review of John Hattie’s Visible Learning below.  The book, which Orlich calls “MUST reading for all involved in teacher education programs, those who determine educational policies and programs, and school evaluators,” is a detailed analysis of hundreds of studies done over the years describing various treatments to improve student achievement.  The book is highly technical and even the review is challenging to the non-technical reader, but the outcomes of Hattie’s monumental efforts are too important to ignore.  In Orlich’s words, “Nevertheless, two conclusions may be inferred: (1) Teacher quality is a key link to student achievement and (2) Most current education reform efforts have simply become “fads’.”

To learn some of the things that really work, and some that really don’t, READ MORE. Continue reading


The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education



Throughout the history of public education in the U.S. there have been periods of dissatisfaction with the schools and countless remedies have been suggested to “save the schools.”  The current cycle of reform began in 1983 with the publication of A Nation at Risk, a national report that attempted to tie our place in the global economy to the role of the public schools.  The report stated “the nation’s global preeminence in science, technology, industry, commerce, and military defense is threatened by its mediocre education.”  Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. economy has lead the world nearly every year since 1983, a never-ending onslaught has been faced by teachers and school officials to make over the schools in the image of business as a means to saving our way of life.

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