Educationally Correct, Academically Sound: Fueling School Programs and Student Achievement
reviewed by Jason Margolis - July 19, 2013
Title: Educationally Correct, Academically Sound: Fueling School Programs and Student Achievement
Author(s): Brenda Sanders
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475800002, Pages: 100, Year: 2012
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Clearly, the author of Educationally Correct, Academically Sound put a great deal of time and thought into figuring out how to make their dissertation research a usable tool by school administrators. Because of this, I will start with the positive aspects of this book, and then will return to the ultimate questions of this review How could this book be used by school administrators? And, perhaps more importantly, SHOULD this book be used by school administrators?
The book is organized around the acronym CAB, seeking to guide administrators towards school improvement through: Cooperativeness, Accountability and Boundlessness. Cooperativeness involves creating school-wide guiding philosophies, collaborative relationships, and family/school/community connections. Accountability addresses checks-and-balances for leadership, staff, and students. Boundlessness, interestingly, is defined as data-driven evaluation (p. 2).
The author introduces the text as an opportunity to show staff how to bring all the pieces of an institution together to achieve optimal performance to move schools into the twenty-first century (p. 1). Derived from a literature review from the authors dissertation, the guiding research behind the book is presented in an accessible table on pages 3-5. The beginning and ends of each chapter are similarly well-organized with bulleted Key Points at the beginning, and a pithy Chapter Summary at the end. The overall organization of the books ideas is its main strength, as one could just skim the beginning and end of each chapter to ascertain its main messages. This format could be highly appealing to busy school administrators who may not have time to read professional self-help books in detail, and/or who may be just looking for a quick idea or two.
Each chapter also contains a concrete example, as an illustrative model, of a school principal going through the CAB process. Assuming that these examples came from the authors dissertation research, they could serve as helpful to school administrators in seeing the main ideas of the book creating a vision and mission statement, fostering collaborative relationships and creating relationship protocols, making a plan for meaningful school-community connections, making sure all school actors are held accountable, and creating a data-driven culture in practical action.
So, could a school administrator take the CAB to school improvement and reach the holy grail of a high performing school? Probably not, and heres why: The book is built around a series of superficial and somewhat-insidious platitudes about effective schools. Relatedly, the author ignores an enormous body of research on the complications of school improvement that speak to why getting everyone on the same page and bridging the school-community gap is so challenging. Without addressing what makes school mission/vision creation and achievement so difficult, the books advice comes off as empty and ill-informed. With limitations in space for this review, I will offer just a few illustrative examples.
Chapter Two focuses on developing a common school vision and mission, and encourages the school administrator to work with staff in the dream mode whether resources are available or not, commit to doing what is necessary to succeed (p. 15). An example is then given of a schools mission objectives for students, where each of the 11 statements begin with the phrase One hundred percent of students will achieve this-or-that. The problem here is that the author implies that teachers and other school staff members should be martyrs, operating at maximum efficiency with minimum resources and that principals should encourage this scenario. By the end of the chapter, when the author advises the principal Dont worry about money at this time The school can utilize new creative ways to solve old problems when the time comes (p. 26), the book begins to define itself as a somewhat detached, unfunded mandate.
Chapter Three and Four are similarly shallow on the issues of collaboration. The author says that shared goals must precede forming the collaborative relationships in the form of mission objectives mission objectives put students and staff on the same page using the same vocabulary (p. 30). However, never addressed is the inevitable devil in the details, and how tricky it is to get students, staff, and parents whom have varying prior experiences and belief systems to speak and live the same language. The authors implicit assumption is that good mission objectives will solve that problem. As for collaborating with and engaging family-partners, the author suggests that the solution is more expansive lists of volunteer opportunities. Yet never discussed are the culture-gaps between staff and students that exist in many schools labeled low-performing, and how these social and cultural divides must often be addressed first before families will trust schools enough to become engaged with them.
As troubling and Pollyannaish as the early chapters are, Chapter Five on Staff Accountability is in many ways the most problematic. Here, the author makes the case that the key to high-performing schools is a top-down accountability system that will lead to a natural progression of aligning professional development, classroom learning, and high-standards. Again, this statement ignores a large body of research on professional development and educational reform within complex school ecologies, which collectively speaks to how narrow top-down approaches often fail. Particularly absent is recent research on teacher leadership and distributed leadership that illustrates how contemporary power-hierarchies must be disrupted if teachers are to truly advance their practice and students learning. On page 52, the author tellingly defines shared leadership as an opportunity for administrators to watch for signs that some teachers may not be willing to execute the predetermined accountability system rather than as an opportunity to learn more about what is/is not working at the classroom level, so as to make changes from the ground-up.
Throughout the book, there is an undercurrent that the author is not interested in what teachers have to say, instead encouraging school leaders to force teachers to execute the accountability system, whether or not these teachers have a willing heart (p. 53). This obsession with top-down accountability is related to the authors ultimate argument that NCLB has at last removed the burden to learn from the student and put it on the teacher who is to make that learning happen no matter what as that is why teachers are hired in the first place (p. 54).
In summary, while a succinct, easy-to-digest book to support administrators seeking to improve schools could be an asset, Educationally Correct, Academically Sound is highly flawed. Thus, while it is unlikely that it could be helpful, it is this reviewers contention that it most certainly should not be followed. This is because the author appears to be dangerously unaware of a large body of contemporary educational leadership work that helps define the complexities of getting everyone on the same page including when it just will not happen, or when it will inevitably happen in ways outside the initial mission or vision. And it is in those instances that real school leadership comes in and a book addressing how to manage those dilemmas is highly needed. Unfortunately, this is not that book.