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January 10, 2006 4 min read
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Charter Schools

The founder and former CEO of Advantage Schools chronicles the development of private “education management organizations” since the early 1990s and evaluates how well they have delivered on their promise to both improve education and turn a profit. His analysis of Advantage (sold in 2001) and six of the largest private managers of public schools today—Chancellor Beacon Academies, Edison Schools Inc., the Knowledge Is Power Program (the sole nonprofit in the group), Mosaica Education Inc., National Heritage Academies, and sabis Educational Systems Inc.—includes a discussion of the background, business design, educational programs, student-achievement claims, and financial performance of each. Despite what he perceives to be these organizations’ missteps and failures, he defends the role of private involvement in public education, citing what he views as their successes and potential for further progress.

A charter school case study, this book recounts the establishment and evolution of Downtown College Prep, a charter high school in San Jose, Calif., serving low-income and predominantly Hispanic students. It opened in 2000 with 102 9th graders; most entered its freshman class with 5th grade reading and math skills, and nearly half were not fluent in English. The school’s pledge to parents was that if their children graduated, they would qualify for a four-year college. Of the 54 students who graduated four years later, all but one enrolled in college directly afterward. In addition to accounts of individual students, teachers, and school leaders, the book contains a brief history of the charter school movement and advice on starting such a publicly funded but largely independent school.

Education Reform

This collection of essays explores how market concepts have been applied to education as a means of school reform. The authors question whether teachers and principals would be more effective if their training, recruitment, compensation, and retention were deregulated, and debate the merits and shortcomings of school choice options such as charter schools, vouchers, and home schooling. Taken together, the essays suggest that business and industry models for education will be highly influential in 21st-century efforts to improve schools. Contributors include John E. Chubb, Henry M. Levin, Mary E. Diez, and Frederick M. Hess.

Leadership

The result of a five-year study of school reform nationwide, this book presents the findings of the Change Leadership Group, an organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and located at Harvard University’s graduate school of education. The authors contend that leaders must focus on both organizational and individual change simultaneously if their efforts to strengthen schools and districts are to be successful. Exercises throughout the book are designed to help leaders discover their own change-obstructing behaviors, how these can hinder larger reform initiatives, and ways to overcome them. The authors also outline steps for sustainable change, and investigate the importance of data, accountability, and community involvement in this process.

Based on the six leadership standards developed by the Educational Leadership Constituent Council, this overview of school leadership is intended for both new and veteran principals. The seven individual volumes, which may be bought separately, are titled by topic: instructional leadership; cultural leadership; ethical and spiritual leadership; school-community leadership; collaborative leadership; operational leadership; and strategic leadership. Each book contains a questionnaire with an analysis of responses, case studies, self-assessment exercises, and an annotated bibliography of recommended resources.

Special Education

The author, who served as the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs from 1993 to 1999, grounds this book on the assertion that attitudes toward disability have a major impact on the education that children with disabilities receive. He summarizes the history of “ableism”—the devaluation of people with disabilities—in American education, and argues that fighting ableism should be a primary goal of special education, along with providing students with disabilities access to a high-quality education. He also reviews recent trends in special education, such as inclusion and universal design, and makes suggestions for improving the likelihood that students with disabilities will benefit from standards-based reform and high-stakes testing. The book concludes with a discussion of special education policy.

One of the nation’s leading experts on behavioral treatments of autism, the author organizes this book according to the controversies surrounding the disorder, with the aim of critically evaluating the evidence from both sides to separate scientifically known facts from popular beliefs. She discounts, for example, the theories that emotionally distant mothers and childhood vaccines cause autism, averring that it is an entirely biological disorder, and criticizes facilitated communication and “holding therapy,” among other treatments, for being simplistic and unsubstantiated. She also gives a description of the characteristics of autism, along with information on diagnosis and assessment. The final chapter is devoted to an examination of the pros and cons of inclusion and the debate over whether to educate children with autism at school or at home.

—Anne E. Das

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