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How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education

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“This book merits every American’s serious consideration” (Vice President Joe Biden): from the Secretary of Education under President Obama, an exposé of the status quo that helps maintain a broken system at the expense of our kids’ education, and threatens our nation’s future. “Education runs on lies. That’s probably not what you’d expect from a former Secretary of Educat “This book merits every American’s serious consideration” (Vice President Joe Biden): from the Secretary of Education under President Obama, an exposé of the status quo that helps maintain a broken system at the expense of our kids’ education, and threatens our nation’s future. “Education runs on lies. That’s probably not what you’d expect from a former Secretary of Education, but it’s the truth.” So opens Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work, although the title could just as easily be How American Schools Work for Some, Not for Others, and Only Now and Then for Kids. Drawing on nearly three decades in education—from his mother’s after-school program on Chicago’s South Side to his tenure as Secretary of Education in Washington, DC—How Schools Work follows Arne (as he insists you call him) as he takes on challenges at every turn: gangbangers in Chicago housing projects, parents who call him racist, teachers who insist they can’t help poor kids, unions that refuse to modernize, Tea Partiers who call him an autocrat, affluent white progressive moms who hate yearly tests, and even the NRA, which once labeled Arne the “most extreme anti-gun member of President Obama’s Cabinet.” Going to a child’s funeral every couple of weeks, as he did when he worked in Chicago, will do that to a person. How Schools Work exposes the lies that have caused American kids to fall behind their international peers, from early childhood all the way to college graduation rates. But it also identifies what really does make a school work. “As insightful as it is inspiring” (Washington Book Review), How Schools Work will embolden parents, teachers, voters, and even students to demand more of our public schools. If America is going to be great, then we can accept nothing less.


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“This book merits every American’s serious consideration” (Vice President Joe Biden): from the Secretary of Education under President Obama, an exposé of the status quo that helps maintain a broken system at the expense of our kids’ education, and threatens our nation’s future. “Education runs on lies. That’s probably not what you’d expect from a former Secretary of Educat “This book merits every American’s serious consideration” (Vice President Joe Biden): from the Secretary of Education under President Obama, an exposé of the status quo that helps maintain a broken system at the expense of our kids’ education, and threatens our nation’s future. “Education runs on lies. That’s probably not what you’d expect from a former Secretary of Education, but it’s the truth.” So opens Arne Duncan’s How Schools Work, although the title could just as easily be How American Schools Work for Some, Not for Others, and Only Now and Then for Kids. Drawing on nearly three decades in education—from his mother’s after-school program on Chicago’s South Side to his tenure as Secretary of Education in Washington, DC—How Schools Work follows Arne (as he insists you call him) as he takes on challenges at every turn: gangbangers in Chicago housing projects, parents who call him racist, teachers who insist they can’t help poor kids, unions that refuse to modernize, Tea Partiers who call him an autocrat, affluent white progressive moms who hate yearly tests, and even the NRA, which once labeled Arne the “most extreme anti-gun member of President Obama’s Cabinet.” Going to a child’s funeral every couple of weeks, as he did when he worked in Chicago, will do that to a person. How Schools Work exposes the lies that have caused American kids to fall behind their international peers, from early childhood all the way to college graduation rates. But it also identifies what really does make a school work. “As insightful as it is inspiring” (Washington Book Review), How Schools Work will embolden parents, teachers, voters, and even students to demand more of our public schools. If America is going to be great, then we can accept nothing less.

30 review for How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Crazy

    As a public school teacher, I found Duncan's book to be fascinating, even though I disagree with a lot of his philosophy. It was interesting to see his rationale for his descions and opinions. For example, Duncan firmly believes in linking test scores to teacher evaluations and merit pay. You'll be hard pressed to find a public school teacher who agrees; this book certainly won't change minds, but it at least gives him a chance to defend himself. *Thanks to Netgalley, the author and the publishe As a public school teacher, I found Duncan's book to be fascinating, even though I disagree with a lot of his philosophy. It was interesting to see his rationale for his descions and opinions. For example, Duncan firmly believes in linking test scores to teacher evaluations and merit pay. You'll be hard pressed to find a public school teacher who agrees; this book certainly won't change minds, but it at least gives him a chance to defend himself. *Thanks to Netgalley, the author and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review*

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tfalcone

    Thank You Net Galley for the free ARC, Some truths, much oversimplification. Nothing we did not already know. I agree, schools could work better. A lot of the evidence in the book comes from Chicago schools, which are probably some with the worst reputation. Truancy, falling apart schools, poor test scores, lack of materials..all these are true problems, but there is more to it that just throwing money at the perceived problem. Chicago has addressed some of those problems by closing schools, add Thank You Net Galley for the free ARC, Some truths, much oversimplification. Nothing we did not already know. I agree, schools could work better. A lot of the evidence in the book comes from Chicago schools, which are probably some with the worst reputation. Truancy, falling apart schools, poor test scores, lack of materials..all these are true problems, but there is more to it that just throwing money at the perceived problem. Chicago has addressed some of those problems by closing schools, adding magnet schools, adding teachers, etc. However, parents who can, still move their kids out of the CPS system, enrollment declined by 10 000 students in 2017. Schools reflect our society as a microcosm. Schools in socioeconomic areas that are well off, do well. Schools in the poor parts of town, do not. In a way, we are more segregated than ever. Here is an example from my home-town: US News and World Report Best School in state : 3% minority; 3% free and reduced lunch N/A ELL My school : 71% minority 70% free and reduced lunch Over 45% ELL Then we are shocked when the test scores differ. Let's switch teachers and see what happens... Why are we comparing these schools? What we should be doing is allocate resources differently and work on helping win the war on poverty.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Uptownbookwormnyc

    Don't be fooled by the book title. It should be named Memoir of Arne Duncan

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    Overall this book is a decidedly mixed bag. It is part-memoir, part-legacy/narrative control, part -education manifesto. It has some biographical sketches surrounding his career moves, some chapters on his time as education secretary discussing his policy decisions (appropriate since that is why most readers, including this one, would even crack the book), some sentimental (in the pejorative and approbative sense of that term) education triumph-in-the-midst-of-tragedy stories, a chapter defendin Overall this book is a decidedly mixed bag. It is part-memoir, part-legacy/narrative control, part -education manifesto. It has some biographical sketches surrounding his career moves, some chapters on his time as education secretary discussing his policy decisions (appropriate since that is why most readers, including this one, would even crack the book), some sentimental (in the pejorative and approbative sense of that term) education triumph-in-the-midst-of-tragedy stories, a chapter defending gun control (which was anecdote heavy and almost surely unconvincing to someone opposed to his views), and finally some “here are my solutions” talking points toward the end (at least one of which I found helpful). Duncan does well at introducing the unfamiliar reader to US education policy debates. For example, his explanation of the relationship between standards, curriculum, and assessments was better than standard popular discussions of those topics, and I think many readers who review that discussion (pgs. 101-104) and his chapter analyzing the challenges of improving educational outcomes for children in Chicago (“The Consortium”) would have a clearer idea of why improving education is trickier than it might initially seem. Regarding writing style, the book’s prose flowed easily but lacked elegance and included some lazy writing. While not a K-12 education expert myself, I know enough to be skeptical of his policy justifications and arguments (at some points deeply so) and I suspect that my more seasoned teacher friends would guffaw, howl, and scowl at some of his policy justifications and criticisms of his ideological opponents on the right and left. For those not in the know, Duncan places profound faith in standardized testing for improving teacher and student performance, and is critical of those departing from this view (he does admit at one point that some states and districts are over-testing, though this is an unsurprising result of the incentive structure he endorses). To his credit, Duncan does acknowledge mistakes that he made as Secretary of Ed. That said, his admitted mistakes seemed to be more often matters of execution (e.g. poor communication, lack of tact, etc.) than the ideas themselves, and those looking for a thorough re-evaluation of his thinking on policy after his time away from Washington will not find it here. While there are reasonable push-backs to made on what it implies for education policy, I was pleased to see Duncan discuss Raj Chetty’s work on the measurably profound impact a teacher can have on a student’s life (inside and outside of the classroom). In my judgment, this is important empirical work to consider for those interested in inequality research more generally and I hope it interests more readers in Chetty’s work. To give just one striking example, Duncan discusses how Chetty and his fellow researchers argue that their data show that replacing a poor teacher with even an average one “would increase the lifetime earnings of a classroom by $250,000(!)” (pg. 171). The parts where Duncan is discussing himself and his professional journey in education are in my judgment the weakest parts of the book, but some of his narratives involving good teaching practices and striking student anecdotes were thoughtful and he showed a discerning eye for a compelling story. Going into the book, I had no real sense of Duncan as a person apart from his policies. When I’d read or listen to quotes from him as Secretary of Ed through the years, he seemed reliably thoughtful and professional enough but I couldn’t say much about the man himself. What was striking in this narrative was the number of instances in which he signalled his “I’m just a regular guy”-ness despite having so many non-regular guy experiences. Similarly, he seems eager to stress how his professional opportunities came to him and he didn’t pursue them directly. Yes, he went to Harvard but he got there through “elbow grease and athletic skill” (OK?); yes, he was chosen to be CEO of Chicago’s public schools but the mayor’s wife and then the mayor just took him to lunch and just asked him questions--he never sought it (OK?); yes, he had a chauffeured town car when he was CEO but he had to get used to it (OK?); yes, he knew Obama from pickup basketball in Chicago and they talked about education plenty leading up to the election but Duncan “had no indication” that Obama would choose him for secretary until Duncan got a call from the transition team (OK?); yes, he was Secretary of Ed but he always went by Arne not Secretary Duncan to his colleagues (OK?); yes, he flew around the country for his work but it was always in coach giving him a chance to mingle with the people! I mention these not to say that Duncan is being deceitful or disingenuous, but it just struck me as a touch defensive, like when if one remarks indirectly on a wealthy person’s wealth and s/he is quick to say, “But I grew up poor/middle class!” Relatedly, Duncan also made sure to acknowledge that, yes, he was never a classroom teacher and didn’t have a degree in education (as an undergrad he majored in sociology), but he did have, he stressed, plenty of experience observing teachers, tutoring, and he included a lengthy section about how much he learned from participating in his mother’s organically cultivated after-school program. While I can imagine that it would get old having his lack of classroom experience thrown in his face, his passion and verbiage on this point struck me as strained. As I guess he has experienced, these justifications are almost surely unconvincing to career teachers. Duncan obviously has expertise in education policy and has enjoyed a wide-ranging personal experiences relevant to education. But his lack of direct classroom teaching experience will always bother some people and making the points he does will not impress them, especially when he is lecturing (as he does a bit in this book) on the importance of holding teachers accountable for student test scores. Overall, I found this to be a fairly breezy non-fiction read and would recommend it to those looking to gain more understanding of education reform, though I’d invite the reader to leaven their reading with other education policy books and well as extended testimony from teachers themselves.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Hill

    I'm giving this book a solid 3.5 stars. For one, it is a well-written memoir/policy discussion from former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It is simultaneously an account of his involvement in education and how he sees his impact in reforming and changing education in the United States as President Obama's SecEd. Secondly, I think Sec. Duncan's heart is in the write place. It is obvious that he cares deeply about the children of his nation and their education. A passion he inherited from his I'm giving this book a solid 3.5 stars. For one, it is a well-written memoir/policy discussion from former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It is simultaneously an account of his involvement in education and how he sees his impact in reforming and changing education in the United States as President Obama's SecEd. Secondly, I think Sec. Duncan's heart is in the write place. It is obvious that he cares deeply about the children of his nation and their education. A passion he inherited from his mother's work in after-school programs with under served students in Chicago. In many ways, this reflects my own passion in education which I also inherited from my mother who taught in public schools and higher education for the entirety of her life. Third, I think Sec. Duncan's end goals are sound. Improvement of education in the United States. Ensuring that every child gets the education they need, but that they are also being met as human beings with attention devoted to all aspects of the child; educational, physical, and mental. His ideas that our universities need to better prepare future teachers is also true. This was something my mother worked for at the end of her career as a professor and chair of a teacher education department. For too long we have prepared our teachers in "perfect world" scenarios that do little to resemble the reality of teaching in a classroom and there is little to no support structure built in, except in some of the most exceptional schools. His idea that we need to be preparing our students to think critically and creatively and evaluate mass amounts of information is also true. Memorizing facts is no longer a needed skill. We have almost all knowledge at our finger tips; a quick Google search. What our students are lacking are digital literacy skills. The ability to sort the wheat from the chaff of information. However, and this is why it's only 3.5 stars, Sec. Duncan's means are flawed. 1) The concept that it is a good idea to removed educators with classroom experience from the highest levels of decision making is flawed. That's not to say that education couldn't do without some outsider looks. Sometimes it takes looking at something from a different vantage point to get a new solution. Duncan himself says we need good leaders who understand education on an intimate level. Let's get teacher leaders as the Superintendents of districts and State Board of Education and cabinet level members at state and national levels. Education demands authenticity. Centralized education under someone who has spent little to no time in an actual classroom lacks that authenticity. Education is not a business and it is a failure when it is run like one. 2) Sec. Duncan likes to say data doesn't lie. And they may be true. But data will say whatever we want it to. We can use it to push a narrative. Saying data doesn't lie is like saying words don't lie. And data shows that pure accountability based upon high stakes testing doesn't work. It dehumanizes teachers and makes them feel less than. Also, Sec Duncan wants critical thinking students prepared for tomorrow. And I agree! He is 100% correct. But you cannot measure that with a standardized test. If you base teacher evaluations and student growth on standardized testing, that is what the curriculum will become. You can bring in experts and write some amazing curriculums that involve problem based learning and cooperative learning, but then test that curriculum with a multiple choice exam there is going to be a discrepancy. Students who do well on standardized tests do so because they are "literate" in test taking vocabulary and language. These are typically going to be students from higher socioeconomic areas anyways. Teachers know this. It's why so many "teach to the test". They are presented with two options. 1) Use 21st century learning skills and a well rounded curriculum designed to teach critical thinking. Risk students not "knowing" the correct facts to pass the multiple choice exam. 2) ignore the well designed curriculum to "test to the test", to ensure students become literate in test taking strategies that are decidedly the antithesis of everything Sec. Duncan claims to want for his vision of education. 3) We want teachers and education to become a professionalized class? Start treating them like so. Instead of giving them scripts give them autonomy. Allow collaboration between peers. Let teachers decide their curriculum.

  6. 4 out of 5

    BabseyD

    Early in the book, ex-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan makes the distinction between educators and mere careerists. For much of the book, Arne (who emphasizes in no fewer than three different places, that he wants people to feel familiar with him and call him Arne, because hey, he's just that down-to-earth kind of guy) comes across as a careerist. (Indeed, he has no personal educational experience, but does talk an awful lot about his mother, who seems to be an excellent person and more worthy Early in the book, ex-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan makes the distinction between educators and mere careerists. For much of the book, Arne (who emphasizes in no fewer than three different places, that he wants people to feel familiar with him and call him Arne, because hey, he's just that down-to-earth kind of guy) comes across as a careerist. (Indeed, he has no personal educational experience, but does talk an awful lot about his mother, who seems to be an excellent person and more worthy of a memoir.) By the end of the book, I felt less cynical towards Arne, although I still felt that he came across as inexperienced and often naive. He seems to possess only a crude understanding of the mechanics of his own system. For a man who has changed the landscape of education because of his own belief in the transparency that testing and data offers, Arne offers very little evidence that his system works. Governors, his partners in The Race for the Top, tell him at one point, "We need the carrots", meaning that states need financial rewards to motivate implementing the standards and the testing that Ed. Department recommend. The financial payout (at great expense to the taxpayer) seems to clearly incentivize participation in the Race to the Top, but it less clearly has any impact on actual education. Does the money make an impact on our students? What *does* have an impact on our students lives, besides the platitudes of caring and believing in our children, that Arne offers in this book? The title implies that the book will answer, "How do schools work?", but alas, it never moves beyond the most banal cliches. A disappointment of a book, but more importantly, a disappointment of leadership from a time that I believe many of us are now reflecting on as a time when things made sense. If only.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jenn Conwell

    I, myself, am a high school science teacher, so I was very excited to read this. Honestly, there isn't much in here that I hadn't already known. I think that may be because I already have the inside scoop about what's happening with the school system where as most people may find this an insightful read. I do wish there was a broader look at education around the nation rather than focusing on small specific parts. Granted, it was heartbreaking to read. I think most people do need to educate them I, myself, am a high school science teacher, so I was very excited to read this. Honestly, there isn't much in here that I hadn't already known. I think that may be because I already have the inside scoop about what's happening with the school system where as most people may find this an insightful read. I do wish there was a broader look at education around the nation rather than focusing on small specific parts. Granted, it was heartbreaking to read. I think most people do need to educate themselves on this matter because this is our future we are raising up! Thank you net galley and simon and schuster of the read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hapzydeco

    If you perceive education to be the key to America's greatness, this book will provide you with a compelling read. Arne Duncan identifies what makes schools work. Now it is up to us.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    As an outsider to the education system and as a parent, I thought Duncan's book How Schools Work was a fascinating read. I disagree with his conclusion linking test scores to merit pay but the rest of the book was well worth the read. Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my ARC. All opinions are my own.

  10. 4 out of 5

    J.D. DeHart

    How Schools Work is an important text from former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The book includes narrative details that undergird Duncan's argument. It's hard to disagree that education should have higher standards, and Duncan provides thoughtful solutions for the future along with summing up his already-completed work. Of particular note here was Duncan's discussion of the lies students are told in the education system in the interest of putting a pretty spin on data and pleasing stakehol How Schools Work is an important text from former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The book includes narrative details that undergird Duncan's argument. It's hard to disagree that education should have higher standards, and Duncan provides thoughtful solutions for the future along with summing up his already-completed work. Of particular note here was Duncan's discussion of the lies students are told in the education system in the interest of putting a pretty spin on data and pleasing stakeholders (at least temporarily). I also appreciated Duncan's thoughtful and no-nonsense discussion of maintaining a balance between quality public schools and the charter school movement. I would recommend How Schools Work for educators and stakeholders, and I can see the book being useful in a course on educational leadership and policy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ashlee

    As an educator, I was excited to read Arne Duncan's reflection on the education system. Much of what was written I felt I already knew, however, I think this is a book for those not living and breathing the education system. This is for the stakeholders that make decisions about schools, that may not have set foot in a school since their own days in the system. Worth the read. Thank you Netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gabbi Levy

    My interview with former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: ARNE DUNCAN HAS SPENT most of his life in and around education, from helping out at the after-school community center his mother founded in one the most troubled neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side, to running Chicago Public Schools as its chief executive officer and then serving for nearly seven years as President Barack Obama's education secretary. In his new book, "How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One My interview with former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: ARNE DUNCAN HAS SPENT most of his life in and around education, from helping out at the after-school community center his mother founded in one the most troubled neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side, to running Chicago Public Schools as its chief executive officer and then serving for nearly seven years as President Barack Obama's education secretary. In his new book, "How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest Serving Secretaries of Education," Duncan turns a critical eye on the nation's education system – once considered the best in the world but now is at most in the middle of the pack – describing how students and teachers alike are often set up to fail in school and in life. He recently spoke with U.S. News about where he thinks the U.S. went wrong and how he believes the country's schools can get back on track. Excerpts: You explain that our educational system is essentially built to create assembly line workers and that the system is exceptionally ill-prepared to meet the needs of today's students. How did we get to that point? About 100 years ago, America made secondary education in high school compulsory. That was almost unprecedented, a massive leap forward, and it drove a lot of our economic boom over the past 100 years. The problem is we haven't moved past that and we haven't adjusted the model. Obviously, the world is radically different from that time, but unfortunately education isn't much different. And you see other nations out-educating, out-investing, out-innovating us. Not only have the skills needs changed dramatically, but we now have a globally competitive economy, a flat world. It's no longer Iowa versus Indiana versus Montana for jobs, we're competing with India and China and Singapore and everywhere else. That's the world where our kids – my kids – are going to grow up into, and we're never going to go back the opposite direction. It's only going to accelerate. At no level – early childhood, K-12, higher ed – are we even in the top 10 internationally. And that should scare us. It is scary and it does not bode well for the future. What's holding the nation back? This is not a cure for cancer, this is not rocket science. It's total lack of political will. And I think the politics of the left and the right stand in the way of what's best for kids. There's a small number of political leaders that are willing to challenge the status quo and challenge the base, but that's few and far between. And that's what we desperately need. You have [Gov. John] Kasich in Ohio fighting for high standards, you have [Gov. Bill] Haslam pushing for free community college for every person in Tennessee. Those are hard places for a Republican to be. I've told stories of [Obama] talking about merit pay and paying teachers more when his political future was looking pretty bleak, and those are profiles in courage. That's very very hard to do and that's why, I think, kids too often lose. The previous two administrations both took big swings at shaping American schools – President George W. Bush with No Child Left Behind; you and President Obama with Race to the Top and the state-led Common Core – with mixed results. What steps do you think future administrations should take, based on your experiences? As you know, I probably got as much heat from the left as I did from the right. These are a couple of goals to me that are not Republican, they're not Democrat, they're not liberal, they're not conservative: One is that we should try to lead the world in access to high quality pre-kindergarten. We're like 28th. We're not close. Second, we were able to get high school graduation rates to an all-time high of 84 percent, which we were very proud of but obviously that's nowhere near high enough. The current administration's goal should be up to get that 84 up to 90 percent. Third, we should make sure that 100 percent of those high school graduates are college ready, with higher standards. And then fourth, we should try and lead the world again in college completion. That's four-year universities, that's two-year community colleges, it's trade, technical and vocational training. Those are goals that keep high-wage, high-skill jobs in our country. Those are jobs that grow the middle class, those are jobs that keep our civic democracy healthy. We should unite behind goals and have lots of vigorous debate around the strategies to achieve those goals. What works well in Montana may work differently in California. Something in Detroit may be radically different. So we should have lots of flexibility and local innovation around the best means and we should see what works best in rural communities and in urban communities and on Native American reservations, but we should unite around those goals. No one has a monopoly of good ideas. Federal education policy is limited by design. What role should the federal government play? We had what was called the i3 Fund, the Investing in Innovation Fund, which was a couple hundred million. And all we did is just scale what works. It wasn't my ideas, it wasn't the president's ideas, it was just looking at the evidence from across the country where we saw student achievement rising, we just put money to scale. That was an unprecedented investment, but I think we were only able to fund about 4 percent of what we got in, the demand was so great. We got a lot of pushback. What they're used to in D.C. is what's called block grants, which is one chunk of money and everyone carves it off and everyone takes home their slice of the pie. What was both hopeful and frustrating is we don't scale what works enough. If that pot had been a billion dollars – we did more than anyone else has, which I'm proud of, but we did a tiny percent of what was needed, and that's a massive missed opportunity. That's the thing. When you ask about what's the appropriate federal role, I always talk about innovation. It's a uniquely powerful federal role that we played at an all-time high at a new level but is zero now. It has disappeared. It's disappeared. You hear no talk – zero talk – about any of those goals from the current administration. And it's all small-ball. It's all ideology. It's all trying to score political points. Read the rest of the interview here.

  13. 4 out of 5

    minhhai

    One thing I have to point out: The title is misleading. The book is not about how American schools and education system are set up and operate, or a comprehensive review of their performance. This is simply Mr. Duncan's memoir on his career in K-12 education. In it, he displays his thoughts and feelings on American public schools, especially those in poor urban neighborhoods; his actions and policies to improve them and their justifications. It's interesting to think about education from the poin One thing I have to point out: The title is misleading. The book is not about how American schools and education system are set up and operate, or a comprehensive review of their performance. This is simply Mr. Duncan's memoir on his career in K-12 education. In it, he displays his thoughts and feelings on American public schools, especially those in poor urban neighborhoods; his actions and policies to improve them and their justifications. It's interesting to think about education from the point of view of a top leader. The hardest part is not seeking the best teaching method(s), but how to get all the parties compromise to achieve a common goal for our children. These parties include politicians and unions. A vivid example is a shared higher standard which was opposed by many states because they used to lower their own standard to cook up meaningless high achievement figures. Or unions rejected the idea of systematic evaluation for teachers. Race is also another big factor, as many suffering black and brown kids are ignored in the media, and consequently in the mind of policy makers. After walking us through the complexity of American education landscape, Duncan sends very strong messages to advocate for a continuing reform in favor of our kids. I'm sure these powerful messages would touch the hearts of many readers, being parents or not. His writing is simplistic, down to earth, frank and full of anecdotes. Some shortcomings: Duncan claims he's a big fan of data, but very little data is shown in the book. Some stories and arguments are irrelevant, for examples, his experience playing basketball with Princeton guys and gun control have little to do with education, but mostly to justify himself. Chapter titles need to be more suggestive of the main topics.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Dee

    This is a book that deserves a wide reading by the consumers of America’s education system, parents, community members and other activists. I’m an educator; I’ve seen kids like Calvin, and they were handicapped. But their handicaps did not arise from the lack of rigor of their educations. “This ain’t good?” The question will haunt me. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Arne Duncan, unlike the current inheritor of his department. I appreciated the reminder that *good* teachers want to call out *b This is a book that deserves a wide reading by the consumers of America’s education system, parents, community members and other activists. I’m an educator; I’ve seen kids like Calvin, and they were handicapped. But their handicaps did not arise from the lack of rigor of their educations. “This ain’t good?” The question will haunt me. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Arne Duncan, unlike the current inheritor of his department. I appreciated the reminder that *good* teachers want to call out *bad* teachers. Unlike most of the reviewers, I do agree that merit pay should be linked to performance, and for better or worse, performance is measured by achievement, i.e. test scores.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Greer Mellon

    This book is more interesting as a record of the research and case studies that motivated Duncan, and an insight into the political struggles of being a superintendent. Just ignore all the "I'm a man of the people - I always fly coach" and "I'm different from other bosses. I want to ride with everyone on the elevator!" sections, and skim right over to discussions of research meetings and the politics of school closures.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    This is a history of Duncan's career and efforts to improve education in America. There is a lot to recommend in his thoughts, but I think the reliance on standardized testing is not great. Title is a bit of a misnomer.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leona

    I enjoyed this book at the beginning, but as time went on, I had a hard time staying focused. I think part of it is because I'm in the educational system myself, so the "ah ha" moments or stories he talked about weren't revolutionary to me at all. For anyone who isn't in education and wants to get a bit more insight into how things might work (he focused on his time in Chicago for a good chunk of the book) or not work, please check this out.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brian Miller

    A necessary read about how the US is failing our youngest and how the system still benefits the adults at the expense of the children. Low bars that when reached still leave our kids woefully unprepared for life. A quick read from the former Secretary of Education who knows firsthand about the skeletons in the closet. Thank you Simon and Schuster, Arne Duncan and Netgalley for the ARC for my honest review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Craig Conway

    I'm not sure it finishes the job, but it's a decent serious attempt at a much needed US public school policy discussion. I really enjoyed the first few chapters because they identify the elephant in the room in a serious and alarming way. School boards are lowering educational standards rather risking not meeting standards. I really enjoy Arne's discussion on countermeasures for school violence. He discusses traditional security and compares the success with commonly ignored school councilors. I I'm not sure it finishes the job, but it's a decent serious attempt at a much needed US public school policy discussion. I really enjoyed the first few chapters because they identify the elephant in the room in a serious and alarming way. School boards are lowering educational standards rather risking not meeting standards. I really enjoy Arne's discussion on countermeasures for school violence. He discusses traditional security and compares the success with commonly ignored school councilors. I appreciates towards the end he finally introduces universal pre-k however this section was honestly a little weak. He says it's a great idea but doesn't go into hard statistics to back up the affects of pre-k schooling. Lastly, I totally get that Arne is focused on the majority and the at-risk-community, however there's not much in this book that discusses the upper 1% of kids with potential. More time in schools might statistically help populations and at-risk-youths however I dare say the super intelligent kids that lack social interest will gain much from this. This is a group of kids that need teachers trained to identify these kids and find opportunities to steer them towards opportunities of interest. For example if a kid is demonstrating high proficiency for computer coding at a young age, I think we need avenues to steer these kids towards books and circulums that can keep their interest rather than teaching them at the speed of the slowest kid in the room. While I highly support educating to a baseline, I also would like to see programs pushing "the top" farther up. I understand that Arne did this by trying to push the baseline to the top, but I'm really interested in also pushing the .01% that are going to invent the next new technology. Good opening book. Give me more.

  20. 5 out of 5

    La-Shanda

    Learn for yourself is the first thought I had when reading this book. My initial impression of former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama - Arne Duncan was anti-Unions, creator of conservative educational policies and doesn't care about traditional public schools. After reading "How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education" my perspective has changed. Mr. Duncan proposed solutions to the age-old Learn for yourself is the first thought I had when reading this book. My initial impression of former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama - Arne Duncan was anti-Unions, creator of conservative educational policies and doesn't care about traditional public schools. After reading "How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education" my perspective has changed. Mr. Duncan proposed solutions to the age-old question, how to close the achievement gap so that all children can achieve. It was appreciated to learn from his perspective that federal policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are imperfect! The intention was great but the outcomes was not achievable. One question still remain, if children enter the school system unprepared, can parents and the community be held accountable? Far too many times accountability falls on the teacher and the school system. This is not a blame someone review, but we need parents and the local community as active stakeholders in early childhood education in order to equip students to be prepared for K-12 schooling. Overall, the book is a good read. I appreciate Mr. Duncan's honesty and realness about his experience in Chicago as a servant of the community until his final days as U.S. Secretary of Education. Of course his work continues! I look forward to learning more about his influence in education.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    A helpful read. Duncan focuses almost entirely on the issues of inner city schools, with which he has the most experience. As Obama's pick as Secretary of Education, Duncan took a surprisingly free-market approach to improving schools in arguing for charter schools, closing consistently underperforming schools, removing teachers with records of poor performance, and motivating schools with competitions for funds (Race to the Top). It was fascinating to read about how he embraced data science fro A helpful read. Duncan focuses almost entirely on the issues of inner city schools, with which he has the most experience. As Obama's pick as Secretary of Education, Duncan took a surprisingly free-market approach to improving schools in arguing for charter schools, closing consistently underperforming schools, removing teachers with records of poor performance, and motivating schools with competitions for funds (Race to the Top). It was fascinating to read about how he embraced data science from the University of Chicago for insights such as which teachers were fudging test scores. There are some sobering statistics: "If you took 100 black and Latino high school freshmen in Chicago public schools, only 3 would graduate from college in their 20s." Or, "Only 9 percent of poorer students finish college, while 70 percent of financially stable students finish college." There success stories, though. Duncan found that in poor black Chicago neighborhoods, 60 percent of the arrests of teens were taking place in school. They identified the schools with high arrest rates and created a de-escalation program that dramatically reduced that rate. Silver linings.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Larkin Tackett

    I worked with Arne (his preference over “Mr. Secretary”) in D.C. and consistently saw him heed the direction from President Obama to “Just do what you think is right for kids, and let me worry about the politics.” While I hoped for more detailed reflections about his time as Secretary, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and how he’s helping reduce violence with Steve Jobs’ widow, the book has important lessons for enacting systemic improvement in public education. In addition to calling for universa I worked with Arne (his preference over “Mr. Secretary”) in D.C. and consistently saw him heed the direction from President Obama to “Just do what you think is right for kids, and let me worry about the politics.” While I hoped for more detailed reflections about his time as Secretary, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and how he’s helping reduce violence with Steve Jobs’ widow, the book has important lessons for enacting systemic improvement in public education. In addition to calling for universal preschool and more out-of-school time programming, addressing students’ social-emotional needs before academics, and ensure there is a great principal and great teachers in every school, Arne’s observation of what makes for great instruction has lessons for all of us. He writes, “I’m telling this story about practice, repetition, trust, frustration, failure, and ultimately success, because this is what great teaching and learning looks like.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jerrid Kruse

    Many of the early “lies” Arne describes are just people raising concerns about his ideas. Later, he identifies some actual lies that no one in education will be surprised by (e.g., the US doesn’t actually care about teachers, or students). The book is an ok memoir, but doesn’t discuss “how schools work” at all. Instead, the book seems to be more about nepotism and dedication to a capitalistic approach to funding education. Sure, the author wants to talk about using carrots, but you don’t change Many of the early “lies” Arne describes are just people raising concerns about his ideas. Later, he identifies some actual lies that no one in education will be surprised by (e.g., the US doesn’t actually care about teachers, or students). The book is an ok memoir, but doesn’t discuss “how schools work” at all. Instead, the book seems to be more about nepotism and dedication to a capitalistic approach to funding education. Sure, the author wants to talk about using carrots, but you don’t change anything when there are only two winning states. The author uses conclusions for the widely discredited NCTQ report, which causes me to be suspicious of any of the author’s supposed evidence based thinking. I don’t disagree with many of the larger themes of the book, but the self-congratulatory nature of the writing was a pretty big turn off. Do US schools need to improve, yes. Does Arne have any idea how to do it? If he does, he didn’t tell us in this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Overall, the book is a good overview of education today. For those of us in the trenches, the book is 3 stars. However, for most of USA, it is an important read. At the very least, Duncan outlines how he (and many educators) has learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't. Scaling up strategies is a difficult process without the core people in place who can implement change. What I did find interesting is his contention that we need to test to find the growth of a. student. As a Overall, the book is a good overview of education today. For those of us in the trenches, the book is 3 stars. However, for most of USA, it is an important read. At the very least, Duncan outlines how he (and many educators) has learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't. Scaling up strategies is a difficult process without the core people in place who can implement change. What I did find interesting is his contention that we need to test to find the growth of a. student. As a former engineer, now a math and science educator, I completely agree that growth testing is valid. Yet in the two states in which I've taught, testing only examines how one year's cohort compares to the next cohort. There are too many variables for this sort of comparison for valid results to connect to teacher pay.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Roger Smitter

    Duncan’s story about his experience as Secretary of Education under President Obama should be required reading for all school superintendents and school boards. He lays out his goals and what he learned on-the-job in DC. His clear language provides multiple examples and stories of success. He recognizes the challenges to providing an education that meets the needs of all children. (He was the Superintendent of the Chicago school system before moving to Washington.) Perhaps more important, after Duncan’s story about his experience as Secretary of Education under President Obama should be required reading for all school superintendents and school boards. He lays out his goals and what he learned on-the-job in DC. His clear language provides multiple examples and stories of success. He recognizes the challenges to providing an education that meets the needs of all children. (He was the Superintendent of the Chicago school system before moving to Washington.) Perhaps more important, after he got to DC he went on the road and asked questions of educators and parents. The best chapter is “We Need the Carrot.” In that chapter, he reminds us that in a world of the Internet and Wikipedia, students don’t need to know the facts. They need how to learn on their own. At the same time, he need to get students plugged into learning—that’s the carrot.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    It’s hard to argue with Arne Duncan’s assertion that our education system in general lies to students and parents—that despite pronouncements to the contrary, our educational standards and expectations are low, students often receive acceptable grades but are ill prepared for college-level work, and America does not support or invest in young people. This readable memoir by the former Secretary of Education during the Obama administration cites seven reforms that American education requires im It’s hard to argue with Arne Duncan’s assertion that our education system in general lies to students and parents—that despite pronouncements to the contrary, our educational standards and expectations are low, students often receive acceptable grades but are ill prepared for college-level work, and America does not support or invest in young people. This readable memoir by the former Secretary of Education during the Obama administration cites seven reforms that American education requires immediately. Duncan suggests our educational system is in a state of national emergency, and we need strong leadership and common goals to address the problems schools face and to reverse the decline in educational outcomes in the U.S.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    Going to start by saying-this book definitely isn't for everyone. However, if you are a teacher, or want to be a teacher, or care about school and the future of America's schools (in particular), then you will probably enjoy it. I picked this up on a whim from the library, thinking that I may find it interesting. I was right. Arne Duncan beautifully tells the story of the flaws in America's education system, while also painting a picture of hope that we can change the system. We can make it bett Going to start by saying-this book definitely isn't for everyone. However, if you are a teacher, or want to be a teacher, or care about school and the future of America's schools (in particular), then you will probably enjoy it. I picked this up on a whim from the library, thinking that I may find it interesting. I was right. Arne Duncan beautifully tells the story of the flaws in America's education system, while also painting a picture of hope that we can change the system. We can make it better for future generations. Duncan is able to describe the situations of many schools in rough urban environments, and backs up these descriptions with real facts and evidence, which makes a complex book that is both enjoyable and full of substance. Definitely if you live in the Chicago area-pick this up. Often times those of us in the suburbs don't quite think about the hardships urban schools face, and I think it's important to remind ourselves. Anyways, enjoyed this one. 3/5.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I had the pleasure of hearing Arne Duncan speak at a recent higher education conference. He revealed problems and issues through a mix of stories and data. I was also struck at the time that he seemed to understand both the forest (i.e., impact on society) and trees (i.e., students) in equal measure. I was impressed. His book is very similar - looking at issues in both a granular and high-level fashion through a mix of data, personal stories and anecdotes. The issues he explores are important; t I had the pleasure of hearing Arne Duncan speak at a recent higher education conference. He revealed problems and issues through a mix of stories and data. I was also struck at the time that he seemed to understand both the forest (i.e., impact on society) and trees (i.e., students) in equal measure. I was impressed. His book is very similar - looking at issues in both a granular and high-level fashion through a mix of data, personal stories and anecdotes. The issues he explores are important; they should be a point of focus for everyone in education. One thing I will say is that his speech was very similar to his book, which is good for message consistency but caused me as a reader to skip a few pages here and there as the stories were fresh in mind.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dani P

    As the parent of an almost-4th grader and a toddler, I found information in this book that changed the way I think about public school. We live in an area where the public schools do not have a good reputation, yet my older child is thriving there in a special program. I learned from this book that our state had been a recipient of one of the grants Arne talks about, so maybe that’s why our experience is different than past families. I found the book very inspiring regarding amazing teachers and As the parent of an almost-4th grader and a toddler, I found information in this book that changed the way I think about public school. We live in an area where the public schools do not have a good reputation, yet my older child is thriving there in a special program. I learned from this book that our state had been a recipient of one of the grants Arne talks about, so maybe that’s why our experience is different than past families. I found the book very inspiring regarding amazing teachers and educational professionals as well as truly supporting kids. I also appreciated his perspective on guns and school shootings and was amazed to learn that in the US there have been 288 school shootings since 2009 and that the country with next highest number is Mexico with 8. 8!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rich Offman

    If you know education, you know the phrase: "an inch deep and a mile wide." This book is shallow - so shallow I wrote a book in response to it. It is odd that a memoir about a man who has dedicated his life to education failed to mention the elite prep school he attended (and Obama's children attended). And he failed to mention a few other things. How do I know? I was part of the same elite prep school for more than a decade. If you want to know, read the first half of my book for free on my web If you know education, you know the phrase: "an inch deep and a mile wide." This book is shallow - so shallow I wrote a book in response to it. It is odd that a memoir about a man who has dedicated his life to education failed to mention the elite prep school he attended (and Obama's children attended). And he failed to mention a few other things. How do I know? I was part of the same elite prep school for more than a decade. If you want to know, read the first half of my book for free on my website (morganandcrunch.com). And let me be clear: I am in no way questioning his heart; I am questioning the depth of his perception.

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