A timely, insightful assessment of American education, with an emphasis on eliminating the “achievement gap.”
With all the attention paid to economic malaise, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the American education system is also in crisis (some of it caused by underfunded school systems). Pickles, a lifelong professional educator who holds a doctorate in reading and education administration, thinks most school system administrators find themselves “in a pickle,” and so she lays out a plan “for achieving at high levels and eliminating the gap among subgroups and across socioeconomic lines.” Pickles admits her work is an outgrowth of her dissertation about reading achievement, which she wrote two decades ago, but she’s careful to note that she has broadened her scope to focus on systemic change. First, the author offers a historical overview to put current challenges in perspective and then addresses three key areas—“Creating Schools and Districts for Excellence” (specific strategies and tactics for improving students’ performance and closing achievement gaps), “Educational Leadership and Professional Relationships” (a discussion of leadership principles applicable to teachers and school administrators) and “Building External Partnerships” (how and why partnerships are useful in meeting schools’ challenges). In the book’s final section, Pickles presents “A Future Platform for Education,” in which she offers numerous specific suggestions, keyed to instructional leadership, professional relationships and families, partners and the greater community. There is no shortage of ideas for improvement, but unlike some works that may reach for lofty, unachievable goals, Pickles grounds her suggestions in research and the practicality of her considerable experience as a classroom teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. Pickles correctly focuses the majority of her attention on low-performing schools, suggesting that “if we can fix these schools, then we can fix all schools.” This book will undoubtedly find its largest audience among forward-thinking school administrators who continue to believe that they have the ability to measurably impact the quality of education.
Pickles’ message may be most appropriate for administrators, but teachers, school boards and concerned parents will also benefit from reading this book as it will remind them that the welfare of students should always be the first priority in educational reform.