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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2013

BOOK REVIEW
‘10 Lessons From New York City Schools: What Really Works to Improve Education’
Review By Merri Rosenberg


10 Lessons From New York City Schools: What Really Works to Improve Education

By Eric Nadelstern
Published by Teachers College Press, New York and London. 2013: 84 pp.

Like Sisyphus rolling that boulder uphill in perpetuity, the question of how to actually fix education is a perennial one. Debates are endless, often heated, overly politicized and seemingly intractable.

Eric Nadelstern, the author of this slim book, is apparently undaunted by the challenging task he undertakes. A professor of practice in educational leadership at Teachers College, he directs the Summer Principals Academy. A veteran educator, Nadelstern is the founding principal of the International High School at La Guardia Community College, founding superintendent of New York’s Autonomy Zone and former deputy chancellor of the Division of School Support and Instruction for the New York City Department of Education.

He certainly knows what he’s talking about and is unhesitant about proclaiming his opinion, which is refreshing. Among his premises are these: “those closest to students and teachers in the classroom are in the best position to make the important decisions for a school … the school district’s Central Office needs to remove obstacles for principals and their schools, not create them.”

Nadelstern bases the arguments in this book primarily on his work in New York City as the architect of the Autonomy Zone initiative, which now encompasses the entire city school system. In exchange for decision-making ability close to the ground, principals agreed to be accountable for student achievement in the areas of attendance, retention, school and exam pass rates, promotion and graduation. One result? For the first time in more than 50 years, the graduation rate has increased from 50 percent to 65 percent.

Some of his suggestions, which are eminently practical and can be replicated, include: recruit the best talent you can find, and support them once they’re on the job; train the most effective teachers to be principals; empower principals to actually lead (having consequences for their decisions is a key factor); restore accountability and resources to the schools; create small schools, where students feel they’re known and cared about; reduce teacher workload, and never forget that the goal is always, always, always improving how students learn.

There are other elements as well that are key ingredients in Nadelstern’s recipe. Learning how to partner with the private sector, keeping the Central Office in its place, and taking chances are other actions that he advocates. “Don’t worry about what others think who don’t share your sense of impatience, if not downright outrage.”

Nadelstern wants readers to take the book to heart, and more importantly, to take action.

Clearly there’s lots more work to be done. Nadelstern approaches his mission with the passion and heart of a teacher. As he writes, “I’m neither a researcher nor an academic. However, I’ve always been a teacher. Only my students have changed.” Luckily for the students who’ve benefited from his vision, Nadelstern’s dedication and commitment to their learning hasn’t. #

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