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Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America
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Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  1,764 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
When Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin signed up for Teach for America right after college and found themselves utter failures in the classroom, they vowed to remake themselves into superior educators. They did that—and more. In their early twenties, by sheer force of talent and determination never to take no for an answer, they created a wildly successful fifth-grade ...more
Paperback, 329 pages
Published January 20th 2009 by Algonquin Books (first published 2009)
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Dec 26, 2013 di rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
My rating has to do with the writing, not the KIPP idea, although I will address that later. Mathews was all over the place, & there were chapters stuck in places that made no sense. He starts the book in the middle of Feinberg's class in 1995. Jump back to 1992, when Feinberg & Levin first met. No big deal. The transition was choppy, but it made sense. From there it mostly follows the narrative of two guys learning to teach, getting better, starting out on their own...then. 43 pages in, ...more
Stuart Nachbar
Jan 12, 2009 Stuart Nachbar rated it really liked it
Work Hard.Be Nice is an account of the founding of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a nationwide network of charter schools that was first founded in Houston, and first expanded in the Bronx, New York. The author, Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews, has written a largely supportive account of KIPP's progress; he writes about the founders, David Levin and Michael Feinberg with respect and awe.

Work Hard. Be Nice , combined with a personal visit to a non-KIPP charter school earlier
Mar 23, 2009 Corey rated it it was amazing
this book was absolutely amazing. Seeing as how i am a kipp student and i know how the system works this book was a top notch book. I personally have met Mr.Feinberg and Mr. Levin and the story of how they got started is awesome. what they are doing makes so much of a difference and shows how America is the greatest country on earth.
Mar 18, 2009 Kirstin rated it really liked it
The Washington Post’s Jay Matthews recently released a new book on KIPP charter schools called Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America, It tells the story of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) which has grown from a classroom in Houston to a program of 66 public charter schools serving 17,000 children in 19 states and the District of Columbia. More than 90 percent of KIPP students are children of color and 80 percent are low income. Students ...more
Jun 06, 2009 Donura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
RATING: 5 out of 5

An absolutely engaging, amazing “listen” about the formation and execution of a middle school design known as KIPP by two teachers driven by their thrill of seeing kids learn.

This is an inspiring story of two young men who find their mission in life early, and don’t waiver from it no matter how many obstacles are placed in front of them. As their story unfolds, you find yourself cheering for them at each triumph, and ready to jump in and help them fight off the naysayer who thr
Ashley Shinpoch
Dec 28, 2015 Ashley Shinpoch rated it it was ok
I had some issues with this book.
1. That schools could be run like a business. No. Just no. Unfortunately, my nuggets aren't Blu-Ray players, and therefore, shouldn't be treated as such.
2. The author's focus on youth. Just because you're young doesn't necessarily mean you have a ton of energy. I know teachers who are in their 50s and 60s who could run circles around me. I aspire to have their energy someday.
3. The author didn't address SPED or 504 students. Are there any in the KIPP system? As
Karen Locklear
Jun 30, 2011 Karen Locklear rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book spells out the problems within public education, and what will need to happen to fix it.


For children who are economically disadvantaged with parents who need help navigating through the middle class- centered public school system, this is the way to go:

Five full days with a half day on Saturday

Longer days so that study halls could be built into the schedule

After hours access to teachers.

More time focusing on fundamentals and less time focusing on things that should be seconda
May 24, 2013 Adam rated it it was ok
If I did not already know the story very well (I am a Houston-area teacher) I have no idea how this disjointed narrative would have come across. The 2-star's "it was ok" label is the perfect descriptor.

Also, as a Houston-area teacher, I can see through the hazy, rose-colored promotion of the KIPP system. They are good schools for kids who fall in line. They kick 1/5th of their kids out every year, right before testing, to maintain those high test scores, and their kids do not necessarily go thro
Apr 29, 2010 Joanne rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in alternative models of public schooling
Shelves: non-fiction
I've been interested in the KIPP (Knowledge is Power) schools as an alternative model, since they appear occasionally in the educational media. This book gives a great history of how two former Teach for America teachers developed a national organization of schools -- lots and lots of time invested, lots of challenges from bureaucracy, lots of unexpected bumps. It took a lot of energy and a lot of commitment, and it looks like it works really well for some kids. The critics jump on that "some ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Mar 16, 2016 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
I always love to read about schools where kids do well. This is one such story.

It’s the story of the KIPP program that began in Houston in 1995, started by two committed Teach for America teachers.

Here’s a brutal fact: If poor children are going to learn at the same rate as affluent children, they need more school days. Ugh. That hits me where it hurts. This is a brutal fact teachers can’t bear. One of the perks of being a teacher is summers off. Summers kill poor children’s achievement. Eek.
Nov 11, 2012 Molly rated it liked it
This book is basically the "life and times" of the KIPP program. The book is very well written, but unfortunately, the subject matter isn't the best. KIPP, in my area, is referred to as "the cult." Teachers I know that have been part of it or know others who have all say they suck the life out of you during the best years of your professional life and then spit you out when they've finished leaching off you. From what I have read in this book, I can see why that is the case.[return]I'm not ...more
Mar 20, 2015 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: education-books
Jay Mathews tells the compelling story of how two young teachers created and expanded the KIPP schools, one of the most fascinating national charter school programs. Mathews' writes in a clear, engaging way but his effusive love for his subjects is occasionally trying. A worthwhile read for anyone in (or interested in) education.
Aug 13, 2015 Maria rated it it was ok
Shelves: teaching-books
I struggled with the organization of the book... It jumped around in time and parts of it seemed really disconnected.

I felt like the end of the book became an advertisement KIPP schools. It wasn't a critical lense but rather a presentation of statistics supporting the work they and TfA are doing.
Feb 09, 2009 Oliver rated it really liked it
Writing is not the best, but I love the school. Made my first donation to the KIPP Foundation about 45 minutes after finishing.
David Glad
Aside from a great history of an excellent program (Knowledge Is Power Program -- KIPP), it also has nice life lessons with -- as would especially be true of an educational bureaucracy -- power of persistence to push for results. Co-founders Mike Feinberg and David Levin really are the dynamic duo.

One of the early observations that stuck out was "Never settle for a bad product or service without complaint," where one of the co-founders instructed his students to begin calling up numbers of admin
Nov 17, 2016 Kenderick rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
Great lesson on the need for great educators for our children. Some of the principles of these schools could be used in parenting. I wished the book would have dedicated a portion to the actual lesson plans used by the KIPP organization. Well written with personal anecdotes from the major people in the formation of KIPP. A very good read for those who are interested in how our education system can be better.
Melissa Andrews
Very nice write up on the KIP program for charter schools. I don't understand why, if we see programs like these working, we don't implement at least parts of them in traditional school systems. It makes so much sense to me that kids would enjoy learning rhythmically, for example. My son would love it. Lol. How hard is this do teach teachers to do.
Kathryn Reimer
Nov 21, 2016 Kathryn Reimer rated it liked it
Although inspirational and filled with insights about charter school success, this was a disjointed story focusing on the teachers personality and journey rather than their classroom approach.
Mark Anderson
Dec 07, 2016 Mark Anderson rated it liked it
Good not great telling of the story about two guys who started a new school.
Jan 05, 2011 Margaret rated it it was amazing
ere are some interesting thoughts from Margaret Paynich, a long-standing contributor to this blog, about Jay Mathews' KIPP book:

Work hard mural "I picked up Jay Mathews' book, "Work Hard. Be Nice." and decided to read it without knowing what it was about. Mathews tells a great story about Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin starting the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in Houston, Texas, fresh out of Teach for America training in Los Angeles. I was easily enamored with Feinberg and Levin's passion for
Jul 16, 2012 Clint rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
The book itself was well written by Jay Mathews, an education reporter from the Washington Post. Regarding the content and the idea of KIPP ( charter school) I did not like as much. The two teachers who started the charter school KIPP came from the Teach for America program, which places teachers (who don't normally get a education degree from college) into low economic and poor testing schools. After a few months of working in these schools, Levin and Feinberg come to the conclusion that the ...more
Fyza Jazra
"Work Hard. Be Nice" is story of the formation of the KIPP Charter schools by renowned education journalist Jay Matthews. His previous book,"Escalante: The Best Teacher in America", about the famous Calculus teacher in LA district was the source for the movie "Stand and Deliver". In a sense, this book is also written in a format suited to be adopted as a feel good Hollywood movie.

The book chronicles the journey of two white young privileged guys, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, who end up creating
Tensy MB
Dec 07, 2009 Tensy MB rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What's the recipe for educational excellence? First you get two inexperienced college graduates, send them to an inner-city school, have them observe an innovative teacher in action, and throw in a pinch of idealism, energy and enthusiasm and what you get is KIPP (knowledge is power program). Levin and Feinberg straight out of Yale and Penn decided to join the, then brand new, Teach for America corps. They met at the training sessions and found an immediate connection playing basketball. Soon ...more
Paul Signorelli
Jun 18, 2012 Paul Signorelli rated it it was amazing
Jay Mathews, as a long-time education writer for the Washington Post, displays an enviable ability to produce a real page-turner on a topic far from the top of the average person's reading list. The narrative flow is far more engaging than much of what we find in contemporary novels; the emotional engagement he fosters has us rooting for his protagonists and feeling the occasional personal losses he documents. As he chronicles the story of Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin’s journey from being two ...more
Dec 30, 2009 Nicole rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. I became interested in KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) and its founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, after reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The high quality public school program (open to all children, but mainly focused on inner-city kids) requires students to attend school from 7:30-5:00, on Saturdays and during some of the summer. These motivated students (and their teachers) have thrived in this structured ordered environment, and they have the test scores to prove it.

Feb 09, 2010 Rick rated it liked it
The accomplishments of Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg may fall a mite short of the full superlative of the subtitle but they are nonetheless inspiring and their network of schools promising exemplars of educational reform. Mathews crafts a speedy narrative with flashbacks and sidebars and personal touches to describe the two Teach for America prodigies, one from New York’s East Side and the other from Chicago, who are transplanted to Houston, where they come under the influence of Harriet Ball ...more
Jun 14, 2013 Em rated it really liked it
I read "Work Hard, Be Nice" at the request of my roommate, because the organization she works for here in Tbilisi (Radarami) is translating it into Georgian and will publish it next month. She wanted my opinion on the book, and what I thought about publishing it here in Georgia. I read the book quite fast--the writing was great and I found this non-fiction story much more compelling than the novel I'm reading at the moment. There were many times reading this book where my reaction was "Yes! Exac ...more
Apr 20, 2010 Carla rated it really liked it
While some of the writing and storytelling was lackluster, I found the facts inspiring. As an educator, this book gave me quite a bit of food for thought. This book is an expose (warts and all) of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Schools. These charter schools (now plentiful and nationwide) were started in Texas and NYC in the '90s by two Teach for America alums (Levin and Feinberg). These young men had little in the way of real teacher training. What they did have, though, were innate ...more
Aug 26, 2009 David rated it liked it
Should school be organized more for the convenience of teachers and administrators or for the benefit of students? The answer might seem obvious -- for the students, of course! But one of the odd effects reading Jay Mathews' book about KIPP had was to prompt me to wonder, just a little in a back corner of my mind, just how far a "students first, students always" approach can unhesitatingly be endorsed. Yes, for both students and teachers, hard work and persistence in the face of difficulty have ...more
Jan 16, 2010 David rated it really liked it
Detailed account of the co-founders of the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school franchise, which has mushroomed nationally incl. in my city (DC Key academy). I read the author regularly in Wx Post and online, so a lot of the slant he puts on it (all kids can learn if challenged sufficiently in school; administrators are mostly obfuscatory dopes who set out to squelch innovative teaching) was very familiar.

Longer on anecdotes, including on the love lives of the protagonists, than on c
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