“This book is a godsend … a moving portrait for anyone wanting to go beyond the simplified labels and metrics and really understand an urban high school, and its highly individual, resilient, eager and brilliant students and educators.” —Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and ScholarMatch
Darrell is a reflective, brilliant young man, who never thought of himself as a good student. He always struggled with his reading and writing skills. Darrell's father, a single parent, couldn't afford private tutors. By the end of middle school, Darrell's grades and his confidence were at an all time low. Then everything changed.
When education journalist Kristina Rizga first met Darrell at Mission High School, he was taking AP calculus class, writing a ten-page research paper, and had received several college acceptance letters. And Darrell was not an exception. More than 80 percent of Mission High seniors go to college every year, even though the school teaches large numbers of English learners and students from poor families.
So, why has the federal government been threatening to close Mission High—and schools like it across the country?
The United States has been on a century long road toward increased standardization in our public schools, which resulted in a system that reduces the quality of education to primarily one standardized test scores. According to this number, Mission High is a “low-performing” school even though its college enrollment, graduation, attendance rates and student surveys are some of the best in the country.
The qualities that matter the most in learning—skills like critical thinking, intellectual engagement, resilience, empathy, self-management, and cultural flexibility—can't be measured by multiple-choice questions designed by distant testing companies, Rizga argues, but they can be detected by skilled teachers in effective, personalized and humane classrooms that work for all students, not just the most motivated ones.
Based on four years of reporting with unprecedented access, the unforgettable, intimate stories in these pages throw open the doors to America's most talked about—and arguably least understood—public school classrooms where the largely invisible voices of our smart, resilient students and their committed educators can offer a clear and hopeful blueprint for what it takes to help all students succeed.
I was wending my way through the vignettes or anecdotes that constitute the bulk of Kristina Rizga’s book and asking “Is that all there is?” It is hard to claim you have a better mousetrap if you only say that it caught mice for Jesmyn and Olaf and Rinaldo but there were hundreds of other students who caught mice with the other mousetrap.
By the end of the book, I had to reconsider……somewhat.
Almost all citizens have an interest in the USA’s public educational system. Most of them have opinions about its strengths and weaknesses. A lot of the discussion in the 21st century has focused on testing of students and extrapolating from that for punishments and rewards of both schools and individual teachers. Most agree that what we currently do is nowhere close to perfection. From there opinions diverge as to whether to test; if testing – how frequently, of what subject matter……and what should be done when performance is not meeting the standards.
Rizga has invested her time in convincing one school’s administration to embed her in its classes where she could observe, interact and interview, students, teachers and some members of the school’s administration. From that she has distilled a number of “case studies” each involving a single student. And, from that she has put forward some conclusions about educational reform. The California school she based this on was Mission High School. She charts a school that went from underserving its student body to showing substantial improvement which was not reflected in standardized testing.
Among her conclusions (restated by me): • Students of color from lower income areas are not well served by standard testing; • Students of color from lower income areas need more specific support and incentives; • Teachers, particularly of students from lower income areas, need more paid time to prepare lessons for these students who need specific kinds of support and encouragement to invest themselves in their education • Local neighborhoods and communities understand this situation better than state and federal administrators and these local groups should be given more control over their schools’ approach and the way progress in measured.
Rizga offers some “model” elements based on her observations. They should be discussed, considered and, if implemented, tracked to see what outcomes resulted. Until that is done, it is very difficult to come to any conclusions about the validity of what she has offered.
I am glad that I have read this book and look forward to some discussion I will have with some friends and associates who are closer to these issues than I am. I am sure that I will come across better books on this topic but that might not be necessary to have a fruitful discussion of this topic.
As the parent of two teenagers going through high school, I found Mission High really interesting and somewhat frustrating. My frustration did not come from the book but some of the issues it highlights – and interestingly those issues are not just limited to the American educational system or the plight of students in lower socio economic contexts, although that is the focus of the book and obviously an important focus. The author spent a considerable amount of time at Mission High, a high school in San Francisco. Mission High has a very culturally diverse and low socio economic student population. Its students don’t score particularly well on standardized testing but the school has excellent rates of attendance, teacher retention and college admission. Most significantly, the students, teachers and parents consistently express how much they like the school. So the author of Mission High set off to find out what makes this school work. In the process, she focuses on the principal, individual teachers and specific students, and she provides a lot of background on the history of education in the US, including evolving theories of pedagogy and government education policy. Her thesis seems to be that a top down test score focused system does not make for the best school environment or educational experience; rather, there are a cluster of factors that make Mission High work: the teachers do not teach to standardized tests but instead focus on skills like critical thinking, creativity and the ability to work in groups; the school rejects wholly made pedagogical theories but rather encourages the teachers to work together to develop approaches that work for the students in their school; the teachers and the school provide a lot of individual attention and support, focusing on students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses; there is no streaming so that students don’t feel pigeon holed as weak and students of different abilities in a class can help each other; and the school works as a community making sure to address in an upfront way issues of racism, sexism and homophobia – there’s an awesome description of a drag show put on by the students in which the principal complains about the high heels he is wearing. The book is mostly very readable, perhaps a bit too rose coloured glasses About the school it depicts, sometimes a bit dry, but more fundamentally made for an important read for me because it stirs up a lot of important issues about education. I am most familiar with the public school system in downtown Toronto – it’s full of good schools as defined by a top down measure that looks at standardized tests and admissions to university. It's also full of individual teachers who are dedicated. But the teachers work under tight curriculum demands with little flexibility or room for creativity, and they don't get much recognition for extra effort. I see kids who are stressed out about achieving good grades but who are not particularly engaged or interested in what they are learning. I don’t know how you get to a point where positive environments like Mission High (as depicted in the book) are the norm, but I would think that it starts with valuing our teachers, and giving them the space – mental and physical -- and resources they to need to work with our kids. We have been in the midst of threatened teacher strikes in Ontario this summer, and as issues get resolved and teachers have been accorded modest salary increases and more prep time, the public vitriol against teachers is appalling. No, I am not a teacher, but I want my kids’ teachers to be dedicated and engaged, and I would think that the starting point is public respect. In Mission High, the author gives a real picture of what can be achieved in a school where teachers and students are respected, and for that it’s worth the read. Excuse my somewhat tangential rant as we begin a new school year… Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read a copy of Mission High -- and for giving me food for thought.
I was very conflicted about this book. While it's a nice qualitative exploration of a few kids and teachers at the school (who all seem exceptionally dedicated), it doesn't speak to whether the school as a whole has actually improved in it's job as a school. Yes, a few great teachers and students will excel anywhere, but without numbers to talk about the changes over time, it's hard to place the anecdotes into any context.
For example, the book goes on and on about test scores not really changing and how test scores are a bad measure of success (perhaps? I'm not totally sold on this though). But what has changed? What precent of graduates go to college now? What percent get jobs and what types of jobs (e.g. median income)? What percent go to jail or end up in gangs? And how have all of these numbers changed? Numbers on these types of things would help convince me that they are making a real impact in the community. Otherwise, it's just a few nice stories of some of the heroes of the school.
a really good look at the stars that keep mission high alive, this could even be a great long form article. i think i wished for deeper dive into various issues rather than just the hammering home of standardized tests fail students. perhaps more comparison to other schools in San Francisco or more about all aspects of the school. I did like the portraits of the people a lot.
"Teachers in all schools, and in high poverty schools like Mission especially, need more time, resources, and support to plan lessons and reflect on outcomes, comb through qualitative data to justify classroom and school - wide changes, keep themselves and their peer accountable, and receive training from respected peers when they are struggling. When teachers are given sustained opportunities to improve their craft, they can develop skills to provide intellectually challenging education in personalized, diverse classrooms."
I enjoyed the first 100 pages, but then it became a little repetitious and felt like it could have been covered in a long form article. You can only tell me so many times that getting to focus individually on each student will help with results. Or that people pushing new ideas from the top outside the school won’t be effective. I believed after 50 pages.
What I thought Rizga could have done with the added pages is explore the finances of how a high school actually operates and how it’s funding is determined. I can’t imagine people would argue with the idea of personalizing a teaching approach. The barrier really is the resources of time and mostly money. And assuming we don’t use (or use less) standardized testing, how do we measure a schools success? And how do colleges select students? She touched on some of these but didn’t dive into these issues. For me, more money means more teachers means more attention per student. How do we get schools more money and what is the right amount of money? Don't forget, we need aircraft carriers.
It did change my thinking on how we view school. There is an issue in Philly right now about principals misconstruing their attendance numbers. Students have to swipe their badge when they come into the building but not when they go into the class. The class attendance is still kept by hand. What is happening is that some students are coming into the building and not going to class. So the school looks like it’s doing a great job in attendance but students are just hanging out in the cafeteria or hallways. What is odd to me about the article is that teachers are complaining about the administration not doing something about it. But funding is tied to attendance so by using the class room attendance, the school would get less funds. After reading this book, I’m tempted to ask the teachers, “Why aren’t kids coming to your class? How can we get these students engaged in the subject?” Of course, the teacher could have too many classes, too many students or not the time or resources to deal with disruptive students. But I think the author here would argue, (assuming you have the resources) make your class better, then the kids will come.
I enjoyed this book but it took a while to get going for me. I thought the opening chapters were a bit slow and honestly, the stories that interested me the most were the student's stories. I wanted more of those and less of the rest of it. I did find myself liking the educational policy research and history but it took me out of the book a bit and left less room for more of the students' stories. Also, what about the rest of the kids at the school? What are their stories? Why don't we learn more about them? Basically, I wanted more than what I was given. I guess that's not a bad thing and I'm not meaning that as a criticism necessarily. I think if you work in education or are very invested in educational policy reform, then this book will be the perfect thing for you. If you're like me and are more of a casual observer of it, your mileage may vary. It is not a bad book by any means. It is a very good book. But I was left wanting more and being a bit disappointed at what she left out. The main thing she doesn't really talk about is does Mission High ever actually improve? I know it is still open and functioning as a school but have test scores improved? Is the school still considered low performing? What happens to the students after they graduate? How many of them go on to college or to careers? Those questions matter and they were left out of the book. If she had included more of that stuff, I'd be willing to give this a full five stars. As it is, I had to settle for four. Still worth a read, particularly if you are personally invested in this stuff.
10 stars. Honest and well-researched. Makes me look at our neighborhood high school with a fresh lens and deepens my, already very deep, respect for our public school teachers. This should be required reading for everyone!
Great book. I'm not a teacher or an educator, so those in the profession might read this and think, well duh. I found myself thinking back on my high school days as I read this book and see value in applying a student first approach to teaching. Probably would've made school way more interesting.
The only thing I wish this book had was information on the outcomes for these students. There is a brief mention on uptick in graduation rates/drops in suspensions, etc. Would've loved to learn more about this and what the kids did once they graduated. Instead the book focuses solely on what occurred during the high school days with deep dives for a few students.
Teachers should read this book, although the points made in it would be considered "preaching to the choir."
Policy makers and politicians NEED to read this book, since they're the ones running the show, despite not having a clue on how education works.
Rizga writes in terms that anyone can understand and sprinkles in plenty of education jargon along the way. Her chapters highlight various teachers, students, and periods in the history of education, transitioning from one topic to another with ease. In my mind, one of the most important things that she points out is that teachers, most of the time, have no idea what happens to their students outside of school. This is not the main focus of the book, but it is a major one to me.
Education in this country has been moving in the wrong direction in this country for at least the last decade due to the overwhelming importance placed on standardized tests. The teachers highlighted in this book show how it should be done.
This book is so important and necessary in the national conversation on education right now. The focus on experienced teachers (some entering 3 decades of teaching!), localized curriculum development and mentorship, meeting the needs of the unique "ecosystem" of a school through analysis of authentic student work (not just high stakes test scores) and providing students safe spaces to be themselves...should not be considered revolutionary, but just good education. To work with some of these folks was such an honor, and a learning experience.
I liked the personal stories of the students and teachers much more than the historical perspectives and policy issues associated with America's achievement gap. The individualized coaching strategies and planning/student work review sessions described in this book are exactly what should happen in schools but doesn't because, in my opinion, tests scores matter to the feds and to district administrators more than kids' personalities and teachers' expertise do.
EVERYONE who's been through public school should read this book. Don't be fooled by its case study in San Francisco - everyone can deeply relate to this book, the arguments well-made are national if not global in scope and the research included is extremely important for any individual who cares about the education of our youth.
This book references Jo Boaler's research. After I read Jo Boaler's "Limitless Mind" last month, I began a journey of rethinking my high school education and "Mission High" has continued that journey. I was one of those students that was good at memorizing, getting a near perfect score on the test, and then forgetting everything later. I was one of the kids who studied for hours for their ACT and was rewarded, but I don't remember anything I learned during ACT prep. I knew that to win in the school system, you had to play the game regardless of whether you were actually learning or building long term skills. In many ways, my "least effort most benefit" approach got me through the freshman and sophomore honors classes before I was finally challenged in my AP classes. I hated being challenged. I wanted everything to be easy all the time, and honestly I still do. I now see how the education system may have begun that bad habit in me.
Our school system is broken. It's a game that certain students are poised to win because their parents went to college and can help them with homework and they have all the time and resources they need because their parents can pay for food, clothes and shelter. I won not because I learned a lot in school, but I won because I was privileged, willing to blindly obey and I could play the game. I know that, now.
This book explained to me why teachers would spend time on me, but completely give up on students that had trouble blindly obeying directions.
The teachers at Mission High created a curriculum that gave every student the opportunity to rise to the challenge of a depth of education I was certainly never exposed to. These teachers put down the stigma against mental health and "disruptive students" and were able to strike a balance between empathy and authority which allowed them to both earn the kids' respect and also encourage them without patronizing them.
It sounds unrealistic, right? Well Rizga's extremely thorough reporting outlines exactly how these teachers accomplished this balance. I was surprised that these methods weren't just based on feelings but they were logical, analytical strategies which measurable action items and consideration of all the variables.
We can do this. The education system can get better. We could have schools that teach students how to communicate, how to think about life and how to see challenge as a good thing.
My only criticism is that I feel both Boaler and Rizga place potentially excessive responsibility on teachers to give 110% of themselves, forfeiting their personal lives, hobbies and personal relationships in order to right the wrongs of parents, misguided government direction and the whole of institutional racism. However, Rizga also places emphasis, repeatedly, on the importance of paying teachers appropriately and reducing their teaching time so that more class periods can be devoted to careful analysis of student work and planning in-depth meaningful lessons.
I am so glad I read this book immediately after finishing “Other People’s Children” by Lisa Delpit. Delpit’s book is more academic, but Rizga draws out many similar pedagogical topics through the school, teachers and students that she profiles. Her book really emphasized, for me, the hand-made quality of good schooling, which is undermined by our current factory-model with its focus on quantitative results. I love this idea that human beings, in the trenches, can identify and solve problems, even systemic ones. It’s something we do in agile software development, where each team focuses on how it can improve together.
It also reminded me of putting on a play: It’s like educational reformers want to “fix” education in the US en-masse, like a Memorial Day weekend blockbuster film. But instead they have to give small theater troops the time, space and resources to put on a show. Even if all the troupes worked from the same script, each show would be a little different, tilted toward the strengths of the group putting it on, emphasizing what’s important to that group. And it would be that much more powerful and meaningful for the participants and audience than watching the summer blockbuster. That’s Rizga’s ideal for education, and it’s very inspiring to read about it in action at Mission High.
Kristina Rizga took on a reporting assignment that was originally planned to last just a couple months but this research at Mission High School took around 4 years. She ended up finding more than what the author was looking for. The book Mission High by Kristina Rizga puts an end to these common educational beliefs and opens highlight key, largely invisible forces that are slowly eroding the promise of public education in the United States, and what truly happens in the educational system. As a student in high school I found this book really interesting. The book gives a great depiction of what happens in a school where students and teachers respect each other. Even Though Mission High may be scoring low on standardized tests Rizga shares her experiences with teachers who really enjoy the challenges they face as professors and really resilient teachers. For example, Pablo, an undocumented Central American student in the book shares his struggle as Rizga follows his challenges through learning English and dealing with his sexuality. Another example are the teachers and their motivations and abilities for teaching empower them to achieve great feats in their school and with their classrooms like meaningful projects, school-wide shows, and events that exhibit student activism and build community awareness.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Overall, it's a good look at one particular school in SF. The author does seem somewhat idealistic in my opinion, but I happen to agree with her overall premise - standardized testing as a sole metric of student performance doesn't work. The author argues that a subjective approach is often better, because it takes into account the school's and the student's particularities. While I agree with that in principal, I do believe you can take that too far as well, and have no measurable metric for a macro view of the overall state of our education system.
There are things that we have gotten right in our education policy (desegregation, attempt to not 'leave a child behind', gradual inclusion of content geared towards all ethnicity and genders), but it is something that will always need fine tuning. The pendulum of standardization have swung too far, and we need to ensure there is a qualitative aspect to our education as well. That ensures that students not only learn how to take tests, learn facts and structures, but also how to get their own unique view out into the world, and express themselves in their own unique way while interacting with the world around them.
This was a nice and easy read filled with all kinds of thought provoking conversation pieces about modern education and what it can do differently. I felt that the first three quarters of the book are very anecdotal, using very specific situations to illustrate a point or to shed light on a certain topic. This was a bit tiresome after a couple hundred pages though. Where this book really shines, for me, is in the last quarter. In this section the tone shifts to all of the ways that we are failing. Despite my description, I did not take this as a negative. As a professional educator I am bombarded every year with new strategies and interventions to address our shortcomings. The author spends a nice portion of the book highlighting how the previously outlined interventions don't work for everyone, and provides practical framework for how solutions can be addressed. The end of the book was worth the trek to get there.
I liked hearing about the students and teachers profiled in this book, but I don't think this offered me what I, as an educator, wanted to learn about why the school is successful. I wanted to see more about the systems implemented by the school (discipline, etc), and less about individuals because individuals come and go. I liked the sections of the book that talked about how staff plan collaboratively and I think that's about the only systemic strategy that I saw being discussed (that and it seems like the principal's kind of chill about test scores?). Every kid profiled in this book seems like they really care about school, and every teacher seems like they are charismatic and teach perfect lessons and have 100% engagement all the time, but I wanted to see more of what the school does to support students and teachers who struggle more. Like, write about a chaotic classroom and how it was handled! Idk it was fun to read but felt lacking
Kristina Rizga was an "embedded" journalist at Mission High School in San Francisco for 2 years. This book is a result of her reporting. The book conveys what it is like to be a large public high school in the context of high stakes accountability reform. Risga seamlessly integrates the pressures and challenges of Mission High and does so in a way that the focus is kept on the students and teachers of the school. Each chapter focuses on either a student or a teacher telling the story of a school through the people that make it what it is. This book is an antidote to the many books about schools that focus on how schools are under attack. While the realities of high stakes education reform are definitely part of the story, the focus is on the "students and teachers who made it triumph."
This is an excellent look inside the problematic attempts to evaluate states, districts, schools, and teachers based on data from standardized tests. It combines narrative details about specific students and teachers from Mission with well-researched facts about education policy and even some good advice regarding effective teaching practice! For educators, you may find it "preaching to the choir," but I enjoyed the opportunity to hear thoughts about educational trends from an "outsider" perspective and also to reflect on my own teaching habits and how they can be improved based on what teachers and students revealed to the author. I'd highly recommend for educators and non-educators alike!
If you are interested in education reform, or have a child in public school, or live in San Francisco, and especially if more than one of these is true of you, I highly recommend this book. It is written in a journalistic style that makes it easy to read and uses both personal stories and a historical perspective to tell the story of Mission High School. I absolutely loved this book.
My only caveat is that the author has a definite bias against standardized testing and towards individualized instruction. If you are looking for a book more in line with traditional education reform, this is not it. You should read it anyhow; feel free to disagree afterwards!
Wow. I really loved this book. First of all the way it was written was so immersive and had a much more narrative fell to it than other non-fiction education books I have read. I think that this has really high readability. You definitely don't need to be in a college class to pick this up and understand it. And you absolutely don't have to be interested in education to enjoy it. I love the perspective from multiple people in the school and how the author focused in on just one story at a time and really fleshed those people out. I just feel like I learned so much from reading this book. Its quickly become my favorite non-fiction book I have had to read for class.
This book totally changed my perspective on what teachers actually do. In order to help their students succeed, educators put in hours far beyond the typical 8-3 school day. Would recommend for any current, future or former teacher, or anyone looking to get a better glimpse at what teachers and students today deal with.
Insightful account which ties together personal stories from teachers and students. Highlights the challenging historical context that had shaped the public school system of today, that Mission High School lives in, without flattening the school's narrative into a predictable template.
After reading the introduction of this book, I thought I was on board with Rizga. Her thoughts on educational research ("I used to think that successful educational reform occurs when struggling schools adopt research-based practices from academic reports, case studies from other countries, or practices of high-scoring schools with similar demographics. As I observed the implementation of new teaching approaches in the math department for three years, I saw firsthand how copying and pasting blueprints from other places doesn't work. The recommendations of experts in academia or other schools are too general and don't take into account the most important variable: the unique ecosystem of each school and the individual needs of its diverse student body.") mirror my own and are rarely expressed in widely published writing.
However, as the book went on, Rizga's initial statement did not hold true. The book ended up being exactly what Rizga claimed to be against: a summation of recent educational research. At one point, Rizga even writes, "Many people often assume that a teacher's personality is most responsible for creating positive relationships, whereas it is actually a set of teaching practices and skills," contradicting her introductory statements. Mission High was more of a narrative device used to deliver contemporary commentary on education sprinkled with big names like Linda Darling-Hammond and Carol Dweck than a fresh and fascinating case study digging deep into the whys of education.
Every teacher knows that if they could implement all the latest educational research, their students, like those at Mission High, would be successful--but these teachers also intimately know the setbacks that prevent them from realizing this reality. Perhaps some more beneficial questions for Rizga to tackle with four years of her life would have been, "What sets Mission High apart? How are they able to implement these best practices when other schools across the country struggle? What is unique to Mission High? Can that common factor exist elsewhere?" As it stands, the book seems to condone what it initially condemned by showing Mission High's adoption of recent research and encouraging its readers to do the same.
For an educational outsider looking for a primer on recent educational research, this book may have merit, but for a practicing teacher with any sliver of knowledge about educational trends, this book is redundant and does not contribute anything original to ongoing educational discussions.
“Why doesn’t my opinion about school matter? Why does the government get the final say on whether my school is good or bad? Some people in my middle school told me that I’ll never go to college. Then I came to Mission, and Mr. Velez made me feel so welcome. Mr. Roth expects more from me than anyone. How can they call our school ‘bad’?” asks Maria, a student profiled in Mission High. Author Kristina Rizga writes that her book is an “attempt to elevate the largely invisible voices of students and teachers in the larger conversation about education in America today and to allow their wisdom and expertise to expand our imaginations about possible solutions and to stretch our definitions of quality education.”
Realizing that nonfiction books are most compelling when they tell the stories of individual people, Rizga weaves the stories of several of the amazing students and teachers that she got to know with a thorough review of research on what works in education. After four years at Mission, a San Francisco high school the federal government labeled as low performing in 2010, she believes that American educational reform should focus on instructor created tests, writing, projects and other forms of assessment instead of standardized tests. She shows the value of student-centered teaching, explaining the gains engaged youth at Mission make when educators see them as individuals and focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses. And she argues against the common practice of encouraging schools to cut and paste successful programs from other institutions or countries, realizing that schools need to empower teachers to reform schools by focusing on what works for their kids. I loved reading the inspiring stories of persistent students engaged in relevant and meaningful work and talented educators who find ways to reach everyone. I also enjoyed learning how historical trends and current research inform debates on issues such as top-down reform and tracking that I see play out at Roosevelt. I thought this book was incredible and I strongly recommend it to everyone who wants to learn what works in education.