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Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  397 ratings  ·  66 reviews
“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 goo
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Nation Books
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Start your review of Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph
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 a
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
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 scho ...more
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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 pers ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 mor ...more
Kelly Wong
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 abou
Jeremy Bonnette
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ea
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 folk
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. ...more
Ashley Knipp
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 Hi
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, eve ...more
Alvaro Baldizon
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shafkat Ahnaf
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 failin ...more
Alisun Thompson
Jul 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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" perspec ...more
Deb Dauber
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 inst
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 a
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gloria Chua
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
(3.5 stars)
Charlie Wiswall
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Provides a good look at how culturally responsive teaching, rather than top-down teaching to a test made Mission High great for students.
Stephanie Wankowicz
This is a great book on education and a some about educational reform.
Rose Peterson
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 blue ...more
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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 ...more
b aaron talbot
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
if you are curious about the problems with how we view public education in america, and have not read anything on the subject yet, this is a fantastic book to read. it provides a well thought out history of education movements in america, in-depth looks at what teachers experience in the current climate of top-down leadership, and real student experiences in classrooms where teachers do their best to use what they know to be successful pedagogy in the face of political/administrative/"leadership ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: college
So excellent! One of those rarities where you learn so much that you come out of it realizing the magnitude of what you don't know. It was great to read this account of a high school in the area but completely different from my experience. I always am enamored by the personal student and staff biographies but the history of educational accountability was really interesting, especially because it incorporated contributions from local education figures at Stanford and in the area. These people lik ...more
Liz Murray
A skilfully executed book that explores the work being done by teachers and students at Mission High School in San Francisco. The book is made up of individual profiles and a more general overview of the school, and of neoliberal ed policy in a wider field.
Rizga lays out a clear argument against high stakes standardised tests and what the alternatives need to be. The teachers she profiles engage their students and show genuine connection to their students, which leads to better outcomes for all
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