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How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  132 ratings  ·  30 reviews
An inside look at America's most controversial charter schools, and the moral and political questions around public education and school choice.

The promise of public education is excellence for all. But that promise has seldom been kept for low-income children of color in America. In How the Other Half Learns, teacher and education journalist Robert Pondiscio focuses on
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Avery Publishing Group
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Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If nothing else, Pondisco has accomplished the singular feat of allowing me to pen the novel phrase "page-turning book on educational policy."

This is book is galvanizing, well-considered, and thoughtful, a close read of the successes (and excesses) of Success Academy, a controversial NYC charter school. However you feel about so-called "school choice" this is a must-read. While it confirmed many of the prejudices I came in with (Success Academy is ABSOLUTELY "creaming" by winnowing out all but
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My favorite book of 2019.

Teaching is the easiest job in the world to do badly.

The pressure is on from the first day

Time-ins: visit an old teacher, play hall ball, ... (brilliant)

Adult expectation and consistency is a big deal. A game changer.

A “no-nonsense nurturer” model

Held to high expectations. Students and parents. Reading log through high school. Monitored by parents.

Discipline + effort results in academic excellence

To parents: Read like crazy. That’s going to have them just soar to
Susan Bazzett-Griffith
I loved this book. I thought ot did a brilliant job explaining the pro-case for charter schools, even if it also is an illustration of some of the biggest reasons why folks oppose them. Ultimately, I have mixed feelings on charters, and this book helped me put into words why- by happenstance of income and geography, a lot of parents and kids do not have access to good public schools amd charters at least offer different options for those families. Their existence does take funding amd often the ...more
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of ground-level analysis that serious, open-minded observers of American education need. The aptly named NYC charter network Success Academy has grown into a flashpoint in the debate over school choice -- rightly touted by charter supporters for its high demand among mostly low-income parents and off-the-charts test scores while criticized by outspoken defenders of traditional public education on multiple fronts.

What better way to discern myth from truth than to spend a year at
Blaine Welgraven
Nov 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Intensive, ground-level analysis of Success Academy Charter School that tends to impress and overwhelm at the same time. The largest takeaways:

—Parental involvement is key: Studies tend to confirm this reality, and no entity is more successful (read: forceful) than Success Academy at ensuring daily parental involvement.

—Employee burnout is real: Success Academy undeniably produces results, but at the cost of nearly 40% educator turnover every year.

—Standardized testing is a partial picture:
Leanne Ellis
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book - well-written, organized, engaging, and a nice balance of direct observation and context. Pondiscio hits the key to the network's success: involved and dedicated parents to the demanding school culture. I think the network's uniform curriculum is smart, and the techniques teachers use to guide discussion, observation and learning! I think the message that all students can achieve is smart, and explicit modeling on what they need to do. Students read widely and they read a lot. ...more
Debbie Mcdaniel-lindsey
I couldn’t put the book down. I kept wondering would I have joined the culture of Success Academy if I taught in NYC. These kids were the same population I taught in LA and how we struggled to gain momentum from year to year in achievement. These teachers were achieving it. This author embeds in the school for a year and writes a thought provoking and I think fair assessment of the charter school network Success Academy that has received the most criticism from NYT among others. It reads very ...more
Joey Patterson
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a surreal experience to relive one of the hardest but most formative years of my life through a neutral party’s eyes.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I have a lot of really complicated thoughts about this book, but mostly I think they are the same ones he articulates. Success has created something that doesn't work for everyone but works really, really well for some children and families who have no other good options. It's frustrating that it all has to be so hard, but maybe what Success is proving is that there is no easier way to do it? I don't know and don't think I'll ever know but I know these kids can't wait for us to figure it out.
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mr. P. Don't Play

Robert Pondiscio applies skills from his journalism experience to prove his truths through a year of deep observations. This is no ivory tower think tank analysis of a handful of anecdotes. Mr. Pondiscio puts readers in the Success Academy building daily so they can understand how and why it works. My favorite observations come near the summation, after Mr. Pondiscio has introduced his evidence:

• I love the "GAS factor," particularly because it highlights a simple truth: school
Marya Degrow
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
How the Other Half Learns is a fascinating year-long look into Bronx 1, one of the schools in Success Academy, the most successful network of schools in New York.

The stories that Robert Pondisco presents are amazing and compelling; the exacting dress code standards; the teachers that are expected to notice and comment on how well children are complying with the strictly enforced behavioral guidelines; the families that are willing to travel across the city each morning just so their kids can
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Challenging. Infuriating. Enlightening. Hopeful.

What is the mission for the public schools? Education? Indoctrination? Warehousing? Should schools be focused on maximizing or equalizing individual outcomes? What role should parents have in determining and controlling their child's education? Is creaming a bad thing or a good thing? What's wrong with teaching to the test? What role should teachers have in determining curriculum? Pedagogy? What does Success Academy do that results in such high
Oct 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is really well-written, compelling narrative nonfiction about charter schools. The author sits in on a year at a Success Academy school in NYC. The Success Academy chain serves low-income students of color in relatively cutthroat schools -- ones that consistently produce high standardized test scores. The author sets out to figure out how, and whether that's a good thing.

I read the New York Times review of this book, and the reviewer claimed that this was a balanced analysis of the
Diana tully
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How can a non-fiction book on charter schools and education policy be a page-turner? By being How the Other Half Learns. I can’t put it down- literally walk up subway stairs reading it on my Kindle risking collisions. It’s that good. The author follows a year at Success Academy Bronx 1, and interweaves research and statistics about education policy and the plight of kids and their parents in poor neighborhoods trying to get a good education. Sounds gripping, right? Trust me, it is.
North Landesman
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There need to more books like this. Pondoscio spends an entire year embedded at a Success Academy. The book is surprisingly even handed, giving readers both the benefits and the drawbacks of the charter.

Of interest:
The importantance of a unified curriculum
Classroom management
Holding parents accountable and making them engaged.

The story of Adama and the stories from the dissatisfied parents were fascinating and must add a note of caution to the whole story.
Christian Salazar
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Every parent with children about to enter school or in the early years of elementary please read this book.. I would have given the book 5 stars if it were shorter... some of the stories and points could have been shorter... the length of the book was not the issue, but the redundancy of content.. Eva Moskowitz has created something great...
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
An experienced public school teacher, and an excellent writer, Pondiscio engages deeply in this topic - beginning with a lengthy observation of a Success Academy school in the Bronx. Pondiscio talks to administrators, teachers, students, and families to understand how this charter school differs from the nearby one where he taught for several years.
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is a well-written book that dives deep into a successful charter school franchise. The author doesn’t pussyfoot around. He gives both positives and negatives, equally. It was an interesting read.
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For a book full of research on ed reform and school choice controversy, it is a very easy read. I enjoyed feeling like a fly on the wall of different classrooms and admin meetings. I'd recommend this book to any educator interested in discussions on equity.
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read this book. One of the most whipsmart and nuanced reads on education in a long while. Read my full review on my blog for all the details.

"Fair" and "balanced" aren't words we hear much these days in any context, but both apply to this book about Success Academy.
Tricia Noyola
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved the inside access the author got- unbiased view of America's most controversial- and arguably the most academically successful- charter school network.
Dec 29, 2019 added it
Abandoned this one.
Tamar Levi
Nov 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Very mixed feelings. Very even handed. Made me sad.
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting overview of charter schools. A good reference for new parents looking at various educational choices for their children.
Leigh Phillips
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in ed reform, school choice, educational equity, etc. The most page-turning nonfiction book I've ever read.
Daniel Buck
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
A wonderful book that astutely covers near every controversial topic in education.
Barbara Golub
Dec 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Difference of beliefs aside, I went into this book with an open mind. I had a lot of difficulty keeping this open mind, however, when it became crystal clear that Pondiscio doesn’t believe in teacher OR student agency, is unable to empathize with families who were counseled out of Success Academy due to the network’s unwillingness to help all children, and glosses over huge issues that are endemic to the network.

I lost my mind while reading the last chapter of the book, where he states that, “
Craig Fiebig
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
So many good lessons in this book that could be applied broadly, but not universally, throughout the educational complex. We need to decide whether we care about educating children or bowing to the teacher’s unions. Kids and the unions do not have the same goals. Let’a give kids the top priority.
Brian Gimlett
With 47 schools and 17,000 scholars this year, the Success Academy network is now the size of the state’s seventh-largest school district and educates one in 60 New York City public school students. On this year’s state exams, 98% of Success scholars passed math and 91% passed ELA — making Success #1 for student achievement in New York State. So how does a charter school system with an average family income of $43k, composed 85% of minorities, place all 24 of their elementary schools in the top ...more
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