Book Reviews

How to Handle Staff Misconduct

How to Handle Staff Misconduct: A Practical Guide for School Principals and Supervisors offers a step-by-step process that guides administrators through the investigation, documentation and conferencing phases of working with staff members on a variety of issues.

Especially valuable is the advice on establishing standards of acceptable conduct for staff members, including the outlines of a progressive disciplinary process to correct unwanted behaviors. However, the book seems fairly repetitive. Many of the chapters on staff misconduct end with the same recommended steps. Missing is a chapter offering specific examples of data collection in school districts. Many administrators collect data, but few know when their data is sufficient for the judicial process.

Still, this work by Edward Lawrence and Myra Vachon is a good resource for principals. Their appendix of resources can be formatted to the particular misconduct of a staff member along with the legal requirements to be followed in the event of a court hearing.

(How to Handle Staff Misconduct: A Practical Guide for School Principals and Supervisors, 2nd edition, by C. Edward Lawrence and Myra K. Vachon, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2003, 123 pp., $29.95 softcover. Available from

Powerful Reforms with Shallow Roots

Why should the nation’s 15,000 superintendents care about books that focus on urban schools when only a comparative few of them lead such districts?

The answers are becoming crystal clear: The lackluster achievement of children in many city schools is being used to influence public opinion about public education in general. Unless schools are improved across the board, the search for alternatives will intensify. Also, urban superintendents are struggling to implement many of the same school improvement strategies as suburban and rural superintendents but with mixed success.

Powerful Reforms with Shallow Roots: Improving America’s Urban Schools, edited by Larry Cuban and Michael Usdan, reports on the efforts of six cities to improve educational programs through a variety of means: corporate involvement, mayoral takeover, state takeover, appointed school boards and selection of non-educators as superintendents. Cuban, a former superintendent and professor emeritus at Stanford University, and Usdan, former president of the Institute for Educational Leadership, wrote the chapters about Boston and San Diego as well as the book’s summary. Other authors described the school reform efforts in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Analysis of the curriculum and instructional initiatives in the six cities shows “slight to moderate improvements in elementary school students’ scores across the cities, little improvement for secondary school students and the gap (between minority student scores and those of the majority) remains largely as it was prior to initiatives.” The authors wisely note that more time may be needed to make conclusive judgments.

The roots of these small successes are shallow, they argue, because the positive relationships with business, civic officials and parents necessary to achieve school improvement (especially in San Diego, Boston and Seattle) seem highly dependent on the political support built and maintained by a single individual, the superintendent.

(Powerful Reforms with Shallow Roots: Improving America’s Urban Schools edited by Larry Cuban and Michael Usdan, Teachers College Press, 2003, 180 pp., $23.95 softcover. Available from

School Districts and Instructional Renewal

"Make no mistake. Achieving a constructive and pro-active district role in instructional renewal is not a simple matter."

Despite this sobering observation, School Districts and Instructional Renewal provides promising information on how districts make a difference in the outcomes of students. For years we have had indicators of effective teaching and effective schools. This book points toward emerging evidence from several multiyear research projects about school districts that have succeeded in improving teaching and learning.

The focus throughout is on instructional renewal and districtwide improvements. The authors strike a good balance between explaining the evidence and pointing the way to promising practices. The experiences of New Haven, Calif., San Diego and District 2 in New York City are described in considerable detail. Other chapters focus on multidistrict studies where individual district details are less prominent than the study findings.

Although the authors caution that it is too early to make definitive conclusions, they identify six themes common to districts making a difference in instruction: (1) District leaders who are learners first and then consistent teachers of what works; (2) Interconnected learning communities that engage every classroom; (3) A shared focus on instructional improvement sustained over time; (4) Subject-specific learning focused typically on literacy or mathematics; (5) Use of data to create a culture of inquiry and professional accountability; and (6) Partnering with outside networks to expand the capacity of the district.

(School Districts and Instructional Renewal, edited by Amy M. Hightower,
Michael S. Knapp, Julie A. Marsh and Milbrey W. McLaughlin, Teachers College Press, 2002, New York, N.Y., 240 pp., $26.95 softcover. Available from