Book Review                                      Online Exclusive


The Extreme Principle

What Matters Most, What Works Best  

by Keen J. Babbage, Rowman and Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2011, 182 pp., $60 hardcover, $27.95 softcover 


Keen Babbage, associate principal of a middle school in Lexington, Ky., and a teacher for more than 26 years, offers the same message over and over again in The Extreme Principle: What Matters Most, What Works Best: Listen to your teachers, listen to your students, listen.

While this is important if you are trying to understand the performance of an individual student, it falls short when applied to the bigger picture. Babbage discredits virtually all efforts by the U.S. Department of Education or even local school districts trying to making an impact by doing something new and different. He talks about work he and his colleagues did on a school improvement plan that simply created more meetings but had no impact on students and their learning.

By the end of the book, you feel as if you’ve just come out of a gripe session with people who believe nothing will work unless it comes from them. Babbage’s recommendations reflect little more than basic expectations for a school leader -- visit classrooms, attend school events, respond to e-mails, attend meetings, supervise buses and, while doing all of this, “listen aggressively.”

When addressing the question of what matters most and works best for teachers, students and classrooms, Babbage relies on platitudes, claiming, “The answers are within the human realities of students, teachers and their shared activities in the classroom.”

The book often references dialogue between teachers and school leaders that is generally predictable and simplistic. Many examples of what the author thinks matters most and what works best are spread throughout the book but never provide any insight into understanding any deep thought or new ideas.

Reviewed by Philip E. Geiger, senior vice president and practice lead, Maximus K-12 Education, Reston, Va.


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