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Publisher's Summary

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 Success Academy, the network of controversial charter schools in New York City founded by Eva Moskowitz, who has created something unprecedented in American education: a way for large numbers of engaged and ambitious low-income families of color to get an education for their children that equals and even exceeds what wealthy families take for granted. Her results are astonishing, her methods unorthodox.

Decades of well-intended efforts to improve our schools and close the "achievement gap" have set equity and excellence at war with each other: If you are wealthy, with the means to pay private school tuition or move to an affluent community, you can get your child into an excellent school. But if you are poor and black or brown, you have to settle for "equity" and a lecture - about fairness. About the need to be patient. And about how school choice for you only damages public schools for everyone else. Thousands of parents have chosen Success Academy, and thousands more sit on waiting lists to get in. But Moskowitz herself admits Success Academy "is not for everyone," and this raises uncomfortable questions we'd rather not ask, let alone answer: What if the price of giving a first-rate education to children least likely to receive it means acknowledging that you can't do it for everyone? What if some problems are just too hard for schools alone to solve?

©2019 Robert Pondiscio (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Robert Pondiscio is one of our nation’s most astute observers of K-12 education. In this engaging, wise, and enormously well reported book, he trains his penetrating eye on Success Academy, the highest performing charter network in America. Having spent a year at one of the schools, he methodically unpacks the ‘magic’ that makes Success so successful, while not shying away from legitimate criticism. The result is both compelling and illuminating." (Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; author of Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools)

"Engrossing, challenging, and wise, this book will change how you think about schooling and poverty." (Daniel T. Willingham, professor of psychology, University of Virginia; author of Why Don't Students Like School?)

"Do not miss this fusion of a masterful writer and one of the most interesting leaders in education today. Pondiscio observes, respects, and illuminates the real work that teachers, students and parents do every day." (David Coleman, CEO of the College Board)

"A moving and dramatic story and a minute-by-minute account of how a school actually lives. In a field dominated by dry-as-bones analyses, this is an up close look at education as lived by real, flesh and blood students, with names, written by a dedicated teacher. It is arresting, informative, and compelling. A school succeeds or fails by its ethos, and reading this book qualifies as an extended visit into the inner workings of that ethos in schools that are succeeding against the odds." (William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education; author of The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories)

What listeners say about How the Other Half Learns

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Interesting story about a Bronx charter school

First, I can't believe the narrator is the author. He sounds like a professional narrator I've heard, but cannot remember his name. Sometimes this is a horrible idea. When the book is an autobiography or requires the author's personality, the author as narrator is necessary. It wasn't necessary, but he did a great job. The rhythm and cadence was on point.
Second, this is the second book I've bought from the Fordham Institute. If you are not familiar with them, I suggest you look them up to get a sense of where some bias may be.
Okay, with that out of the way, this was a very interesting book to me. I have heard of Eva Moskowitz, a major but not central figure in the book. She haunts it and sometimes makes appearances in the book, but is not the central player. It's sort of like a complicated television series with many characters, who pop in and out of the story depending on who is needed to make a larger point about something. If there was a major character it would be Success Academy in the Bronx.
It was not only interesting to me as a parent of a young boy of color who will enter the school system (in DC where we have lots of charter schools) it was also emotional. Of course, I have become more weepy since becoming a mom, so take it as you will. The stories of parents and teachers trying to do their best by their kids sometimes brought me to tears. As well as the stories of individual students achieving a goal or reaching a milestone, made me want to reach through space and time and hug them with tears of joy. I'm getting weepy just remembering those passages.
Pondiscio does touch upon some of the negatives of the Success Academy system. He's had teaching experience in a tough NYC public school so he pointed out problems with scaling the system. He also mentioned some PR blemishes of a video of a teacher yelling at a student and the disturbing story of the school pushing out a problem child.
I like that in the end he points out there is no magic bullet. I'll probably buy the kindle version of the book so I can re-review this as there were some things I wanted to go back to parts that would have worked better in print. The audio is fine, but reading takes up a slightly different amount of real estate in the brain.
I highly recommend this audiobook.

4 people found this helpful

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Read Aloud

I am a former elementary school teacher in the Bronx who studied education with Mr. Pondiscio as he developed this book. My experience working the the same communities as he did 15 led me to different conclusions than the ones at which he arrives here, but I urge all potential readers predisposed to disagree with him (a.k.a. “hate read”) to listen to him tell his story on audio. I saw him struggle to grapple with some of his observations in real time, and it humanizes something I have real reservations about to hear him do it for you in this recording. Mr. P in print tends toward lofty cadence and vocabulary suited for a high-stakes test, but his provocations come across much differently when you hear his voice crack as he tries to argue himself in and out of hard truths. What you hear here is what you get in real life - tenderness, smack talk, and quick comic timing. At its best, it comes off more like a Jimmy Breslin article than a policy treatise. You may not agree with everything this guy says, but you will know from hearing him out that he cares hard about getting it right. Every critic of his writing should listen to this recording. Fit for your adult upgrade of an elementary school mini-lesson “read aloud.” This book schooled me for sure, and the points about school culture that most bothered me landed softer knowing they bother him, too.

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A real tour de force!

If you're looking for an even-handed, straight-spoken, well-considered, extraordinarily cogent analysis of public policy ranging from charter schools to economic/race-based equity (and a lot in between such as testing, lotteries, and student discipline in schools), this book is THE one. (My apologies for the wheel barrel full of adjectives, but each one is apt.) Pondiscio's engaging writing (and narrative performance) immediately draws you into the school day of Eva Moscowitz's Success Academy Charter Schools where you will feel like you're sitting in the classroom as it happens. When he discusses controversial topics, whether he is conveying an interview with a parent who is frustrated with the number of times her child was suspended, a conversation with a teacher or principal about SA's faculty turnover rate, or waxing eloquently about the pros and con's of the criticism's leveled against Moscowitz, Pondiscio is transparent in sharing his own ambivalence--a quality in a writer that is refreshing at a time when so many proponents of parental choices in education are so dogmatic about their positions.

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Thought provoking

A must-read for educators or anyone interested in ed policy. Mr Pondiscio’s in-depth narrative of his experience with the staff, students, and families of Success charter schools challenged much of what I believed about charter schools. Outstanding.

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Great listen

Engaging and objective view inside one of the most successful charter schools. Thoroughly entertaining the whole way through.

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Great book

Interesting from start to finish. Well written. Gripping personal stories. Extremely important topic. Read it.

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On the Fence

.... I’m undecided on this treatise and the intent vs the outcome. I fear like most will read it and affirm already held biases about brown and black children and perpetuate a deficit model of reforms....

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Anecdotally Informative, Occasionally Slow

ANECDOTALLY INFORMATIVE - LACKS EMPIRICALS
This book definitely shows the authors experience and knowledge of the Education sector. Which is why I am disappointed to see such a lack of data application (though some is present throughout). Perhaps this is due to my empiricism bias, but, this book leaves me wanting more.
However, to their credit, an anecdote on the most controversial and successful charter on the East Coast has much value in of itself since their analysis is by no means superficial.

OCCASIONALLY SLOW
This book is engaging in much of the chapters. But, some portions like the beginning and a modest amount of further chapters can feel slow. If you're a marathon listener, these parts may hurt your experience.
But, there are definite highlight chapters. To best appreciate said chapters would require a full listen to the previous chapters, so even with my critique in mind, I wouldn't recommend skipping.

SUMMARY:
All-in-all this is a pleasant listen and if you're already immersed in the Charter School Topic it's a fair analysis with no overt political bias present.
If you're a debater reading this. It's best to utilize the material as a complimentary extension to data points to make for more persuasive contentions.