How the Other Half Learns

Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice
Narrated by: Robert Pondiscio
Length: 11 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: Nonfiction, Politics
5 out of 5 stars (54 ratings)

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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)

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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.

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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.