Education Week and Teacher Magazine (part of the same company) are sponsoring a summer online book discussion of Mike Schmoker's new ASCD book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Achievement. The online discussion will take place July 19-21. More information and resources, including online registration, is available here.
Students who have been in my classes recently know that I am big fan of this book. Schmoker offers a devastating critique of current educational practices, indicting schools for failing to focus on what he considers time-honored, common sense essentials of effective teaching. Broadly, these essentials include (a) sound curriculum design, (b) sound lesson design, and (c) rich literacy instruction in all subjects and grade levels. The book explores each of these essentials in greater depth, and offers a pathway for school leaders to once again focus on these basics.
Schmoker's style is frank and, to some, off-putting. He has a tendency to over-simplify the complex reasons schools have struggled to maintain focus on these basics. And I don't personally have enough expertise on language arts standards and curricula to assess his critique and recommendations for these areas.
I do think, though, that Schmoker's basic argument is accurate. Schools have poured millions of dollars and tons of human capital into programs designed to close achievement gaps and offer intensive interventions for struggling students. There is nothing wrong with this and is, in fact, a welcome development, but far too many schools have focused exclusively on these approaches and neglected the fact that most classroom teachers need a lot more support and development in basic instructional practices. I believe, as Schmoker does, that if schools invested an equal amount of energy into improving classroom teaching and instructional leadership, schools would see far more dramatic gains in student improvement.
I recommend Focus for every educator's professional library, and if you have the chance to join the book club, I encourage you to do so. Focus will be a required text in my EDAD 683 courses this fall.