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Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph
     

Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph

by Kristina Rizga
 

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“This book is a godsend … a moving portrait for anyone wanting to go beyond the simplified labels and metrics and really understand an urban high school, and its highly individual, resilient, eager and brilliant students and educators.” —Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and ScholarMatch

Darrell is a reflective, brilliant young

Overview

“This book is a godsend … a moving portrait for anyone wanting to go beyond the simplified labels and metrics and really understand an urban high school, and its highly individual, resilient, eager and brilliant students and educators.” —Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and ScholarMatch

Darrell is a reflective, brilliant young man, who never thought of himself as a good student. He always struggled with his reading and writing skills. Darrell’s father, a single parent, couldn't afford private tutors. By the end of middle school, Darrell’s grades and his confidence were at an all time low. Then everything changed.

When education journalist Kristina Rizga first met Darrell at Mission High School, he was taking AP calculus class, writing a ten-page research paper, and had received several college acceptance letters. And Darrell was not an exception. More than 80 percent of Mission High seniors go to college every year, even though the school teaches large numbers of English learners and students from poor families.

So, why has the federal government been threatening to close Mission High—and schools like it across the country?

The United States has been on a century long road toward increased standardization in our public schools, which resulted in a system that reduces the quality of education to primarily one metric: standardized test scores. According to this number, Mission High is a “low-performing” school even though its college enrollment, graduation, attendance rates and student surveys are some of the best in the country.

The qualities that matter the most in learning—skills like critical thinking, intellectual engagement, resilience, empathy, self-management, and cultural flexibility—can’t be measured by multiple-choice questions designed by distant testing companies, Rizga argues, but they can be detected by skilled teachers in effective, personalized and humane classrooms that work for all students, not just the most motivated ones.

Based on four years of reporting with unprecedented access, the unforgettable, intimate stories in these pages throw open the doors to America’s most talked about—and arguably least understood—public school classrooms where the largely invisible voices of our smart, resilient students and their committed educators can offer a clear and hopeful blueprint for what it takes to help all students succeed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book is a godsend. For years we at 826 Valencia have known how great Mission High is—its students, its teachers, its myriad innovations—and we've told everyone we could. Now Kristina Rizga has put it all together in a highly readable and moving portrait of a school that succeeds despite being often misconstrued or mislabeled or even dismissed. There is joy in the hallways of Mission High and daily academic triumph at Mission High, and this book explains how this extraordinary school gets it done. This book is a crucial primer for anyone wanting to go beyond the simplistic labels and metrics and really understand an urban high school and its highly individual, resilient, eager and brilliant students and educators." —Dave Eggers, co-founder, 826 National and ScholarMatch

“Excellent… What Rizga learned is worth sharing…Her advice should have been taken by Booker, Christie, Anderson, Zuckerberg, and the other Newark reformers.”——Diane Ravitch, The New York Review of Books

"Rizga delves deep into what is not often shown or known: what's working. She pulls back the curtain on test scores, painting a vivid picture of what a low-scoring, highly successful school looks like and why test scores shouldn't matter as much as they do."—San Francisco Chronicle

“Mother Jones education reporter Rizga delivers a firsthand report on a 'failing' school system…this skills-based model represents a shift in thinking that could very well establish a shift in results.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Recommended for parents, teachers, and administrators concerned with the problems in our educational system and looking for fresh ideas on how to fix it. Rizga is convinced that Mission High has found answers others can learn from, and she makes a compelling argument.”—Library Journal

“Kristina Rizga writes for those of us weary of trendy ed reform dispensed from on high. Instead, she listens hard to the students and teachers who must deal with their daily consequences. And—with rigor, common sense, and empathy—she tells of the teachers and students confronting shifting tides of reform and profoundly stacked odds, and succeeding. The Mission High that Rizga describes is a beacon, and her deeply textured, heartbreakingly humane book also shines a beautifully clarifying light.” —Jeff Chang, author of Who We Be: The Colorization of America and Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

"In Mission High, Kristina Rizga embeds at a San Francisco public school to show the high standards, professionalism—and even love—that belie the easy label of "failing school." A much-needed corrective to an education debate that often fails to ask how students and teachers experience reform on the ground." —Dana Goldstein, author of The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

“A clear-eyed, evidence-based, and wonderfully fresh understanding of what education ‘reform' truly means.” —Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the The Nation

"An intimate look at how an alternative, progressive approach to education works...Accessible and thoroughly researched, Rizga's book covers a brief history of America's education reform and the path to high-stakes testing, and weaves in profiles of Mission's students and faculty. These profiles form the heart of the book, showing students who find community and success (even if not measurable by a multiple-choice test), teachers who provide encouragement, personalized instruction and more meaningful assessments, and a principal who refuses to 'teach to the test.'"—BookPage

"A thoughtful, well-researched account of her time [at Mission High], using it as a case study to explore the problems with education reform in the U.S. ...In clear and cogent prose, Rizga makes a compelling case for allowing schools to direct their own learning. Mission High is both a breath of fresh air and an inspirational, practical model for struggling education communities around the country."—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

Library Journal
06/15/2015
Rizga, a reporter for Mother Jones, spent four years observing and reporting on the state of the American educational system from Mission High School in San Francisco. On the basis of its poor standardized test scores, Mission High was labeled a low-performing school, but Rizga found a school that was dramatically successful. The student body comprises 950 students from more than 40 countries, 75 percent of whom are low income and only 38 percent for whom English is their first language. By focusing on the stories of Mission High teachers, students, and the principal there, the author personalizes what might otherwise have been a very dry text. She joins Anya Kamenetz (The Test) and other voices protesting our current obsession with standardized testing and arguing instead for focusing on teaching suited to the unique needs of each school. VERDICT Recommended for parents, teachers, and administrators concerned with the problems in our educational system and looking for fresh ideas on how to fix it. Rizga is convinced that Mission High has found answers others can learn from, and she makes a compelling argument.—Elizabeth Safford, Nevins Memorial Lib., Methuen, MA
Kirkus Reviews
2015-05-16
Embedded with teachers on the front lines of education, Mother Jones education reporter Rizga delivers a firsthand report on a "failing" school system. Whether your stance is that the American school system needs more accountability through standardized testing or you see such data-driven restrictions as harmful to actual education, the reality is somewhere in between. Rizga accepted an assignment to go behind the scenes at Mission High School in San Francisco—though it's more appropriate to say that she fought to go behind the scenes. Schools are notorious for stonewalling reporters, in part because there are minors to protect and in part because the full story never really gets told. This was decidedly not the case for Rizga, who was allowed in for eight months and ended up staying for four years. The author's extended stretch enabled her to not only get an in-depth look at the effects of emphasizing the importance of individual student test scores, but to also essentially "follow" a group of students as they made their way through their high school years. This, Rizga asserts, enabled her to get a sense of what works and what doesn't over a period of time that defied easy answers, the elusive "silver bullets" of education reform. This assertion holds up under scrutiny. Rizga introduces us to students from a range of backgrounds, dealing with common (and less common) stressors and finding their ways through the system. Mission High's educators struggle to balance the Common Core requirements with a forward-thinking approach that evaluates students on how they apply the skills being taught—much like adults are evaluated in the workplace. For a country that uses standardized testing more than any other in the world, this skills-based model represents a shift in thinking that could very well establish a shift in results.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781568584959
Publisher:
Nation Books
Publication date:
08/04/2015
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,345,859
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author


Kristina Rizga has been writing about youth and student issues for over a decade, most recently as an education reporter for Mother Jones. Her writing has been published in The Nation, The American Prospect, and Global Post, among other publications. Prior to Mother Jones, Rizga was the executive editor of WireTap, an award-winning political magazine for young adults. She is also co-founder and reporter at the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, based in her homeland, Latvia. She lives with her husband Mike Stern in San Francisco.

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