Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America

Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America

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by Jay Mathews
     
 

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When Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin signed up for Teach for America right after college and found themselves utter failures in the classroom, they vowed to remake themselves into superior educators. They did that—and more. In their early twenties, by sheer force of talent and determination never to take no for an answer, they created a wildly successful

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Overview

When Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin signed up for Teach for America right after college and found themselves utter failures in the classroom, they vowed to remake themselves into superior educators. They did that—and more. In their early twenties, by sheer force of talent and determination never to take no for an answer, they created a wildly successful fifth-grade experience that would grow into the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which today includes sixty-six schools in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.

KIPP schools incorporate what Feinberg and Levin learned from America's best, most charismatic teachers: lessons need to be lively; school days need to be longer (the KIPP day is nine and a half hours); the completion of homework has to be sacrosanct (KIPP teachers are available by telephone day and night). Chants, songs, and slogans such as "Work hard, be nice" energize the program. Illuminating the ups and downs of the KIPP founders and their students, Mathews gives us something quite rare: a hopeful book about education.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A vivid account of two young men who transform themselves from ‘terrible’ first-year teachers into visionaries.”–USA Today

“The improbable story of how KIPP was founded in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two young Teach for America alumni in Houston, is thrilling and worthy reading.”—Slate

"A lively account of the way two young guys with more passion than knowledge overcame bureaucratic and financial barriers, garnered knowledge from experienced teachers, and made those ideas and techniques core KIPP ideas. Mathews makes his book as entertaining as any novel by weaving personal and professional stories and by surrounding his two stars with interesting characters." —World magazine

USA Today
"Mathews does a smart, respectable job here. Frankly elucidating the major struggles and roadblocks inherent in attempting to reform how underprivileged children are taught, he nonetheless leaves readers convinced of the truth in Levin’s idealistic statement on his Teach for America application: “an educator could change lives.” A grand example of humanitarianism in the classroom: Naysayers who believe there’s no hope for America’s inner-city schools haven’t met Feinberg and Levin."—Kirkus

Slate
“The improbable story of how KIPP was founded in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two young Teach for America alumni in Houston, is thrilling and worthy reading.”—Slate
World magazine
"A lively account of the way two young guys with more passion than knowledge overcame bureaucratic and financial barriers, garnered knowledge from experienced teachers, and made those ideas and techniques core KIPP ideas. Mathews makes his book as entertaining as any novel by weaving personal and professional stories and by surrounding his two stars with interesting characters." —World magazine

Richard D. Kahlenberg
Work Hard. Be Nice provides a fast-paced, engrossing and heartening story of two phenomenally dedicated teachers who demonstrate that low-income students, if given the right environment, can thrive academically.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

"Many people in the United States believe that low-income children can no more be expected to do well in school than ballerinas can be counted on to excel in football," begins Washington Post education reporter Mathews (Escalante: The Best Teacher in America). He delves into the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and follows the enterprise's founders, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, from their days as young educators in the Teach for America program to heading one of the country's most controversial education programs running today. Luckily for many low-income children, Feinberg and Levin believed that with proper mentors, student incentives and unrestrained enthusiasm on the part of the teachers, some of the country's poorest children could surpass the expectations of most inner-city public schools. Mathews emphasizes Feinberg and Levin's personal stakes in the KIPP program, as they often found themselves becoming personally involved with the families of their students (in one case Feinberg took the TV away from a student's apartment because the student's mother insisted that she could not stop her child from watching it). Mathews innate ability to be at once observer and commentator makes this an insightful and enlightening book. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Mathews's (Escalante: The Best Teacher in America) book follows the lives of the two educators who founded the successful Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a system of 65 schools that have revolutionized inner-city education. In 1995, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, tired of urban classroom chaos, came up with KIPP to help guarantee student success from grade school to college. They fought against classroom apathy, and reached out to students through homework assistance over the phone and regular home visitations with parents. The result has been an increasing group of self-motivated inner-city kids who have raised expectations for themselves and their future. However, it wasn't easy. Levin and Feinberg were constantly tested by unbending educational bureaucrats, uncooperative parents, and budget constraints. Though the book's writing structure is a bit scattered and repetitive, it does well to convey how KIPP continues to change lives despite criticism from outsiders. Suitable for public libraries.
—Karen Long

Kirkus Reviews
Washington Post education writer Mathews (Supertest, 2005, etc.) follows two dynamic teachers as they develop an effective school system tailor-made for "children stuck at the bottom of our public education system."Mike Feinberg, 23, and Dave Levin, 22, met in 1992 while working for Teach for America, an idealistic program these novice educators found of little help in coping with overcrowded classrooms serving desperately poor populations. So in 1994 they launched their own initiative, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which offered fifth- to eighth-grade students from low-income families the chance to learn beyond what other instructors believed they could handle. The first classroom was in north Houston, but Levin soon moved on to the South Bronx. Mathews depicts both men as headstrong and protective of their students. Feinberg became known as an "unholy nuisance," and Levin continually locked horns with school administrators. The tools they employed to motivate students included incentive "paychecks" for good grades and behavior, "porching" (in-class sequestering) to discipline unruly students, commitment agreements among teachers, parents and students, and class field trips. Intermittent anarchy and chaos eventually subsided, test scores began to soar and so did media attention, including a 60 Minutes segment on KIPP. Interspersed among the chronicle of Feinberg and Levin's struggle to galvanize support for their program are three chapters detailing the progress of reluctant fifth-grade football hopeful Jaquan Hall from poorly educated misfit to responsible student. Mathews does a smart, respectable job here. Frankly elucidating the major struggles and roadblocks inherent inattempting to reform how underprivileged children are taught, he nonetheless leaves readers convinced of the truth in Levin's idealistic statement on his Teach for America application: "an educator could change lives."A grand example of humanitarianism in the classroom: Naysayers who believe there's no hope for America's inner-city schools haven't met Feinberg and Levin.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565125162
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
01/20/2009
Pages:
329
Sales rank:
458,718
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This wonderful book tells the story of two young educational geniuses who created the imaginative blueprint for schools that would truly succeed in turning young lives around. KIPP is the most important educational story in America today." — Abigail Thernstrom, Co-author, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning and Vice-Chair, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

"The most comprehensive and authoritative account yet of KIPP's inception and vision." —Andy Rotherham, former education adviser to President Clinton and co-founder, Education Sector.

"Educators and reformers eager to learn Feinberg and Levin's secrets, and parents and policy makers eager to find out how they might help, will find no better source than Jay Mathews' insightful, richly drawn, and engrossing tale." — Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

"In Work Hard. Be Nice Jay Mathews applies his superb journalistic skills to understanding one of the great education institutions in America that succeeds where others have failed: the KIPP schools. No journalist knows more about American education than Jay Mathews and anyone trying to understand it better should read him—always."—William J. Bennett Former Secretary of Education Washington Fellow, The Claremont Institute

"KIPP academies are unlike any urban public schools I have encountered during 40 years as an educator: students are totally focused, engaged in uniformly demanding subject matter, always respecting their teachers and classmates, and loving the work they are doing. In Work Hard. Be Nice, Jay Mathews tells the compelling tale of the two young teachers who conceived and founded KIPP. Their inspiring story is more than one of triumph against the odds. It is a real-life parable for transforming our nation's failing schools and insuring bright futures for our most forgotten children."—Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., President & CEO, UNCF (United Negro College Fund)

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Meet the Author

JAY MATHEWS covers education for the Washington Post and has created Newsweek's annual Best High Schools rankings. He has won the Benjamin Fine Award for Outstanding Education Reporting for both features and column writing and is the author of six previous books, including Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, about the teacher who was immortalized in the movie Stand and Deliver.

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Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America [With Headphones] 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
UF_Gator More than 1 year ago
This book fully debunks the myth that children from low-income families or inner-cities can't succeed in school. Yes, schools that serve these children have more difficulty achieving the standards and performance of schools in wealthier areas, but after reading this book you will amazed at what a school filled with teachers focused on improving educational outcomes for children can achieve. While reading, pay attention to the emphasis on constant improvement. The question asked is always, "Is what we're doing improving educational outcomes for students?" If it's not, can it and trying something else. This level of professionalism and hard work reminds me of the way the top and most prestigious corporations run: how can the corporation create value for its customers. It's this similar emphasis to constant improvement that distinguishes the KIPP schools described in this book from the bureaucratic and languid public school system. A system that ultimately fails, on the whole, to educate the least privileged among us. From start to finish, an engrossing read--particularly if you are interested in education and the future of this country.
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I thought this book was great; It's wonderful to hear about the good things that are happening in education out there, when we hear so much negative in the news. I love hearing about teachers who are working so hard for our kids and not giving up on them.
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