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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565126732
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 01/20/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 329
Sales rank: 894,247
File size: 3 MB

About 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] 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 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.
justella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Most of the reviews I have read on this title have been positive, but as an educator with 30+ years I was not impressed. For an in-depth review i would suggest "The Kult of KIPP: An Essay Review" by Jim Horn. This essay was published in the magazine, Education Review and can also be found online. The book, Seven Simple Secrets: What the BEST Teachers Know and Do! by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker is a much better read and has practical advice that all teachers can use.
saffron12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was hoping as I began reading this book that it would be intriguing. In many ways, I did find it interesting, and actually never realized until I began reading this book that there are KIPP schools. However, I had a lot of trouble finishing the book. It just is not quite "engaging" enough, really. Perhaps it is something about the narrative. . .
ServusLibri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of the start of a charter school program, its fumbles and successes, and its expansion to several states. See the many other reviews for praise or criticism of the program. The book itself has some highlights and some poorer sections. If follows over a decade in the experience of the two founders (Levin and Feinberg) and their struggle to become effective teachers, then to break the chains of the entrenched system.The book is written as though it were a series of Sunday newspaper stories. The value of this technique is that most sections are compact, short, and make a point. This works really well for those dealing with specific issues or techniques, but is truly distracting for those that tend to biographical or private life.The net is that if you are interested in charter schools or struggling with the system or large urban districts this is worth reading. But if you have no direct interest, the result is just too choppy and bounces around too much.
Edith1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
How two guys in their twenties started a successful new school system for disadvantaged kids in poor neighborhoods. (The KIPP schools, which I had never heard of, but whose name I've come across a few times since I started reading this book.) It is an interesting and inspiring story, and I'm glad I read it, even though it's the most badly written book I've read in a long time. I wish someone else had written it, or that the book had gotten some attention from a decent editor.
Librtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The audio version of Work Hard, Be Nice by Jay Mathews is the story of the Knowledge is Power Program, also known as KIPP. KIPP, a national network of charter schools, was created by Mike Feinberg and David Levin in an attempt to reach and teach their low-income, poorly performing, at-risk students. Although many of the methods they used in their classrooms were unconventional, the results were positive. The KIPP mix of high expectations, strong classroom management, commitment, additional learning time, and focus on results had great impact on student behavior and achievement. Listeners will learn about KIPP¿s history and become well acquainted with Feinberg, Levin, and others who played major roles in the program¿s development and growth. There are touching personal stories and accounts of the students, as well as tales of mentors, supporters, and opponents.The book¿s audio CDs are narrated by J. Paul Boehmer. His voice is pleasant and his expression nicely balanced. I recommend Work Hard, Be Nice to teachers and parents. Anyone who is involved with children would benefit from the book. This is not an implementation manual or instruction guide of KIPP¿s methods. You won¿t come away with lots of activities to use with students, but you will come away motivated and inspired. And you will be reminded that all children can learn; or as KIPP prefers to say, all children WILL learn.
adamps on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review is related to the audio version of this book. This book provides a pretty good, and perhaps overly rosy, history of the KIPP charter schools. It provides fascinating insight into how non-educators define effective teaching. Much is made of the use of mnemonic devices and multiplication finger rolls and the fundamentals of good teaching (such as effective questioning) are glossed over. In other words, it is worth reading if you are interested in the charter school movement and understanding more about this one version of charter schools that focus on extended day, drill & kill, and paternalistic supports for minority children, but not if you want to learn how to teach from effective teachers.The book is at its weakest in the transitions it provides between sections. Matthews has a tendency to throw out information in an effort to foreshadow that really just leaves the reader confused. One of the best examples of this was a flippant reference to interracial dating that had nothing to do with the previous chapter. The interplay between the history of the organization and the biography of the founders did not work. A focus on the actual organization would have made for a better book. As a newspaper reporter, Matthews seemed too interested in the salacious when it came to the lives of the founders. This is also one of those books I would have preferred to read instead of listen to the audio version. The reader they got for the book is just awful. He reads too slowly and just doesn¿t have a good voice for the text. I began listening to this book with my wife who is also interested in education and after CD2 she couldn¿t stand it anymore.
Donura1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An absolutely engaging, amazing ¿listen¿ about the formation and execution of a middle school design known as KIPP by two teachers driven by their thrill of seeing kids learn.This is an inspiring story of two young men who find their mission in life early, and don¿t waiver from it no matter how many obstacles are placed in front of them. As their story unfolds, you find yourself cheering for them at each triumph, and ready to jump in and help them fight off the naysayer who throws up the roadblocks. The manner that Mr. Mathews uses to weave all the individual stories together is very appealing and helpful in putting a personal face on the story of public education with all its flaws. So many books have been written about different aspects of K-12 education, charter education, and different models, but this book will engage anyone regardless of their exposure to the subject. Without an overload of statistics or rankings, this story is told with the clear concise pictures of success and the rewards of that success. If you have an interest in education, listen to this book, if you have children entering the public school system, listen to this book, if you are a new teacher looking for a successful curriculum to embrace, listen to this book, or if you just love a real world story of success, listen to this book.I have been involved in the charter school movement since 1999 and have 4 children that have attended charter schools. Two of them have just graduated from a KIPP school and one is entering the 7th grade. That being said, I did not know the story of Mike Fienberg and David Levin or how the design was conceived and refined, I just knew it worked for my kids. The two graduates are both headed off to private schools on scholarships, and I am thrilled that I have been able to listen to the story of KIPP which gave them their head start to college.
jaimelesmaths on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a disclaimer, I am a teacher, so I personally found this book to be very relevant. This review covers the audio book, which I received as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.An excellent narrative, logically organized, and full of useful information about strategies to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap in this country. I agreed with much of what was said, and I liked how the book did not gloss over some of the troubles these teachers had in their first year. This book should be required reading for every new teacher! There were some parts that did not transition well in the audio format, though. 4.5/5 stars.
likesbooksrs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An inspiring story of two beginning teachers who found ways to connect families, youth and teachers together to empower youth.An excellent story that leads us all to consider the potential in others and to honor that.
cyellow30 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I found the history behind KIPP fascinating and I loved that the author gave so much background on all of the people that were involved in the program one way or another. The work ethic of Feinberg and Levin was very inspiring as well as the fact that they were able to instill it into others. I was also glad that Mathews presented both positive and negative instances in KIPP history. Overall, I found this book to be a very entertaining piece of non-fiction which is something I do not normally read and a very inspiring story for both those that work in education and those that do not.( Side Note: I am happy that there is a new cover design because the old one's color scheme reminded me of the weight loss program Alli and the new one is much better looking.)
valleymom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of the beginning of the KIPP program and its founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg. Hearing about another program that seeks to teach and challenge today's youth to be their best is always inspiring. Parts of this book flowed well and provided a great deal of information. The transition from one time period or location to another did seem a bit choppy on a couple of occasions. I appreciated the honesty of the author regarding Misters Levin and Feinberg. They were described well enough for the reader to have an idea of the character of either man, should the reader ever meet them.I admire Levin and Feinberg for their efforts and look forward to reading more about them. I look forward to reading more by Jay Matthews as well.
TrishWalton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an easy-to-read book about the vision and excitement generated by 2 young Americans who started KIPP school programs after their Teach For American experiences. As an educator, I respect their passion and the energy they bring to their jobs. I know, however, that requiring teachers to work 7am-5pm daily, teach summer school with these tough kids, and be available by phone 24/7 is not realistic. I did it when I was young. They are doing it now. I respect them. The book is well written in a comfortable way. I did skip parts as they felt a bit too detailed. Even so, I enjoyed the stories of their teaching methods & the success of their students. Admirable!
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I always love to read about schools where kids do well. This is one such story. It¿s the story of the KIPP program that began in Houston in 1995, started by two committed Teach for America teachers. Here¿s a brutal fact: If poor children are going to learn at the same rate as affluent children, they need more school days. Ugh. That hits me where it hurts. This is a brutal fact teachers can¿t bear. One of the perks of being a teacher is summers off. Summers kill poor children¿s achievement. Eek. So, give me another way we can improve student achievement without taking away our summers? Yep, KIPP has another answer: longer school days. Another brutal fact that we teachers can¿t bear. Please, give me something else? Well, KIPP teachers help kids with their homework¿in the evenings! Eek. This is getting worse and worse. KIPP offers answers to improving student achievement among poor children, but the answers are not easy.
auntieknickers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an inspiring book detailing the struggles of two young Teach for America participants who ended up starting the now-famous KIPP schools. It would be easy to come away from this book believing that all our inner-city schools (and the failing rural schools that get much less publicity) should follow the KIPP model. Close examination of the student stories in this book, as in so many other similar books, will however reveal that parent involvement is crucial to student success, even if the involvement is as little as signing a form to agree to a school change. Sadly, there are still many parents who can't or won't manage even that level of engagement with their children's learning.
benuathanasia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is basically the "life and times" of the KIPP program. The book is very well written, but unfortunately, the subject matter isn't the best. KIPP, in my area, is referred to as "the cult." Teachers I know that have been part of it or know others who have all say they suck the life out of you during the best years of your professional life and then spit you out when they've finished leaching off you. From what I have read in this book, I can see why that is the case.I'm not reviewing the program though, so I guess I'll just say that this book is an interesting insight into the minds of a couple of madmen. I wouldn't really recommend it though.
shanjan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had high hopes for this book. Knowing a little about the KIPP program and being a former educator myself I figured it would be an inspiring read. I also had the bonus of knowing one of the KIPP co-founders, a friend of my husbands from college.There is no way that the KIPP story could be anything but inspiring. Two college graduates join Teach for America and ultimately start successful charter schools in the middle school grades in states across the US.This book documents how Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg created these schools, the struggles they faced throughout this process and the various people they took inspiration from. While the story itself is compelling, the telling of the story left a lot to be desire. Mathews attempts add interest to this story by delving into the personal lives of Levin Feinberg, specifically their romantic lives, which feels a bit voyueristic and adds nothing to the main story. Perhaps Matthews had a difficult time transitioning from reporting to story-telling, but whatever the reason the novel often feels disjointed.Instead of delving into Dave and Mike's personal lives, I would have like to see Mathews interview students and parents who committed to the KIPP program. There were accounts of one or two students but I had the feeling that they were coming from interviews with Levin and Feinberg rather than the parents and students themselves. Overall this was a very disappointing book; don't waste your time.
paulsignorelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jay Mathews, as a long-time education writer for the Washington Post, displays an enviable ability to produce a real page-turner on a topic far from the top of the average person's reading list. The narrative flow is far more engaging than much of what we find in contemporary novels; the emotional engagement he fosters has us rooting for his protagonists and feeling the occasional personal losses he documents. As he chronicles the story of Mike Feinberg and Dave Levinâs journey from being two inexperienced yet idealistic, highly energetic, and incredibly persistent Teach for America alums to running a successful chain of charter schools--the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)--serving disadvantaged children, he tells an archetypal tale that any trainer-teacher-learner can appreciate. As we absorb the wonderful story of how they engaged their youngest learners in actions to shame reticent school district officials into action--thereby providing a lesson in civics by inspiring the students to engage in civic action--we have an extremely important example of the importance of providing learning opportunities that are grounded in experience that puts what is being learned into action--experiential learning at its best. It's not all rosy in "Work Hard, Be Nice." Mathews and his interviewees do not shy away from acknowledging the occasional small and large failures that sometimes come from overzealous actions. We are, however, never in doubt as to where Mathews himself stands on the issue of whether KIPP is worth studying: "Over time, the debate about KIPP among educators has grown, full of misinformation and misimpressions because few of the people talking about KIPP schools have actually seen them in action," he writes (p. 281). And he fully intends to continue exploring the KIPP model, he adds: "In the search for the best schools, I still have a lot of work to do" (p. 317).
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