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Schooling Beyond Measure and Other Unorthodox Essays About Education

Renowned education author Alfie Kohn looks carefully at research about topics such as homework, parent involvement in education, and summer learning loss—discovering in each case that what we’ve been led to believe doesn’t always match what the studies actually say.

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In this collection of provocative articles and blog posts originally published between 2010 and 2014, Alfie Kohn challenges the conventional wisdom about topics ranging from how low-income children are taught, to whether American schools have really fallen behind those in other countries.  Why, he asks, do we assume learning can be reduced to numerical data?  What leads us to believe that “standards-based” grading will eliminate the inherent limitations of marks?  Or that training students to show more “grit” makes sense if the real trouble is with the tasks they've been given to do?

Kohn's analytical style—incisive yet accessible—is brought to bear on big-picture policy issues as well as small-scale classroom interactions.  He looks carefully at research about homework, play, the supposed benefits of practice, parent involvement in education, and summer learning loss—discovering in each case that what we've been led to believe doesn't always match what the studies actually say.  Kohn challenges us to reconsider the goals that underlie our methods, to explore the often troubling values that inform talk about everything from the disproportionate enthusiasm for STEM subjects to claims made for more “effective” teaching strategies.

During these dark days in which teachers are viewed as expendable test-prep technicians, and “global economic competitiveness” eclipses what children need, Kohn calls for us to summon the courage to act on what we already know makes sense.


Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of thirteen books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations. Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”

(click any section below to continue reading)


Part One: How School Reform Undermines Education

1. “We’re Number Umpteenth!”: The Myth of Lagging U.S. Schools

2. Competitiveness vs. Excellence

3. What Passes for School Reform: “Value-Added” Teacher Evaluation and Other Absurdities

4. STEM Sell: Do Math and Science Matter More Than Other Subjects?

5. How to Sell Conservatism: Lesson 1—Pretend You’re a Reformer

6. Operation Discourage Bright People from Wanting to Teach

7. Remember When We Had High Standards? Neither Do I


Part Two: Grades, Tests, and “Data”

8. The Case Against Grades

9. Schooling Beyond Measure

10. Turning Children into Data: A Skeptic’s Guide to Assessment Programs

11. Whoever Said There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question Never Looked Carefully at a Standardized Test

12. Why the Best Teachers Don’t Give Tests


Part Three: In the Classroom

13. A Dozen Essential Guidelines for Educators

14. What We Don’t Know About Our Students—and Why

15. The Trouble with Calls for Universal “ High-Quality” Pre-K

16. Poor Teaching for Poor Kids . . . in the Name of Reform


Part Four: What Kids Don’t Need

17. Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad

18. What Waiting for a Second Marshmallow Doesn’t Prove

19. What Do Kids Really Learn from Failure?

20. Criticizing (Common Criticisms of) Praise

21. Five Not-So-Obvious Propositions About Play


Part Five: Misrepresenting the Research

22. Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?

23. Do Tests Really Help Students Learn or Was a New Study Misreported?

24. Studies Support Rewards and Traditional Teaching. Or Do They?

25. Lowering the Temperature on Claims of Summer Learning Loss

26. Is Parent Involvement in School Really Useful?

27. Perfect, It Turns Out, Is What Practice Doesn’t Make


Part Six: The Ends Behind the Means

28. Teaching Strategies That Work! (Just Don’t Ask “Work to Do What?”)

29. “Ready to Learn” Means Easier to Educate

30. Just Another Brick in the Wall: How Education Researchers Ignore the Ends to Tweak the Means

31. What Parents Aren’t Asked in School Surveys—and Why


Part Seven: Making Change

32. Change by Decree

33. Encouraging Courage