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What the Academy Taught Us: Improving schools from the bottom-up in a top-down transformation era

What the Academy Taught Us: Improving schools from the bottom-up in a top-down transformation era

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Dr. Bob Perdaems, a high-school principal in Minnesota, faced a complex challenge. The demographics of his school were shifting, political tensions in the surrounding communities were rising, and, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act's new testing and accountability requirements, his school's performance was soon to be scrutinized more intensely and more publicly than ever before. And he identified clearly that students with failing grades as freshmen are incredibly likely to drop out.

With no additional budget to address the issue, Dr. Bob set out to help these most vulnerable kids the best way he knew how. He prioritized his school's areas for growth, found teachers like Eric Kalenze who would lend minds and hands, and gathered them to look at the blueprints that would be known as the Sophomore Academy.

What the Academy Taught Us is a book about that collaborative school-improvement project and the principles that initiated it, the collective effort that kept it running, and the lasting effects it had on its teachers and students. The book also brilliantly explores how bottom-up approaches fare in the current era, which seeks to transform schools through more top-down and 'disruptive' means.

Presenting abundant recommendations about how schools everywhere can build effective and continuous improvement from the bottom up, ultimately, What the Academy Taught Us offers today's educators is a way forward. 

The book captures exactly what Educators must know in order to help more students stay in school and leave school prepared for what comes after.

About the author

Eric Kalenze's career in education has included posts in teaching, coaching, administration, and consulting. He is the author of 2014's 'Education Is Upside-Down: Reframing Reform to Focus on the Right Problems', and he regularly contributes pieces about education practice, research, and reform to publications like Education Week, Education Post, The Hechinger Report, and TES US, as well as to his blog, 'A Total Ed Case'. He is based in Minnesota's Twin Cities metro area.)


This is a fascinating case study of school improvement that runs counter to much received wisdom. As a school leader, how can you improve standards, inspire pupils, integrate research and policy and build a committed team around you? What the Academy Taught Us offers answers that are grounded in the reality of school life. Anyone who enjoyed 'Education is Upside Down' will love reading about the school and classroom experiences which inspired it.

-- Daisy Christodoulou, Director of Education at No More Marking, author of Making Good Progress & Seven Myths about Education

You won't find any silver bullets in this honest and uplifting book from acclaimed educator Eric Kalenze. The kind of bottom-up school improvement of which he writes is hard work and comes with no guarantees of success. But that's why educators and policymakers alike should read it carefully; it points to a version of education reform that might actually stick.

-- Michael J. Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute