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The Effective Education Parents Summer Recommended Reading List

All good K-12 school educators I know create a “summer books to read list.” And this list will usually include some education-related books. Parents are just as important teachers as any professional educator working in a school. In fact, a child’s success in school is very much connected to the quality and quantity of learning they receive outside of school, and particularly at home. Young people should see their parents reading books as a way to model: “How to get smarter, parents should read books that will make them ‘smarter teachers’ at helping their children to become better students.”

First, I tried to include titles that did not contain a great deal of “educational jargon.” Also, most of these books should be available at your local public library. I have read all of the books mentioned here, but space will not allow me to provide a detailed “literary review” of their content. My suggestion is that these books should be only the beginning of building a home-based school parents education book case/library:

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass: Because it establishes the important role of reading, learning and school as primary tools of liberation, freedom and self-reliance. Not being able to read effectively, not having access and/or interest in reading and books is a lifelong limiting condition.
  • Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project by Moses & Cobb: Along with the life-determining power to read, is that great Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) “gatekeeper,” Algebra. The proper (K- 7 or 8) preparation to take, and the mastery of Algebra after taking the course, is a major factor in the student’s future career options.


  • These 4 books demonstrate as one title states that “Nothing’s Impossible” when a child has a determined and committed advocate, both in school and at home:
  • Nothing’s Impossible: Leadership Lessons from Inside and Outside the Classroom–Lorraine Monroe
  • The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community is Inspiring the World–Nadia Lopez
  • Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed and Develop Character– David Banks 
  • Reflections of an Urban High School Principal–Bernard Gassaway
  • Discovering and Exploring Habits of Mind–Costa & Kallick: The greatest tool any K-12 student can acquire and practice are the habits of productive thinking, a positive attitude and approach to the school environment, and a knowledge of effective work-study habits. The good news is that these “habits” practiced by successful students can be taught and coached to effectiveness in any child.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens–Sean Covey: This is a great “joint” parent and child read for every parent of a middle-high school student. It is not by accident that students do well (or not so well) in school; rather, it is their access to the information that governs and determines the “rules” of good student-hood!


  • How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method– Polya: Perhaps one of the most often voiced concerns I heard as a superintendent was the middle school parent’s “anxiety” (phobia?) about helping their child with mathematics. This book offers a very systematic and easy-to-follow approach to mathematical problem-solving for both parents and students.


  • Smart Parenting for African-Americans–Jeffrey Gardere, PH.D. The price of parenthood: The “home” educator (parent) must study, work and think about their work as hard as the school educator studies; works and thinks about their work!


  • “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly D. Tatum, PH.D. Parents of color must understand that “race” is always on the table, and it is always part of any educational conversation in our public schools. The general rule #1 in public schools is: We generally (with a few exceptions) get from children what we expect. General rule #2: No public school system in this nation has a comprehensive and sound plan as to what to do with Gifted & Talented Black and Latino students, as well as Black and Latino students who are on and/or above grade academic performance levels.
  • Full Disclosure: I am the author of this last book: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to help parents to better understand how our public high school system works. In the book are two (relevant to this article) chapters on (1) “Real and meaningful Parent Engagement and Empowerment” and (2) the “Practices of a Successful High School Student.” These chapters in particular seek to explain the “best practices” of the best and most successful high school parents and students. The book also seeks to demystify the public school system in general, and specifically how high schools operate and function. How to define and recognize a “good school,” a “good school leader” and a “good teaching/learning” school environment. This book will provide the “right questions” for the parents of presently attending high school students or those who will soon be facing the high school selection process.


Michael A. Johnson has served as a public schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University.

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