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Publisher's Summary

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 66 schools in 19 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.

©2009 Jay Mathews (P)2009 HighBridge Company.

Critic Reviews

"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 Reviews)

What listeners say about Work Hard. Be Nice.

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  • Chuck Day
  • 11-11-10


This book is a great story of dedicated school teachers. It made me want to be the best teacher I can be.

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  • Purple73
  • 27-05-15

Essential to understand KIPP Pedagogy

What made the experience of listening to Work Hard. Be Nice. the most enjoyable?

This is well read (even well acted at points). The KIPP pedagogy is not well-known in the UK and one gains a great insight into the development of this ground-breaking pedagogy which can only serve education professionals well in the development of their wider understanding of teaching.

Teachers in the UK will frequently *face-palm* as they recognise (perhaps not coincidentally) some of the controversial pedagogical ideas peddled by the previous Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove) who appeared to try his utmost to destroy the UK education system in England by returning it to the dark ages.

This is not to say that KIPP is a bad idea at all. It clearly works incredibly well for the culture and community for which it was developed, but it would be a complete disaster in the UK, and it is this level of understanding which the previous Education Secretary failed to achieve in the slightest. KIPP is an amazing niche pedagogy suitable for certain demographics, socio-economic and cultural environments.

That all said, I have taken a lot from this book to use in my own classroom with great effect - especially the language used by teachers towards the children; which is unrelentingly positive and completely unapologetic for its assertive refusal to accept anything but the very best effort from children.

It would have been nice to hear more about the failures in detail as there are a few times when the books sounds a bit more like a publicity brochure for KIPP academies than an even-handed dissection of the phenomenon that is KIPP. These do not detract from the whole book.

Reading this book will enable professionals to develop their own appreciation and understanding of alternative pedagogies.

It is thought provoking and would be an amazing book to read and argue about in staff meetings!

What other book might you compare Work Hard. Be Nice. to, and why?

Never read anything like this.

Which character – as performed by J. Paul Boehmer – was your favourite?

He's good. That's all you need to know.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The way way Ms Ball spoke to a pupil who was daydreaming... The three 'options' she gave him had me leaping up to grab a pen and paper to write my own version (remember this does not translate to all education systems, cultures etc) to use in my own classroom.

Any additional comments?

Buy it. Think about it. Argue about it. Magpie and use what you can.

2 people found this helpful