No school district can be all charismatic leaders and super-teachers. It can't start from scratch, and it can't fire all its teachers and principals when students do poorly. Great charter schools can only serve a tiny minority of students. Whether we like it or not, most of our youngsters will continue to be educated in mainstream public schools. The good news, as David L. Kirp reveals in Improbable Scholars, is that there's a sensible way to rebuild public education and close the achievement gap for all students. Indeed, this is precisely what's happening in a most unlikely place: Union City, New Jersey, a poor, crowded Latino community just across the Hudson from Manhattan. The school district--once one of the worst in the state--has ignored trendy reforms in favor of proven game-changers like quality early education, a word-soaked curriculum, and hands-on help for teachers. When beneficial new strategies have emerged, like using sophisticated data-crunching to generate pinpoint assessments to help individual students, they have been folded into the mix. The results demand that we take notice--from third grade through high school, Union City scores on the high-stakes state tests approximate the statewide average. In other words, these inner-city kids are achieving just as much as their suburban cousins in reading, writing, and math. What's even more impressive, nearly ninety percent of high school students are earning their diplomas and sixty percent of them are going to college. Top students are winning national science awards and full rides at Ivy League universities. These schools are not just good places for poor kids. They are good places for kids, period. Improbable Scholars offers a playbook--not a prayer book--for reform that will dramatically change our approach to reviving public education.
|Publisher:||Oxford University Press|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
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I have been up late reading Berkeley professor, David Kir's new book about school reform in Union City, New Jersey: Improbable Scholars: the Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools (Oxford University Press, 2013). “Union City ranks sixty-first nationwide in its concentrated poverty…. It’s also the nation’s most crowded municipality.” Virtually all students are Latino-Latina, many recent arrivals and a sizeable percentage English language learners. And yet, teachers, administrators, and students are all working hard—and strategically. Test scores reflect a transformation in the district in recent years. Kirp confronts the public education rhetoric war directly. He spent a year in Union City immersed in classrooms and the way the district works, and he shows us a school system where the emphasis is on improving instruction, connecting with and supporting each student, experimenting with bilingual education, supporting teachers—many of whom grew up in this school district, and focusing way beyond the requirements of the New Jersey ASK standardized test. An academic, Kirp also presents the research that supports reforms being implemented in Union City. An important piece of the puzzle Kirp describes is the universal pre-school New Jersey has been providing for some time in its 31 Abbott districts, the poorest school districts in the state, where opportunity to learn including universal preschool was instituted as part of the remedy in Abbott v. Burke, probably the nation’s longest running and most successful school finance litigation. (In recent years there has been pressure at the state level to reduce investment in the Abbott districts, a potential threat to the progress this book describes.) This is an inspiring book and one of the most hopeful books I’ve read in a long, long time. While it is an entirely secular book, it surely is appropriate reading for the Easter season. Kirp emphatically rejects the hubris embedded in today’s technocratic school reform where wealthy theorists are content to experiment with shattering neighborhoods and undermining the humanity of committed teachers with econometric Value Added Metric rankings based on students’ standardized test scores, VAM rankings that have sometimes been published in the newspaper. This is a book about people working every day to build human connections in a place where the public schools have, quite recently, become the heart of the community. I hope everybody will read this book. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it became a best seller.