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Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools

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Improbable Scholars

The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools

By David L. Kirp

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Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Published In: United States, 01 April 2013
The conventional wisdom, voiced by everyone from Bill Gates to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is that public schools are so terrible that simply reforming them won't do the trick. Instead, they must be "transformed," blown up and then rebuilt, if they're going to offer students a good education. We relish stories about electrifying teachers like Jaime Escalante, who made math whizzes out of no-hoper teenagers in East LA, or inner city charter schools like the KIPP academies. But success in the public schools of an entire city-a poor, crowded city, with more than its share of immigrant Latino youngsters, the kind of kids who elsewhere will likely drop out or flunk out? That sounds as elusive and improbable as the Loch Ness monster. But 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 it is in mainstream public schools. Improbable Scholars shows that there's a sensible way to rebuild public education and close the achievement gap for all students. Miracles aren't required-instead, we need to make smart use of what we already know can work. This is precisely what's happening in a most unlikely place: Union City, New Jersey. What makes Union City so headline-worthy is its ordinariness, its lack of flash and pizzazz. The school district has ignored trendy, blow-up-and-rebuild reforms in favor of old school ideas like top-drawer early education, a word-soaked curriculum and hands-on help for teachers. When good new strategies have emerged, like using sophisticated data-crunching to generate pinpoint assessments of the help that particular students need, they have been folded into the mix. A generation ago, Union City's schools were so bad that state officials threatened to seize control of them. But the situation has entirely turned around. Here's the reason to stand up and take notice-from third grade through high school, Union City students' 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. This is no one-year wonder-year after year, from 1990 onward, the students in Union City have steadily improved. In 2011 every senior passed the state's exit exam and received a diploma, and nearly 60 percent of those graduates enrolled in college. The best students are winning national science awards, Gates Millennium Scholarships, and full rides at Ivy League universities. These schools are not just good places for poor kids. They are good places for kids, period. They pass the Golden Rule Test- you'd be pleased if children you love were educated here. Improbable Scholars will change your mind about the possibility of reviving public education.

Table of Contents

Introduction: High Stakes ; Chapter 1 The Pie: Room 210, George Washington Elementary School ; Chapter 2 New Kids on the Block: George Washington Elementary School ; Chapter 3 Gruntwork: The System-Builders ; Chapter 4 The Magic Kingdom: Preschool for All ; Chapter 5 Mother Theresa meets Mayor Daley: Good Schools = Smart Politics ; Chapter 6 Can These Eagles Soar?: Union City High School ; Chapter 7 Where Fun Comes to Die (And Be Reborn): George Washington Elementary School - Reprise ; Chapter 8: The Odyssey Continues: Union City School System, One Year Later ; Chapter 9: What Union City Has To Teach America: Nationwide, Slow and Steady Wins the Race ; Notes ; Acknowledgements ; Index

About the Author

David L. Kirp, a nationally-known education expert, is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. In seventeen books and scores of articles in newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, American Prospect and the Atlantic, as well as top-drawer academic journals, he has covered the education waterfront from cradle to college. After the 2008 election, he served on President Obama's Transition Team.

Reviews

"What Kirp considers an exemplary public school system that is a demonstrable improvement over what generally prevails now is replicable everywhere, requiring only fiercely hard work. Teachers, concerned parents, political leaders-Kirp's book has something for everyone, and it deserves the widest possible audience discussion." -Kirkus (starred review)"Improbable Scholars is one of the most hopeful books that I have read in a long time. It shows why there are no quick fixes and how schools succeed. He describes a model of success that can be achieved in every school." -Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System " 'There are no quick fixes' " is the thoroughly researched and pragmatic counsel offered by Kirp after his year of observing Union City, New Jersey's public school system...Kirp's warm portraits of talented teachers, squirmy students, and visionary leaders prepare the ground for his indictment of today's soulless test-taking culture and illustrate the effectiveness of Union City's "plan-do-review" approach to systemwide policy making...Slow and steady really does win the race." -Booklist (starred review)"In Improbable Scholars David Kirp has discerned the essence of what our students and our public education system need: competent and caring classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, working in concert with other adults to surround students with the academic and non-academic supports that deeply impact their learning. This riveting book reminds us that, while there is no magic bullet, long-term success is possible. Labor-management collaborations and community involvement are critical for creating lasting school transformation." -Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers "At a time when would-be reformers offer a plethora of miracle cures, Improbable Scholars digs deep into the complexity of transforming urban schools from classroom teaching to the political leadership and community support needed to ensure access and opportunity for all learners. David Kirp's ability to connect his observations with research provides evidence that the strategies used by Union City are grounded in sustainable-and replicable-reforms." -Dr. Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools "In Improbable Scholars, David Kirp challenges the conventional wisdom fueling today's school reform agenda. With his trademark insight and fluid prose, Kirp uses a high-achieving urban district to argue that coherence and patience count for more than incentives and a 'no excuses' mindset, while pressing the case for a kinder, gentler vision of school reform. Agree with Kirp or not, educators, parents, and would-be reformers need to read this book, reflect on it, and argue about it." -Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute "Improbable Scholars is a once-in-a-generation book on what will matter most in education over the next generation: giving our immigrant-origin students a real chance to achieve the American Dream. This extraordinary account takes the reader from the classroom to the mayor's office, vividly detailing how a poor urban school district has brought Latino immigrant kids into the mainstream. The story, masterfully told by one of our foremost thinkers in education today, goes beyond the facile cure-alls, cliches, and yes, magical thinking, that plague much writing in education today. This is the one book everyone interested in authentic models for change needs to read." -Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Dean and Distinguished Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies "Impressive...describes seven guiding principles for how other school systems can achieve sustained educational success." -Publishers Weekly"This powerful book exposes one of the greatest lies in America - that 'perform-or-die' accountability for teachers and choice for students will cure what ails public education - and reveals the real way forward. With a gifted writer's eye for telling detail and a gifted scholar's sense of the big picture, Kirp shows how a school system in one of the nation's poorest cities is succeeding without these so-called reforms, and in so doing uncovers the essentials for remaking American education. Brilliant and important."-Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor "Improbable Scholar represents the best of what qualitative research in education can provide. Professor Kirp conducted a systematic study of teachers and administrators at work in Union City. Improbable Scholars draws out the intricate linkages among national, state, local, and even school-specific politics and policy: linkages that often are missed by researchers who focus exclusively on one level or the other. And by wrapping this informed perspective in a compelling narrative about how real people operate within institutional and organizational constraints, Kirp provides policy and practical lessons for those who care about improving urban public schools." -Ron Avi Astor, Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor of School Behavioral Health, University of Southern California"My students appreciated the vivid and grounded account, finding it much more accessible than most social research. They were grateful for a book that made a convincing case for urban public schools' capacity to improve, and that took on corporate ideas about school reform." -David Cohen, Harvard Graduate School of Education and University of Michigan School of Education"Improbable Scholars is a compelling, inspiring account of one urban school district's successful reform, despite poor odds. David Kirp does not peddle the false promise of a quick fix, but rather illuminates the smart work and steadfast commitment of a community of educators. His lucid analysis and lessons for practitioners and policymakers should be required reading for all who set out to improve urban education." -Susan Moore Johnson, Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education"This engaging, discerning, and compelling book describes vivid examples of powerful and effective schools and teachers attaining academic excellence in low-income schools. It conveys the rich possibilities of public schools and is an antidote to the doomsayers and harsh critics of public schools and teachers. This elegantly written, engaging, and inspiring book provides hope for the growing percentage of low-income, minority, and immigrant students who populate the nation's public schools. The messages it conveys merit wide reading, discussion, and action." -James A. Banks, Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies and Director, Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Seattle" "Impressive...describes seven guiding principles for how other school systems can achieve sustained educational success." -- Publishers Weekly"Improbable Scholars is one of the most hopeful books that I have read in a long time. It shows why there are no quick fixes and how schools succeed. He describes a model of success that can be achieved in every school."-Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System"This powerful book exposes one of the greatest lies in America - that 'perform-or-die' accountability for teachers and choice for students will cure what ails public education - and reveals the real way forward. With a gifted writer's eye for telling detail and a gifted scholar's sense of the big picture, Kirp shows how a school system in one of the nation's poorest cities is succeeding without these so-called reforms, and in so doing uncovers the essentials for remaking American education. Brilliant and important."-Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor "In Improbable Scholars David Kirp has discerned the essence of what our students and our public education system need: competent and caring classroom teachers and paraprofessionals, working in concert with other adults to surround students with the academic and non-academic supports that deeply impact their learning. This riveting book reminds us that, while there is no magic bullet, long-term success is possible. Labor-management collaborations and community involvement are critical for creating lasting school transformation." -Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers "At a time when would-be reformers offer a plethora of miracle cures, Improbable Scholars digs deep into the complexity of transforming urban schools from classroom teaching to the political leadership and community support needed to ensure access and opportunity f

EAN: 9780199987498
ISBN: 0199987491
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Dimensions: 23.62 x 15.49 x 2.54 centimetres (0.48 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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