A great, great op-ed in the NY Times by UC Berkeley professor, David L. Kirp, called The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools.
He just spent the last year researching a book on public education in Union City, N. J. I'll let him tell you what he found out:
The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. — bringing poor, mostly
immigrant kids into the educational mainstream — argues for reinventing
the public schools we have.
Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It’s a
poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the
national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where
only Spanish is spoken.
Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for
failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once
so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How
things have changed. From third grade through high school, students’
achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What’s more,
in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5
percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average.
Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with
top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.
As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I’ve
never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City
working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide
Read the whole thing. It's great. Oh, and one other thing:
What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of
pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools
or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits
toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.
School officials flock to Union City and other districts that have
beaten the odds, eager for a quick fix. But they’re on a fool’s errand.
These places — and there are a host of them, largely unsung — didn’t
become exemplars by behaving like magpies, taking shiny bits and pieces
and gluing them together. Instead, each devised a long-term strategy
reaching from preschool to high school. Each keeps learning from
experience and tinkering with its model. Nationwide, there’s no reason
school districts — big or small; predominantly white, Latino or black —
cannot construct a system that, like the schools of Union City, bends
the arc of children’s lives.
It's not rocket science but it IS attention to students and relationships and getting in there early.
It's called education evolution and it can be done.