Real Public Schools, Really Hard Work, Great Payoff

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 strategy.  

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.


Anonymous said…
how many kids are in each class? what is done for the kids who don't learn fractions and percents, or, is this such a holistic out of body experience that little drudgery things like decimals don't matter cuz we're all going to go to college and be professionals, above the realities of the other 90%?

this guy writes like the typical huckster charlatan - at least he's up front about his 4 decades churning out tomes -- which is EXACTLY why he doesn't address enough of the nitty gritty details in his NYT puff piece.

NO details = NO credibility to this troglodyte.

Anonymous said…
Guess I am somewhat on board with YeahWhatever.

Congratulations to Union City but this article avoids the nuts and bolts of what produced this apparent success.

It appears that one "Secret to fixing bad schools" is to keep the outside meddlers away. Do not look for that to be happening most places as the Common Core State standards herd mentality is now upon us.

Thy this one from the NYT:
Holding States and Schools Accountable.

At a Senate education committee hearing on Thursday to discuss waivers to states on some provisions of the law, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, forcefully urged the federal government to get out of the way.

“We only give you 10 percent of your money,” said Mr. Alexander, pressing John B. King Jr., the education commissioner for New York State. “Why do I have to come from the mountains of Tennessee to tell New York that’s good for you?

Dr. King argued that the federal government needed to set “a few clear, bright-line parameters” to protect students, especially vulnerable groups among the poor, minorities and the disabled.

“It’s important to set the right floor around accountability,” Dr. King said.

Small chance the locals will be focused on actual improvement as they will be busy jumping through Federal Hoops and parroting whatever interpretation of CCSS is in vogue. ... More Union City, NJ successes are unlikely.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data..... <= The Feds remain remarkably ignorant of that fact .....

But then oligarchy money has been driving the CCSS bus since day one. .... Those state waiver requirements to avoid NCLB sanctions are absurd..... King's statements do not adequately describe the Feds current reach. It is a lot more than setting a floor.

-- Dan Dempsey
I plan to read the book. I'm pretty sure it outlines what they did. Keep in mind, it is an op-ed, not an article.
Anonymous said…
without seeing the nuts and bolts I have faith that what they elude to is true.

Strategic planning to identify how to educate ALL students, with the right offerings at the right time in thier development.

Simple and effective.

This does not mean bringing everyone one down to a standardized level. It means meeting kids where they are (special ed, Gen ed, AND AL), setting the bar a bit higher for them (each respectively) and giving them the tools to reach the bars.

Thanks for posting some positive food for thought.
Unknown said…
Troglodyte? Puff piece? Dude, what's your beef? Is it that he has no details or that his basic program outline, which is actually quite clear if you have the mind to understand it, doesn't fit with your biases about what is required?

I think it begins with very basic, old-school fundamentals, which is precisely what the so-called reformers have lost in all their reams of data. It's about motivation and relationships.

As the article points out about Ms. Bossbaly, "From Day 1, her kids are writing in their journals, sifting out the meaning of stories and solving math problems. Every day, Ms. Bossbaly is figuring out what’s best for each child, rather than batch-processing them.Though Ms. Bossbaly is a star, her philosophy pervades the district. Wherever I went, these schools felt less like impersonal institutions than the simulacrum of an extended family."

It's all about motivation, and in the end motivation is all about relationships. If there is no one in a kid's life who cares about him or about whom he cares a who models effective learning, nothing else really matters. It's the foundation no child can do without.

So why is motivation for most kids so high in elementary school but craters when they start middle school, and then gets even worse in high school? Look at how the learning relationships change:

Kids don't have that "one" teacher, one Miss Bossbaly, with whom to form a bond, but several, and that makes it tougher for them to be known. And chances are that they are no longer in a supportive learning cohort, but have a fragmented schedule with different kids in larger classrooms where it's easy to get lost.

So what matters most to these kids is where they belong, and where they belong is with their friends outside the classroom, and the ethos outside the classroom too often has little or anything to do with learning, and for many, maybe most groups, except those perceived as nerdy, that ethos is inimical to learning--it's about anything but.

And yet the so-called reformers want to hold teachers responsible when the whole system is set up to demotivate almost every kid except those who would achieve no matter where they were? The problem, YeahWhatever, is that the solutions are simpler and more common sense than most people want to admit. Stop measuring kids, and do whatever it takes to motivate them, everything falls into place after that. And motivation is not about carrots and sticks, it's about lighting the inner fire.

That's a human-relationships intensive endeavor, and as such it costs money, but it is money sooner or later we will understand needs to be spent on attracting the best, most creative, most emotionally intelligent people into teaching, training them as professionals, and trusting them to do their jobs. That is 75% of the solution. But reformers are driving the Ms. Bossbalys out of the profession not attracting them.

The other 25% has to do with curriculum and program reform, and the common core is not what I'm thinking about.

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