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

David L. Kirp. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-19-998749-8
Too many American public school students, especially poor and minority students, lack basic reading and math proficiency and are educated by uninspired teachers. What to do? To find out, UC Berkeley education and public policy expert Kirp spent a year at in classrooms in a school district in Union City, N.J., that, improbably, works very well, despite its 20% poverty rate and substantial immigrant population. Among the keys to success are mutual help among teachers through mentoring, and more informal support among students through learning centers, as well as a sophisticated bilingual program. Kirp devotes a chapter to Union City’s preschools, which are available to all and focus on pre-K language development skills. Particularly on the high school level, Union City isn’t immune to the bane of contemporary education, “teaching to the [state proficiency] test.” However, Kirk shows how administrators and teachers mine test data to benchmark and help advance students’ progress, so that 89% of those who begin high school graduate, compared with 74% nationally. The school system also benefits from a mayor who doubles as a state senator and has secured extra state education funding. This impressive book doesn’t provide a blueprint, but the author describes seven guiding principles for how other school systems can achieve sustained educational success. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Man Agency. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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