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IMPROBABLE SCHOLARS by David L. Kirp Kirkus Star


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


Pub Date: April 16th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-998749-8
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Hopeful news from the education front.

George W. Bush’s teach-to-the-test No Child Left Behind Act has done untold damage to American education, as has the wholesale defunding of public school systems in favor of private schools that are mostly reserved for the wealthy. Kirp (Public Policy/Univ. of California; Kids First, 2011, etc.) observes that in recent years, “fewer white students and more poor and nonwhite students have enrolled in public school,” with the predictable result that public schools have in the main become uncompetitive since they are underserved. He examines the case of Union City, N.J., to show that this is not a requisite destiny: There, in an area of deep poverty (“below such famously troubled cities as Mobile, Milwaukee, and Oakland”), a committed group of administrators, teachers and parents have formed an educational community to defy the odds. “Community” is an operative word, and the secrets for forging it and bringing new life to the classroom are, by Kirp’s account, fairly few. He identifies some of the keys ones: high-quality, all-day preschool for all children beginning at the age of 3, then “word-soaked classrooms” that emphasize language skills (and therefore thinking skills). Against the prevailing English-only ethos, Union City teaches immigrant children fluency in their language, then fluency in English. The school system actively reaches out to parents to form educational partnerships, and there are plenty of abrazos—hugs, that is, to create a culture of caring. 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.