There is a nationwide focus on the achievement gap and weak academic performance in our poorest communities. It’s certainly warranted. In New Jersey, this issue has been at the core of the Abbott rulings by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, there seems to be the notion that to improve the educational achievement of our poorest children, we need charismatic leaders with bold ideas that will be implemented quickly, dramatically and with great fanfare. That is why charismatic educators like Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, and several years ago, Joe Clark, become overnight stars –for awhile.
What if the way to academic success in our poorest school districts is slow, quiet, and actually accomplished with some ordinary practices? That is what David Kirp, author of the book Improbable Scholars argues is probably the direction we should go. He holds up the New Jersey school district of Union City as a model.
In New Jersey, we grab headlines when the state “takes over” a district as it did with Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. Recently, the state announced that it would initiate a state “intervention” in the city of Camden. The Camden “intervention” is different than that in the other three cities because it appears that the community and the district did not object to the state’s action. Nonetheless, it did grab headlines.
It should be noted that Union City, the star district in Kirp’s book, was itself was on the verge of a state takeover about a quarter of a century ago. (more…)