How to fix failing schools — and how not to

book cover

A quarter-century ago the public schools of Newark, New Jersey, and nearby Union City were each plagued by poor student performance, low graduation rates and administrative corruption and instability. So civic leaders in the two towns devised sharply different strategies for turning their systems around — strategies that David Kirp, a UC Berkeley professor of education, discusses in a recent New York Times piece.

In 2009, Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie joined forces with Cory Booker, then Newark’s mayor; the two were convinced that the city’s school system “could be reinvented in just five years,” Kirp writes.

“Closing underperforming schools, encouraging charter schools and weakening teacher tenure” were essential ingredients of their strategy; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invested $100 million in the experiment.

Nearby Union City instead opted for “homegrown gradualism,” focusing on “how kids learn best, how teachers teach most effectively and how parents can be engaged.” Today it’s regarded (unlike Newark) as “a poster child for good urban education,” he says.

Kirp’s award-winning book Improbable Scholars focuses on the Union City schools as a model for reforming U.S. schools. Read his piece, “How to fix the country’s failing public schools. And how not to,” in the Times opinion section.

Related information: Read David Kirp’s Berkeley Blog postslinked from the bottom of his profile page.