Union City, NJ Gets it Right

Twenty-five years ago, Union City public schools were on the brink of state takeover. Today, they have a graduation rate 10 points higher than the national average. David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of  Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, discusses the Union City approach, and why he thinks it's an example for poor-performing urban school systems around the country.

Eight Key Elements to the Union City Turnaround, According to David Kirp

  • High-quality full-day preschool for all children starts at age three. 
  • Word-soaked classrooms give youngsters a rich feel for language. 
  • Immigrant kids become fluent first in their native language and then in English. 
  • The curriculum is challenging, consistent from school to school, and tied together from one grade to the next. 
  • Close-grained analyses of students’ test scores are used to diagnose and address problems. 
  • Teachers and students get hands-on help to improve their performance. 
  • The schools reach out to parents, enlisting them as partners in their children’s education. 
  • The school system sets high expectations for all and maintains a culture of "abrazos" -- caring -- which generates trust. 

There are two more essential elements that Kirp identifies: time and patience. "This is a tale of evolution," he reminds us, "not of revolution . . . Or, as he says elsewhere, "no quick fixes, no miracle cures." (Courtesy NJ Spotlight)