Sign up FAST! Login

The Secret To Fixing Bad Schools - NYTimes.com


The Secret To Fixing Bad Schools NYTimes com

Source: www.nytimes.com

Stashed in: Education!

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I’ve never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy.

Ask school officials to explain Union City’s success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There’s abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing.

One December morning the lesson is making latkes, the potato pancakes that are a Hanukkah staple. Everything that transpires during these 90 minutes could be called a “teachable moment” — describing the smell of an onion (“Strong or light? Strong — duro. Will it smell differently when we cook it? We’ll have to find out.”); pronouncing the “p” in pepper and pimento; getting the hang of a food processor (“When I put all the ingredients in, what will happen?”).

Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. “My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children,” the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. “It’s all about exposure to concepts — wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. ‘Let’s do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.’ I don’t ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 — I could teach a monkey to count.”

From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.

I applaud the goal of students becoming thinkers.

The main problem is, everyone has a different opinion on how to do that.

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.

A quarter-century ago, fear of a state takeover catalyzed a transformation. The district’s best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch. Learning by doing replaced learning by rote. Kids who came to school speaking only Spanish became truly bilingual, taught how to read and write in their native tongue before tackling English. Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise. Principals were expected to become educational leaders, not just disciplinarians and paper-shufflers.

From a loose confederacy, the schools gradually morphed into a coherent system that marries high expectations with a “we can do it” attitude. “The real story of Union City is that it didn’t fall back,” says Fred Carrigg, a key architect of the reform. “It stabilized and has continued to improve.”

To any educator with a pulse, this game plan sounds so old-school obvious that it verges on platitude.  That these schools are generously financed clearly makes a difference — not every community will decide to pay for two years of prekindergarten — but too many districts squander their resources.

I don't get it. Is the difference just... caring?

caring plus a good plan plus the courage to follow through with it?

Well, and parents HAVE to be involved.

Teachers cannot do it without the parents.

You May Also Like: