Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools is an uplifting tale of a high-poverty school district (Union City, New Jersey) and how adequate funding (including free pre-K), a rigorous curriculum, testing used as a diagnostic (not punitive) tool add up to great success.
“If you believe that education can only be reformed by center-right business notions—that privately run nonunion charters will outperform public schools; that teachers need to be goaded into doing a good job—David Kirp is here to tell you that absolutely the opposite is true. Generous funding, tied to a rigorous and rich curriculum, with testing as a diagnostic tool, can produce extraordinary results. Kirp, a professor at the University of California Berkeley who has written extensively about education for decades, is most recently the author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools, a beautifully rendered account of the schools of Union City, New Jersey. Kirp spent the entire 2010-2011 academic year visiting classrooms in Union City, a low-income, mostly Latino school district of 12,000 students, located five minutes from the gleaming towers of Manhattan. His story is written with the empathy that characterizes Jonathan Kozol’s books on urban education, but with a far more hopeful message.”