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American Educator, v37 n4 p14-21, 44 Win 2013-2014

For years, points out David L. Kirp, critics have lambasted public schools as fossilized bureaucracies run by paper-pushers and filled with time-serving teachers preoccupied with their job security, not the lives of their students. Yet, as this article describes, running an exemplary school system does not demand heroes or heroics, just hard and steady work. Kirp describes the efforts of the teachers and administrators of Union City, New Jersey, as an example of "Banding Together" to improve student achievement. Union City is a poor, densely packed community mainly composed of Latino immigrants expected to fail, yet pointing the way toward promising outcomes. How was this effected? The teachers state that the best explanation for their effectiveness is what they have learned--and keep learning--from their colleagues--that teachers improve in good measure because of the informal tutelage that the old hands give the newbies, the day-to-day collaboration, the modeling of good practice, and the swapping of ideas about what is worth trying in their classrooms. The results of this rigorous effort: students scoring on the state's achievement tests that approximate the New Jersey averages; despite their hard-knock lives, successfully competing with their suburban cousins in reading, writing, and mathematics; over 90 percent graduation from high school; and three-quarters of them enrolling in college. Kirp concludes that success stories are to be found across the country, in communities that spend frugally on their students, as well as those that are lavishly funded, in big cities as well as rural communities, and in districts with black, Latino, and poor white students. These school systems have taken the same playbook, the same priorities, the same underlying principles, the same commitment to hard and steady work, and adapted these to suit their circumstances with success.

Descriptors: Federal Legislation, Educational Legislation, Urban Education, Scores, Achievement Tests, Caring, Expectation, Faculty Development, Student Improvement, Teacher Collaboration, Elementary School Teachers, Secondary School Teachers, Principals, Academic Achievement

American Federation of Teachers. 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001. Tel: 202-879-4400; e-mail: amered[at]; Web site:

Autor: Kirp, David L.


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