In Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools, University of California at Berkeley professor David Kirp tells the story of Union City, NJ, a district whose schools were failing 20 years ago but that has conquered the odds and shown that a reinvention of public education can happen here and now. Kirp shows us how Union City has transformed itself: the students are given constant opportunities to become thinkers and doers instead of test-takers, starting with a solid pre-kindergarten curriculum. Teachers are given hands-on support from coworkers and coaches. The principals are educational leaders instead of enforcers. The schools are not treated as factories of achievement, but as communities. As a result, Union City boasts tests scores in line with the national average and a higher-than-average graduation rate in its high school, with 75% of its graduates going on to college. In Improbable Scholars, Kirp shows that unrelenting involvement and hard work can make reinvigoration of the nation’s schools a reality.
“This powerful book exposes one of the greatest lies in America – that ‘perform-or-die’ accountability for teachers and choice for students will cure what ails public education – and reveals the real way forward. With a gifted writer’s eye for telling detail and a gifted scholar’s sense of the big picture, Kirp shows how a school system in one of the nation’s poorest cities is succeeding without these so-called reforms, and in so doing uncovers the essentials for remaking American education. Brilliant and important.” —Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor
“Improbable Scholars is a once-in-a-generation book on what will matter most in education over the next generation: giving our immigrant-origin students a real chance to achieve the American Dream. This extraordinary account takes the reader from the classroom to the mayor’s office, vividly detailing how a poor urban school district has brought Latino immigrant kids into the mainstream. The story, masterfully told by one of our foremost thinkers in education today, goes beyond the facile cure-alls, clichés, and yes, magical thinking, that plague much writing in education today. This is the one book everyone interested in authentic models for change needs to read.” —Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Dean and Distinguished Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
“Improbable Scholars is one of the most hopeful books that I have read in a long time. It shows why there are no quick fixes and how schools succeed. He describes a model of success that can be achieved in every school.” —Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System
– Allison Kelly