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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

There Is No Secret to Quality Public Schools

Posted by on Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 12:56 PM

The secret to fixing bad public schools is that there is no secret. There are plenty of great public schools in the nation, and there are plenty of formerly bad public schools that have since been turned around. Take for example Union City, New Jersey, a once-struggling, mostly poor, mostly immigrant district that now boasts a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, ten points above the national average:

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.”

Union City didn't achieve its turnaround with Teach for America, charter schools, or a relentless regimen of standardized testing. Instead, the district empowered its best teachers to design a new curriculum, and it invested in high quality early learning.

We could do that here in Washington State. But we don't. Because we refuse to spend the money. Instead, we'll just continue to blame the teachers and put our faith in the market to do for K-12 education what it did for, say, the banking and housing industries.


Comments (8) RSS

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Soupytwist 1
I LOVE SUSAN ROJAS - "I could teach a monkey to count." - this is the problem with American education and employers, they don't want thinkers, they want monkeys that count to three and push buttons.
Posted by Soupytwist on February 12, 2013 at 1:11 PM · Report this
This teacher sounds like my daughter's kindergarten teacher at Orca K-8, and I feel very lucky.
Posted by Chili on February 12, 2013 at 1:14 PM · Report this
In Washington State, I could imagine the cream of the crop educators designing a new curriculum only to have it savaged eight ways to sunday by a variety of school districts because it didn't meet the specific needs of its student residents.
Posted by neo-realist on February 12, 2013 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 4
I did analytical work for Colorado Public Schools, specifically investigating the efficacy of the "No Child Left Behind" programs.

The results were astonishingly clear: The more state and federal funds a school got, the more the student's achievement rose. Location of the schools was irrelevant - rich and poor and middle class neighborhoods all saw the same results. More money = Better education. Period. No other variables had even close to as much influence.

We released the results publicly, but no one ever seemed to notice or care much. I guess everyone has their own beliefs, facts be damned.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on February 12, 2013 at 2:17 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 5
@4 - give us a link! Would love to read it...
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on February 12, 2013 at 2:47 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 6

I dug around a bit on CO's dept of ed. webpage but I can't find the report I helped on. This one looks like a follow-up (although I just skimmed it, I can't be sure if it's the same work I was doing):…

There's a bunch of other reports on their website too if you feel adventurous.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on February 12, 2013 at 3:14 PM · Report this
"employers, they don't want thinkers, they want monkeys that count to three and push buttons."

You'vee never worked in HR have you?
Posted by Dad still paying your rent? on February 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM · Report this
So what you're saying is that the public needs to fund teachers to do what parents aren't doing at home? Where does this end?
Posted by Person from a poor home on February 12, 2013 at 8:20 PM · Report this

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