Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chris Cerf on Union City Education Reform

Here’s an op ed in the NYT about how the school system in Union City, NJ has improved its schools without adopting many of the common techniques of reformers – which leads the author (not an ed school prof, but close – a professor of public policy) to the mistaken conclusion that this should be the reform model for ALL broken school systems.

WHAT would it really take to give students a first-rate education? Some argue that our schools are irremediably broken and that charter schools offer the only solution. The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. — bringing poor, mostly immigrant kids into the educational mainstream — argues for reinventing the public schools we have.

I asked NJ Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf for his thoughts on the article and he replied:

We should celebrate success wherever we find it, learn from it and replicate it. Union City has been such a success. I especially commend the district's commitment to early childhood education. It would be a grave mistake, however, to overgeneralize from the experience. New Jersey has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country, and it has barely budged over the last decade. For every Union City, there are hundreds schools and dozens of districts where impoverished students, typically students of color, are being systematically failed by public education. In every one of these instances, people of good intentions have been investing extraordinary amounts of resources and energy to improve them, with generally disappointing results to show for it. (For example ALL of NJ's most impoverished districts receive funds for comprehensive early childhood programs.) We should continue to do everything possible to "fix" these schools, including pursuing some of the same strategies that have made a difference in Union City. But we should also be honest that "turnaround" efforts simply have not worked in many schools and, further, that there are often institutional bulwarks in place that thwart the successful implementation of such interventions. Rather than setting up false dichotomies between "fixing" schools and "replacing" them or between "traditional public schools" and "public charter schools," we should embrace any strategy that disrupts a failed status quo and holds out real promise for change. That's what parents want and what children deserve.

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