Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Success of Union City, New Jersey

The New York Time has an opinion piece here about the way in which Union City, NJ, has found to reinvent its school.  Union City is a high poverty area, and the schools, over the last twenty-five years, have managed to achieve scores that show they are as good in some areas, and better in the rest, than the other school districts in the state.

As a teacher for 37 years, I loved reading about Union City.  I think what happened there is that caring teachers and administrators managed to create the "enriched environment" usually only seen in upper socio-economic homes and schools.

We need to do this for all of our children:  good pre-school, teachers who are encouraged, and allowed, to be innovative and exciting, and a nurturing, stable environment.  I would just add lots of books and time to read, as a recipe for successful learning.


  1. I would like to read more about why the common core curriculum makes kids hate reading. We live in SC, but in relatively affluent area; the hs band just raised $115,000 to go to Dublin to march in a St. Patrick's Day parade. My sense is that the modern high school curriculum is a dog and pony show. Kids have 'majors', and spend their spare time playing video games. When I was growing up here, in the '70s, we had two years of Latin, and two years of French, and only one version of each science and math class, not five,, college prep, honors, AP, and Intl Bacc. It seems we've made the high schools into expensive machines that fool the students and their parents into thinking they're being prepared for a particular profession. I doubt their test scores are any higher today than ours were thirty five years ago, though today there is much more busy work, and, consequently, less time to read for pleasure.

  2. SAT verbal scores are lower today than 30 years ago; math scores have held steady. Kids are just as bright but not reading.

    I think your description of curriculum is pretty accurate in most schools. The problem with the Common Core for Language Arts isn't so much it requires ridiculous things--although it does esp. for the lower grades--but that the high level skills it is identifying are not skills that can be directly taught. Reading skills are developmental i.e. practice is almost everything. The guru for this is Stephen Krashen, a researcher from UCLA, who says categorically that teaching skills is just testing skills. Kids acquire skills through wide, avid reading.

    But, in an effort to "teach" high level skills, schools assign kids to read material that is too difficult for them. So not only do the kids not read it with much understanding, just the fact they have this required reading hanging over their heads drives out all other reading. I found that my avid readers simply acquired these high level skills but hated, with a passion, the kinds of exercises these Common Core people are advocating. So it's hard to see good coming out of the effort.

    Thanks for the note. It is all very depressing, and I am getting notes from teachers across the country who are in despair.

  3. Hi, Mary. I read this article, and some of the comments. One was from Stephen Krashen, and he seemed to disagree with the writer. Did you see that comment? I was wondering what you thought of the article he linked. Thank you!

  4. Thank for the comment, Jodene. Yes, I read the linked article. The author of the article doesn't like success stories that seem to assume that schools can be fixed without the underlying economic and social needs of the community addressed.

    I see his point. But I like to encourage any success we find, even though it isn't perfect. Union City now has two years of preschool for all of the children; surely that is something to celebrate. Also, the teachers in Union City seem to be less driven to prepare kids for tests, and more driven to give them a good education. I want to celebrate that as well.

    Of course we need better jobs and anit-poverty programs. But I don't think schools can wait. They have to do the best with what they have, and Union City seems to be making a good start. What's the old saying: "Don't like the perfect be the enemy of the good." I think that sums it up.