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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Thirty-Nine: David L. Kirp, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools (2013)


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David L. Kirp, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools (2013)

Linda Irwin-DeVitis

Improbable Scholars (2013), by David L. Kirp, is an accessible, engaging, and thorough case study (Whitehurst, 2013) of continuing and successful education reform in Union City, New Jersey. To be sure, Union City has all the myriad problems that confront many urban schools: poverty, drugs, violence, less-than-satisfactory facilities, transient students, large numbers of English language learners (many of whom do not have legal status), parents who are often barely literate in their first language, and health (hunger, vision, and dental) problems (Kirp, 2013, pp. 17–19). Union City Schools are in many ways typical of the urban miasma that creates chronic low achievement, high dropout rates, and grist for the demands for a revolution in American public education. It is rare to locate an urban district with these problems that is successful, and even more unusual to find a system where that success is maintained over the long term. David Kirp spent 2 years and innumerable hours in his case study of this rare urban district success story. Improbable Scholars (2013) is the outcome of his in-depth exploration.

There are few novel or breakthrough ideas in Improbable Scholars. Instead, Kirp celebrates the “ordinariness” of the major ideas and principles he documents. His analogy is evolution, not revolution. Kirp’s metaphor for writing this case...

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