I liked Kirp’s portrayal of Union City in his book Improbable Scholars. He offered an optimistic view of school reform. Not only was the system Union City school district put into place effective, it was also realistic. I feel like too often school reform is portrayed as the action of one enthusiastic teacher giving up everything to help their students. 

Kirp offers an alternative. The district seriously changes the curriculum and supports and trains effective teachers. Yes, the teachers portrayed in the book worked hard, but they were never seen as giving their entire lives to their students. There was room to be flexible within this system and it was ok to fail, as long as you were able to learn and grow from your mistakes. 

It is important to show this side of school reform because it is encouraging to young teachers joining the field. It shows teachers that they do not have to give up their whole lives to be good teachers only to burn out in a few years. Teacher turnover and drop out rates are incredibly high, especially in low-income areas. There needs to be more districts like Union City who offer strong support systems to their teachers, especially when they are young teachers. 

If more schools create a support system and clear, attainable goals for young teachers enter in the profession would not be as intimidating as it is now. Most new teachers are pushed into a classroom and expected to be effective teachers. In reality they need much more guidance. In Union City teachers worked as teams and shared information with other teachers in their grade. Alina Bossbaly also taught writing seminars to her fellow teachers in order to improve how they taught writing. These are great ways to support and encourage young teachers. Finally, the teachers in Union City wanted each other to succeed, which is the most important piece of the puzzle. They were a real team. 

If more districts were to really commit themselves to education reform, like Union City, I think education would greatly improve. However, it will be a lot of work because there is no magic bullet to fix schools. Every district needs to tailor reform to their students and their unique situation. There are some improvements that would be almost universally beneficial, like having more resources, but there are many reforms that would benefit only specific areas such as a bilingual education program. 

Overall, I think Kirp’s book is a must read for teachers and administrators across the country looking to make a change in their school district.