Poverty and race may still be two of the strongest predictors of a
school's performance, but the results of a recent analysis are being
used to argue that it doesn't have to be that way.
In a report released at a news conference here last month, the
Education Trust identified some 4,500 public schools across the country
that educate large numbers of poor or minority students and yet are
also among the top performers in their states.
The Washington-based research and advocacy group says the list shows
that children traditionally deemed at risk of academic failure are
capable of holding their own among students with far more advantaged
"For too long, too many people have believed that poor and minority
children simply cannot achieve at the same level as white and
middle-class students," said Craig D. Jerald, the senior policy analyst
at the Education Trust who wrote the report. "That's simply not the
The roster of "high flying"
schools, as the Education Trust calls them, was made possible by a
new federal database that includes test scores from roughly 80,000
public schools in 47 states. State education departments provided the
data on student achievement, which then was compiled for the federal
Department of Education by the American Institutes for Research, a
nonprofit research group in Washington.
use different assessment systems, the Education Trust's analysis of
the data cannot be used to compare the schools in one state with
those in another. Instead, the study looked for schools whose
performance was in the top third of their states and where more than
half the students were black or Latino, or where more than half the
students were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price
lunches under federal guidelines.
The Education Trust
also simultaneously unveiled a new feature on its Web site that
allows visitors to generate their own state-by-state lists by
plugging in different levels of poverty and concentrations of
minority students. The organization plans to use the database to
examine qualities common to such successful schools.
'Got to Believe'
Some researchers, however,
cautioned against making too much of the new list. The schools were
identified based on one year's test scores, and studies have
suggested that scores can fluctuate widely from one year to the next,
especially smaller schools'.
And while the schools
identified by the Education Trust serve some 1.3 million students
from low-income families, that number pales in comparison with the
estimated 17 million such students in the country.
they need to do is not obfuscate the fact that poverty is a huge
obstacle to achievement," said Tom Loveless, who directs the Brown
Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington
think tank. "It is very difficult to get high-poverty schools up to
high levels of achievement."
Difficult, but not
impossible, says Teresa Wood, the principal of Garfield Elementary
School in Selma, Calif. One of the schools identified in the
Education Trust report, Garfield contends with a more than 90 percent
student-poverty rate. Many families at Garfield, part of the
5,000-student Selma school district, are new arrivals from Mexico who
work in the local vineyards that hav
e made the San Joaquin Valley the raisin capital of California.
Ms. Wood says the fact that the 260-pupil school is outperforming
many far more affluent schools in the state is the result of a highly
focused improvement plan begun two years ago. Among other strategies,
the school launched an after-school program that tailors academic
enrichment to students' specific needs. Staff members also squeezed the
school's daily schedule to increase instructional time.
And Ms. Wood said she became a more astute user of performance data
as a way to track students' progress and address their weaknesses.
"The staff has got to believe," the school leader said. "If they
think these kids can't learn or won't get any better because look where
they live—if they have that attitude, then we're not going to
"But I'm so fortunate that I don't have anyone on my staff who holds