• by Hilaria Bauer, MA • IDRA Newsletter • June- July 1997
Traditionally, poor students have been deprived of academically challenging opportunities. One writer summarized this phenomenon as follows: “We take students who have less to begin with and give them less in school too” (Olson, 1997).
Consequently, many high poverty schools are also low performing. However, high poverty, high performing schools have demonstrated that, “Sí se puede” [It can be done]. Mary Hull Elementary is a good example.
In addition to believing that all students can learn, high poverty, high performing schools are based on the belief that all students can excel (Lindsay, 1997). The ingredient most cited as being the foundation to high performance is quality. High performing schools provide students with more academically oriented curricula and more challenging tasks (Stringfield, 1994).
Thus, there is hope when there is quality. Quality refers to the overall school experience. It covers everything from teaching strategies, to expectations, to resources. Teaching quality is perhaps the most important strategy for achieving the nation’s education goals (Edwards, 1997). Although measuring teaching quality is difficult, one way we can look at this issue is in terms of the kind of teacher we would want for our own kids. “A caring, competent and qualified teacher for every child is the most important ingredient in education reform,” argues the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (Olson, 1997).
Another important ingredient is school expectations. High performing schools expect their students to succeed B all of their students. Too many teachers, administrators and school board members think the problem lies within the children, not the school. They refuse to believe that fundamental change is needed, and they are unwilling, or feel unable, to change the school system. The message seems to be, “We’ll do a better job if you send us better children” (Olson, 1997). In high performing schools, students are given challenging curricula and demanding tasks, and they are expected to succeed. High performing schools regard every child as an asset. Moreover, each child is considered to possess a unique gift to offer to society.
Schools that provide high quality education invest their resources in the fulfillment of their vision. That vision is one of students excelling. I have yet to meet a principal of a high performing school who is not aware of the material and financial needs and resources of his or her campus. Although there is no clear evidence to support a correlation between the amount of money invested in a school and its performance, one thing appears certain in the literature: the way money is invested in schools matters, and it matters a lot.
Despite much controversy, the fact is that the quality of children’s education today depends largely on where they live. High poverty, high performing schools seek ways to increase their resources. And once they find the resources, they invest them wisely.
High poverty, high performing schools are organized and operated in the manner most conducive to learning. Every individual in the school understands and supports the school’s mission. That is, each person works with others to attain high performance levels. From students, to parents, to administrators, to the community in general, everyone is working toward the same effort, and their common denominator is quality.
Colker, Laura J. (Ed.). Beyond Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: A Retrospective Look at How Schools Have Responded to Changing Societal Needs (Fairfax, Virginia: ERIC, 1993).
Edwards, Virginia B. (Ed.). Quality Counts, A supplement to Education Week (January 22, 1997).
Lindsay, Drew. “How, Not How Much,” Quality Counts, A supplement to Education Week (January 22, 1997).
Olson, Lynn. “Keeping Tabs on Quality,” Quality Counts, A supplement to Education Week (January 22, 1997).
Stringfield, Sam, et al. Urban and Suburban/Rural Special Strategies for Educating Disadvantaged Children, First Year Report (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
Hilaria Bauer is an education associate in the IDRA division of professional development. Comments and questions may be sent to her via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June- July 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]