October 12, 2004
Ohio Department of Education officials say they now know that "all students — including those in schools in high-poverty communities — can reach high levels of achievement."
They say they know this because of the department’s list of "102 Schools of Promise 2003-2004."
The Schools of Promise program claims to recognize elementary, middle and high schools across Ohio that are "demonstrating high achievement for all groups of students." Of the 102 schools, nine are in Cleveland, three are in Cincinnati, two in Columbus and one is in Toledo.
Many people would like to believe that by simply adopting higher standards, school systems can pull disadvantaged children up by their bootstraps to the performance levels of students who are higher on the socioeconomic ladder. The problem is that the department got it wrong — again. This faulty research does not support the assertions.
Although a press release available on the 102 schools was announced on Sept. 28, the all-important demographic data and contact information was listed as "coming soon." Department officials did note, however, that only 40 percent of the students in these schools met low-income criteria.
And while the criteria include a statement that "at least 75 percent of students from major racial and ethnic groups passed the tests" there is no way of knowing which racial and ethnic groups account for that rate. Historically, Asian-American students score highest of all groups on standardized tests. Their inclusion could badly skew data in some schools listed.
If raising standards could always produce improved academic performance, then the implication is that all schools can improve performance simply by raising standards. That is an unfortunate reinforcement of the belief that changes in school methodology alone, without more resources, time on task or improved family life, is enough to conquer the achievement gaps between the socioeconomic groups.
The Columbus schools that made the list are Clinton Elementary, serving one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, and Berwick Alternative Elementary, a magnet school with a select student population. The fact is that a great number of the schools listed in urban areas have select student bodies. They attract the most highly ambitious students in the city and their parents are strong and involved supporters of education. Some schools on the list include specialty-oriented schools such as Cleveland’s Early College School, the Toledo Technology Academy, the Cleveland School of the Arts and Jane Addams Business Careers High School, also in Cleveland.
No schools were listed in the city school districts of Canton, Dayton, Lancaster, Marion, Springfield, Youngstown or Zanesville. All of these districts have large populations of disadvantaged students. Many of the schools that made the list feature high- intelligence or talent-focused programs for children often recruited from outside the schools’ attendance area. The higher scores in these schools cannot be fairly explained by raising standards. Moreover, whatever they do, it is not transferable en mass to other students who live in homes with little income or parent education.
Many of the schools are listed because of the performance of students in only one grade or only one subject (Mathematics or Reading) and for only one year. Such isolated results can be less than predictive of a pattern of success over time. Some, for example, might have had high averages because their middle-class students did well, not because of the performance of the 40 percent who are disadvantaged.
Once schools with scores from only one subject or a one-year accomplishment are excluded, the remaining program is not necessarily something about which to write home. Likewise, those recognized do not provide role models that can be utilized in other Ohio schools. The state’s attempt to put a positive "spin" on the data serves no useful purpose and in no way provides assistance to teachers, administrators, school board members, parents or community leaders anxious to help students in financial and educational poverty help themselves.
This project suffers from the same significant flaws that hinder other Ohio education programs and policies. Ohio has many children without adequate nutrition, health care, environmental stimulation and adequate funding in their schools. Department leadership should focus its efforts on reducing the contributing factors to poor student performance rather than splashing student performance numbers for small, select groups with little application to other Ohio schools.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data