November 3, 2014 by

Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools

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Any educator who has “been in the business” for more than 10 years has witnessed the increase in the number of students who live in poverty, and they know their job has become more challenging as a result. What does it take to disrupt poverty’s adverse influence on student learning? It requires far more than individual teachers’ diligent and often heroic efforts. Even when successful, these endeavors are rarely replicated or sustained through broader and deeper collective action.

The United States has the highest childhood poverty rate of any developed nation, and the percentage of children living in poverty continues to rise. A record number of families fell out of the middle class during the latest recession, making poverty not only a challenge in urban and rural America, but also in suburban areas. How can schools productively respond to this societal change?Institute

Hundreds of public schools have done just that: defying the odds, they challenge the prevailing perspective that students who live in poverty are unlikely to succeed. These high-performing, high-poverty (HP/HP) schools exist in every state and offer a compelling rebuttal to those who suggest that schools serving students who live in poverty, even those with high percentages of such students, cannot disrupt poverty’s adverse influence on learning. Embarking on a courageous journey to challenge mind-sets and eliminate ineffective practices that perpetuate underachievement, leaders in these schools take action in three arenas: building leadership capacity; focusing on three kinds of learning (student, professional, and system); and fostering a healthy, safe, and supportive learning environment. Through exploration and analysis of these schools’ success stories, educators can learn how to improve their own school.

If one school can indeed overcome the powerful and pervasive effects of poverty on student achievement, shouldn’t any school be able to do the same? Over 35 years ago, in an article in Educational Leadership, the late Ron Edmonds asked, “How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of poor children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that basic pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. . . . We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us.” It’s been nearly four decades since Edmonds asked this question, which begs another question—what are we waiting for?

Institute Structure

Based on the award-winning ASCD book Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools and led by the authors, William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, this professional development institute will provide participants with a protocol for collaborative action. Providing the essential foundation for success in any underperforming school, Parrett and Budge’s framework for action clearly outlines how teachers, principals, central office personnel, and other educators can work from various vantage points to create cultures of high expectations and support for all learners—students and adults. High-leverage questions linked to each arena of action, as well as practical strategies and concrete examples of how those strategies are implemented in HP/HP schools, are intended to jumpstart participants’ thinking about how the framework can be applied in their own context. Rather than offering a one-size-fits-all approach, the authors acknowledge the unique situations of individual schools and districts and provide a variety of useful study and planning tools for participants to use to guide the improvement process when they return to their school or district.

Who Should Attend?

Anyone who wants to better understand how to disrupt poverty’s adverse influence on student learning and transform their school into a HP/HP school would benefit from this institute. Individual teacher leaders, principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, specialists, central office personnel, and school trustees that serve underachieving students who live in poverty would particularly benefit, as well as regional and state leaders accountable for improving Title 1, Priority, and Focus schools. Attending as a school, district, or agency team is recommended but individual participation can also be beneficial. Either way, the institute will serve as a catalyst for initiating conversations that lead to improved school experiences for students living in poverty.

Read more about ASCD Institutes.