ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership Preview: Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools: 12 Strategies That Make the Difference


ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership is right around the corner and we are here to provide you with a sneak peek into the conference schedule. The conference promises to give school leaders like you new ideas for your leadership knowledge base, help you focus on what matters most in leadership, and connect you with global educational leaders.

Kathleen Budge and William Parrett on turning around high-poverty schoolsBy Kathleen Budge and William Parrett

Two words—expect success—characterize how high-poverty schools become high performing. Educators in high-poverty/high-performing (HP/HP) schools expect students who live in poverty to succeed. At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, of course. As educators, don’t we all think our students will be successful?” No, we don’t. We may say we do, but we don’t. It’s that simple and that complex.

As we work with educators across the country, we ask the question: “What do people in the United States believe about people who live in poverty?” The answers are predictable: they are lazy; they don’t care about education; and they could get out of poverty if they just buckled down in school and got a good education. Such stereotypes about people who live in poverty are entrenched in our society.

In our book, Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools, we tackle these and other commonly held stereotypes of people who live in poverty. For example, adults who live in poverty actually spend more hours working than do their wealthier counterparts. On average, they work the equivalent of nearly two full-time jobs.

We address the complex issue of why it looks like parents who live in poverty “don’t care” about education. People living in poverty have similar attitudes about their children’s educations as do their more affluent counterparts, but they often have less access to school involvement opportunities because they work multiple jobs, work evenings, do not have paid leave, are unable to afford child care, or do not have transportation.

For many adults who live in poverty, school was a daily reminder of the many ways they did not belong and a constant source of stress. We know there is a link between parental education level and parental expectations related to education, but the link cannot be attributed to devaluing education. Rather, parents with limited education experiences are likely to be limited in their ability to discuss education aspirations beyond their own experiences.

In our book, we also point to some of the ways in which “a good education” is systematically denied to many students who live in poverty because of practices and policies that perpetuate underachievement, such as tracking and retention. Check out who is in the advanced placement courses in your school? How many of the students in those classes live in poverty? Are students who live in poverty disproportionally represented in special education? Who has been retained? Not all students who live in poverty underachieve, but when they do, who teaches them in your school? Too often the least qualified teachers are assigned to the students confronting the greatest challenges.

As humans, our mental maps shape our beliefs and actions. What are mental maps? Formed over our lifetimes, they embody the images, assumptions, and personal perspectives we hold about people, institutions, and the world in general (Argyris & Schon, 1974). This is important because mental maps form the foundation for our professional practice. In other words, they influence our beliefs, values, and actions as educators. For the most part, we are unaware of our mental maps and are rarely afforded the opportunity to examine their influence. To complicate the matter, when we are placed in a situation that causes us to question our mental maps, we tend to reject information that conflicts with what we believe to be true. In this way, these maps limit our ability to change.

In HP/HP schools, excellence in teaching matters—as does a high degree of leadership capacity—but something more is required. In these schools, educators need to believe in every student’s ability to meet high standards and in their own ability to teach them. Our sense of efficacy improves as we become informed. As professional educators, we must engage in the worthwhile struggle of separating stereotype from fact, challenging our biases, and becoming ambassadors of accurate information. Only then will we truly expect success for every one of our students.

Interested in attending the Conference on Educational Leadership? There are only a few spots left! Register today!


Argyris, Chris; Schön, Donald (1974). Theory in Practice. Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.



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