Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools

While the notion of low-income and its effects on the educational system is something often discussed in mainstream media, the solution for such remains elusive. As a society, we are certainly aware economic privilege can and does exist, but we have yet to figure out what we can do to improve the situation. How can we turn a high-poverty school into a high-performing school?

Well, this is the very question William H. Parret and Kathleen M. Budge asked themselves and attempted to answer in their insightful book, Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools. By looking at current high-poverty, high-performing (hereon referred to as “HP/HP”) schools, Parret and Budge noted successful practices that could be adopted to current high-poverty, low-performing schools.

They discuss the various adverse effects of poverty on educational institutions, and then study each HP/LP school as they change their approach to education and become HP/HP schools. By watching what schools stopped, what schools changed, and what schools improved, Parret and Budge were able to synthesize some main points that could be applied to HP/LP schools.

Essentially, the authors state their study revolved around three main components of performance: “building leadership capacity, fostering a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment; and focusing on a student, professional, and system learning.” They also identified several specific strategies HP/LP schools can begin implementing to improve their performance, some of which are listed below:

Establish Social and Medical Services within the School.

Known as “full-service schools,” these educational institutions generally provide students with access to social workers, physicians, dentists, and vision and hearing specialists, among other social and medical services. By establishing value within the school outside of solely education, these schools are engaging not just the student, but the student’s family as well. This added value and increased connection between a lower-income student’s family and the school will then inspire that family to pay better attention to their child’s academic performance, as the child’s academic performance is no longer representative of only education, but is representative of education in addition to various social and medical services. Applied on a school-wide scale, this increased attention to students’ academic performance at home will boost the school’s academic performance as a whole.

Offer Mentor Services.

Considering the familial circumstances of many lower-income children may well be lacking, it only makes sense that offering a meaningful relationship with an established adult could make a tremendous difference. By offering mentor services, said lower-income children are not only gaining added time and personal instruction to improve their academic performance, but they are being exposed to a stable and successful man or woman who could very well provide a perspective the boy or girl may need in their daily lives, but lack at home.

Offer Community-Based Learning and Service Project Opportunities

In the same vein as establishing social and medical services within the school, by offering community-based learning, schools are establishing value for the families of their lower-income students outside of solely education, which then urges families to take on a greater interest in their child’s academic career. By brainstorming and executing community-service projects like raising money for families in need, building park benches, or volunteering at any one of many nonprofit organizations, schools are providing value outside of education, teaching children to give back, and encouraging academic improvement.

In fact, such “service-learning” has actually been known to cause “enhanced academic achievement, increased school attendance, improved student motivation to learn…” and many other benefits. Clearly, such altruistic projects do pay off.

There are many avenues to increase performance at high-poverty schools, and the above suggestions represent a mere fraction of what can be done. For a more comprehensive resource, I encourage you to visit edutopia.org.