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December 1, 2009
Vol. 67
No. 4

Bits From the Blog

What have Educational Leadershipreaders been talking about? Read these comments from Inservice, the ASCD blog (www.ascd.org/blog), and then visit the blog to share your thoughts.

Why Can't Any High-Poverty School Become High-Performing?

In response to Kathleen Budge and William Parrett's September 30, 2009, guest post related to their October 2009 EL article"Tough Questions for Tough Times":
I believe that many teachers bring a self-fulfilling prophesy into their classrooms. They set low expectations for their students because of their low socioeconomic status and teach only the fundamentals. Teachers need to discriminate less and go the extra mile for every student regardless of background or ability. If they think of their students as future leaders instead of future delinquents, they will be motivated to impart as much knowledge to those children as humanly possible. —Debbie
I teach in a high-poverty school, but unfortunately, we are not a high-performing school. I couldn't agree more that there is no reason why we couldn't be high achieving. My belief, as is yours, is that it needs to be a district- and schoolwide initiative starting with the superintendent. I could take the easy way out and complain and put the blame on others, but that happens too often. We need to band together to achieve one common goal—students who are working to their potential and far beyond, which in turn would produce a high-performing school. —Jill Jacques
I teach in the Juvenile Detention Jail. Most of our students come from urban areas they call the 'hood. I take the attitude that I don't care where you come from as long as you want to learn. Some of my students really want to be educated, but others are just waiting to get out of jail so they can sell drugs.
I set high expectations for each of my students and give them positive feedback. If it needs to be redone, I explain what I expect. I call my students "leaders" because I want them to think that they can make a difference in their home schools when they return.
Often I hear horror stories. Some of my students are in jail because their family got them hooked on drugs as children. Now, they are paying the price for their parents' sins.
I treat each student as a successful individual. Some live up to my goal; others don't care. They have been programmed to not care about school. They have told me they can make twice as much money selling drugs as I make in one year of teaching. We discuss the consequences of the trade—being arrested and in jail again, dead because of a deal gone wrong. I try everything I can think of to instill positive behavior, but some are not open. Therefore, my standardized test scores are all over the board. It is hard to teach students who don't want to be taught. —Kelley Thomason
I work in a high-poverty underperforming school. I do not expect to say that for long. Each year our test scores are rising. We have created a positive school environment with positive relationships among teachers, students, parents, and administration. We have a strong focus not just on student learning, but on teacher and administration learning as well. We all strive to have safe and supportive learning environments in our classrooms. Most important, we have high expectations for our students, and my administrator has high expectations of the teachers. While these practices are not always easy, when I see how far I have come as a teacher and how far my school and the students in it have come in the last couple of years, it makes every bit of work worth it. Next year we will get to say we are a high-performing school, and we will have earned it. —Amber
I agree that many educators, parents, and administrators have a self-fulfilling prophecy about students with socioeconomic challenges. I work in a school that was on the low-expectation merry-go-round. If parents were more proactive, if students were more focused, if administrators worked with teachers, if teachers really cared, and the list goes on. With the introduction of a new administration, failure was no longer an option. Educators worked harder than they ever had, as did administrators, parents, and students. Low expectations were no longer tolerated. We went from being a Needs Improvement school to being a School of Excellence in three years. This was not easy, but as all concerned raised the bar and worked together, things began to turn around. It was a domino effect; when administration worked with teachers and they felt valued, teachers worked harder, parents became proud of their children's accomplishments, and students worked harder. This new feeling of success was addictive for all. —Kelly Barnes

Laura Varlas is a former ASCD writer and editor.

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