This article is the first of several aimed at offering a refreshing look at the recipe for making a great public school. First, however, I will write about what doesn’t make schools better. By doing so I intend to debunk the erroneous narratives dominating the discussion about school improvement. I call this set of narratives the poverty narrative.
I will debunk the poverty narrative by demonstrating that recent expenditures on items typically recommended by it, did not produce the desired academic outcomes for low-income students at 15 different high schools.
Summary of Findings
- 15 public high schools from Local District West, a sub-district of the Los Angeles Unified School District were used in this study. The data showed that schools with lower Rating scores and with more low-income students consistently had higher expenditures per pupil. Click the Download button below to view the actual data.
- When income status was removed from the equation I found a strong negative correlation (r=-0.76) between expenditures per pupil and school Rating. From that finding I derived that if a school’s per pupil expenditures is above the median then its rating will most likely be below the median. See the graph below.
- To prove the poverty narrative a failed theory I was required to debunk the three myths embedded within the poverty narrative.
Giving schools with a low school Rating score more money, because it also had a high percentage of low-income students, did not result in poor students doing better in school. Like in past years the poverty narrative failed.
So what doesn’t make schools better? Blindly throwing money at schools with many low-income and low performing students does not make schools better. The details are below.
Why discuss what doesn’t make schools better?
Removing the poverty narrative from the discussion of what makes a great school is imperative.
The poverty narrative about school improvement focuses on low-income urban students, disadvantaged by their socio-economic status. This narrative explains that schools with high quantities of poor students will produce higher performing students if they are provided with equal or more resources (e.g., counselors, credentialed teachers, small classroom size, etc…) than affluent students. In fact, this idea is the basis of Title I, the Federal law that provides supplemental funding to all schools with a student population that is at least 50% socio-economically disadvantaged.
The reach of Title I, a $19 Billion funding program, makes the poverty narrative an attractive and required element in every annual School Plan for Student Achievement. Every school report, every grant application involving public education, and any type of school plan reserves a special place for the poverty narrative. That includes each of the School Accountability Report Cards (SARC) for the schools in this study. Click here to view the SARC for Hawkins CHAS, one of the high schools included in this study. The SARC was the source from where we obtained most of our data.
The poverty narrative is a failed erroneous narrative that causes the creation of erroneous solutions to low achievement. These solutions either fail to work, or they work temporarily. The reaction is always to ask for more funding or to propose a “different” or “new” program that is based on the same principles of the poverty narrative. At best, the new program will be as ineffective as the prior.
In the worst of cases poverty gets confounded with other indicators, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and immigrant status. From that emerge hyper-complex problems that aren’t real and solutions that miss the mark by more each time. It is in this vicious cycle of spend, fail, improve nothing, spend more, fail again, improve nothing that public education is stuck. The poverty narrative has to go.
What do the experts on education say about what doesn’t make a school better?
Experts in education, the primary carriers of the poverty narrative, believe that allowing resource disparities between poor students and affluent students doesn’t make schools better. In fact, they believe it would be worse if these disparities were allowed persist. Below are the most common scenarios where disparities are measured. I call these scenarios the three myths. They say public schools:
- Are underfunded overall
- In poorer communities are more underfunded than those in more affluent communities
- With a poorer student population perform poorly because they are unable to provide the following conditions for their students like the more affluent schools can. Those conditions are:
- Schools with lower populations
- Access to a rigorous college-prep course load for 100% of the students
- A fully credentialed faculty with each teacher specialized in the subject matter they teach
- More college and academic counselors than whatever it is they presently have
- More support staff assignments than they presently have
- Lower class sizes than what the current average may be
- A school name that includes the words STEM, Magnet, or Learning Community
- Better paid teachers
- An organizational structure that breaks a large school into several smaller ones, each with a different academic focus.
What does the data say doesn’t make schools better?
I conducted an analysis of 15 high schools to test the poverty narrative, and to isolate the factors that the data shows have a higher probability of having the greatest influence on school improvement. I will discuss those findings in a future report.
As stated at the beginning of this report, the findings of this study validate my claim that allowing the poverty narrative into the school improvement process does not make schools better. That conclusion was arrived at by debunking each of the three myths that define the poverty narrative.
Note: I will touch superficially on how I conducted my analysis. Those interested in hearing a more in-depth understanding and how I arrived at my conclusions please visit the CTD Development Services Inc YouTube channel and watch the Comparing High Schools Playlist. Additional analysis resources can also be found in Appendix A of this report.
Findings From My Non-expert Study and Analysis
Key Performance Indicator
The key performance indicator I trust and used to identify effective schools was the School Rating score used by greatschools.org. I used this score to rank and sort 15 high schools, all in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Local District West region.
Myth #1: Public Schools Are Underfunded Overall
- During the 2016-17 school year you spent $739 Billion ($738,546,661,427)
- Your generosity sent 51 Million K-12 children across the country to school (51,149,433)
- On average, the price tag for sending each of these children to school, for free, cost $14,439. That’s the equivalent of a private school education
Do countries with higher achieving students do better because they spend more money than the United States?
According to Insider’s report “The US Spends more on education than any other country, but students lag behind academically.” Read the whole article to see how much money higher achieving countries spend per pupil.
Conclusion about Myth #1: Debunked
Myth #2: Public schools in poorer communities are more underfunded than those in more affluent communities
Conclusion About Myth #2: Debunked
Myth #3: Public schools with a poorer student population perform worse than those with a more affluent student population because they are unable to provide an equal level of resources for their students like the more affluent schools do.
1. Schools with more low-income students can and do provide their students a comparable or higher level of resources than more affluent schools.
2. At all 15 schools at least 67 percent of the students are socio-economically disadvantaged. There is no such thing as an affluent public school. Affluent students go to private schools.
3. Conclusion: It’s a myth that student poverty is why schools underperform
Continued emphasis on income status is not only inconsequential, it hurts students all around
4. The chart above shows that lower performing schools are smaller, their students have the same level of access to a college-prep course load, have counselors with lower caseloads, receive a higher rate of supplemental staff assignments, receive more money per pupil, and enjoy smaller class sizes. In other words, the low-performing schools overwhelmingly receive more resources and enjoy more “favorable conditions” than higher performing schools.
5. Conclusion: The more money we give a low-performing school the worse the students do
Conclusion about Myth #3: Debunked
Coming Up Next
Want Better Schools? Let’s Talk About The History of Public Education in the United States – We could double, triple, and quadruple the public education budget, and we would still have low achievement and unequal outcomes like we presently do. Why? Our public school system was never intended to prepare all students for college. Quite on the contrary. As long as any remnants of the principles that drove the evolution of public education remain a part of the discourse, we’ll remain stuck in the same paradigm that has foiled every school reform movement since bussing and integration through common core standards and small learning communities.
In my next article, we will unpack those principles through a historical analysis of public education. You’ll see how these principles make up the foundation of the poverty narrative. Below is a short sample of the data we’ll analyze.
Time to Reset and Retool – The world is already a different place, and while it passes us by, we stare with our mouths wide-open wondering what’s happened to us, and worse, what’s happening to our kids. Shut your mouth and get on board. What you see below isn’t what’s coming. It represents what already is.
Our schools are still stuck on teaching kids how to read in the 9th grade. Meanwhile, China and Germany have already reset and are retooling every aspect of life to accommodate the demands of the 21st century economy. That includes retooling their education programs. In this article I’ll discuss the role our public schools must and will play to catch us up to our international trad partners and competitors.
Want to learn how easy it is to teach all kids the basics without wasting billions of dollars? All you need are role models who give a damn, treat you with dignity, and who hold you accountable in a caring way. See for yourself. Watch How Freeway Rick Ross Lost a Billion Dollars (minutes 8 to 20, or longer if you want) on Valuetainment’s YouTube channel.
Appendix: Summary of Data Used In This Study
What data did I use and where did I get it from?
- 32 indicators
- Data sourced from the following sources for EACH school
- 2018-19 School Accountability Report Card (SARC) Published 2019-20 School Year
- 2018-19 California School Dashboard
- 2019-20 LAUSD School Experience Survey (SES)