Poverty Questions for Students

Is Your School Asking the Right Questions About Poverty?

At the age of 13, Devon walked away from his education. Nobody is aware of his current whereabouts today. It’s highly unlikely that he’s at school right now. Devon, who would have been 13 years old at the time, was going to be held back in the sixth grade for an additional year. He experienced embarrassment and a sense of isolation. He did not wish to be associated with a fresh set of children who were of a younger age. The fact of the matter was that Devon’s poor reading skills had been overlooked for many years. Now, when he was just starting out in his teenage years, he was informed that he would be returning. He attended the first three weeks of class before he vanished without a trace. The teachers at Devon’s school had proposed an intervention — retention — with the best of intentions, but it ended up having the exact opposite of the effect that they had hoped for.

The use of suspension or expulsion as a remedy for academic failure is ineffective. This conclusion is supported by research that spans sixty years. Because of this, we consider it to be the paradigmatic example of the many deeply ingrained mentalities, policies, structures, and practises that are commonly utilised in schools to “allow a student to catch up” and, at times, as a punishment for not keeping up with the rest of the class.

Schools that have a high percentage of students living in poverty make it a priority to develop their students’ leadership potential in order to better meet the requirements of students like Devon. As a necessary component of their dedication to that work, leaders aggressively challenge long-held beliefs and strategies that are detrimental to progress. They are unrelenting in their pursuit of this goal. They are aware that doing nothing contributes to continued low achievement and undermines other practises that are effective. But where exactly do they start?

“Barriers to Building Leadership Capacity” rubric showing Progress Indicators across the top: Getting Started, Gaining Momentum, and Sustaining Gains; with Refining Counterproductive Mindsets and Practices along the Y axis. Getting Started, Gaining Momentum, and Sustaining Gains.
Credit for the image goes to the ASCD, and it was provided by William Parrett and Kathleen Budge.
To download the image, please click here (PDF).
Utilize the following in order to direct student learning and to assist in reflecting on the state of affairs at your institution “Are We Perpetuating Underachievement? What Is It That We Have Discarded? “rubric that identifies seven specific mind-sets, policies, structures, and practises that high-performing, high-poverty schools have helped to identify as barriers to building leadership capacity and improving achievement. To download the rubric, click on the image to the right.

Asking the Right Questions and Finding the Leverage Points

because high-performing schools in high-poverty areas are places where students are encouraged to reflect and inquire, the work that school leaders do in these schools is better characterised in the form of questions rather than in formulaic lists of strategies. If the primary objective of a school is to significantly improve the academic performance of its students, in particular those from low-income families, the answers to the following questions should provide valuable and insightful direction:

Are we making efficient use of the available monetary, material, and human resources?
Are we making the most of our time, extending it for students who aren’t meeting their potential, and reorganising it so that it more effectively supports professional development?
Do we have a data system that is functional for the teachers and administrators in the school?

Are We Deploying Resources Effectively?

Principals in high-performing schools located in high-poverty areas make it their top priority to ensure that their schools have adequate financial, material, and human resources so that their students and adults can be successful (Ball, 2001; Leader, 2010). The leaders of the schools that we researched started the remarkable turnarounds that they would eventually achieve by making difficult decisions, many of which concerned the allocation of available resources. Not only did they make creative use of the school’s already existing resources, but they also frequently secured additional funding from the district office and made effective use of relationships with external stakeholders in order to garner support for the school.

Because personnel costs typically account for somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of an average school’s total budget, it stands to reason that one of the most important resource-management priorities should be the pursuit and maintenance of a talented workforce. When authority to make decisions regarding resources, most importantly personnel, is decentralised to the school level, the principal and other site-based leaders have the ability to further their improvement efforts by hiring teachers and staff members whose qualifications match the requirements of the school.

When times are difficult economically, it is more important than ever to have efficient management of resources. The success of the school is maintained by the principals through collaborative efforts with the faculty and staff to maintain focus on the priorities that direct their work. They are well aware that reductions in essential resources could put their hard-won gains in jeopardy. Confronting these challenges becomes their top priority as leaders, particularly as they work to build a talented workforce and keep them there.

Are We Optimizing Time?

How efficiently one makes use of one’s time has a direct bearing on one’s ability to keep talented employees. Improving the quality of academic learning time is likely to be beneficial for all students, but it may be especially important for students who live in poverty, as they may require additional high-quality time. Additionally, educators require time to learn, particularly in situations in which they are learning in conjunction with others. The education of both students and teachers should be viewed as two sides of the same coin. When teachers are given the opportunity to work together on their professional development, they are better able to maximise the academic learning time that occurs during the school day and make the most effective plans for learning that occurs outside of the school day for their students.

A student’s academic learning time can be extended in at least two different ways: either by physically increasing the amount of time that is available for students to learn, or by making better use of the time that is allotted to them during the standard school day. Schools that serve high-poverty areas and have excellent academic results do both. Students who are falling behind academically and who live in poorer households typically need more classroom time to catch up to their more successful peers. Depending on the needs of their students, schools may provide a combination of after-school and before-school tutoring, weekend and holiday make-up classes, full-day kindergarten, summer school, and sheltered classroom support.

Summer instruction in particular may be just as important as any other extended time intervention because it serves to maintain continuous learning, counters the loss of achievement gains caused by long gaps in school, and provides needed nutrition and other auxiliary supports. This is because summer instruction counteracts the loss of achievement gains caused by long gaps in school (Borman & Dowling , 2006).

Do We Have a Data System That Works for Classroom and School Leaders?

Accurate information is necessary for effective management of resources (including money, people, and time). All of the schools that participated in our research set up data systems to assist them in making decisions. In point of fact, utilising a decision-making process that is informed by data was one of the two explanations that was offered for the success of the schools (the other was fostering caring relationships).

Building and utilising a data system is one of the most important functions that a school can perform to make progress toward addressing the issue of low academic achievement among students who come from low-income households. Leaders in HP/HP schools encourage students to take regular, honest looks at themselves in the mirror. These schools have access to up-to-date and accurate data, which enables school and classroom leaders to design and successfully implement needs-driven instruction and interventions, design goals and benchmarks, monitor progress, and make course corrections along the way. Perhaps most importantly, these schools are able to set goals and benchmarks, monitor progress, and make midcourse corrections.

A highly regarded expert on the application of data in educational settings, Victoria Bernhardt (2005), suggests that the following four different types of data should be easily accessible:

Action Advice

Information pertaining to the education of the students (for example, classroom-based assessments, standardised test data, teacher observations)
Information pertaining to the perspectives that various stakeholders hold regarding the nature of the educational setting, as well as values, beliefs, and attitudes
Information pertaining to the demographics of the school and its students, such as attendance rates, graduation rates, racial and ethnic composition of the student body, socioeconomic status, gender, years of teaching experience, and educational levels of faculty members.
Information pertaining to organisational structures, procedures, programmes, and policies (for example, after-school tutoring programs, RTI Tier 2 intervention programs, summer schools)
Direction and Guidance
Think about the finances of your school. Do you consider your budget a moral document? Is it reflective of the values, goals, and priorities that you hold as a school?
Conduct an audit of your current methods of hiring. Do they lead to the hiring of staff members who are a good fit for the requirements of your school?
Take the necessary steps to keep your talented employees. Have you done an audit to determine the various ways in which your school encourages talented people to remain there?
Maintain extremely high standards. Have you conducted an analysis of the practises that are currently in place to ensure that all educators have high expectations for both their students and for themselves?
Give students additional time for learning. Have you considered the possibility of extending the students’ learning time in order to improve their performance?
Examine the schedule for your upcoming classes. Is the emphasis placed on learning, as well as the requirements of students who are falling behind?
Make time available for continued professional development. Have you reorganised the schedule and calendar in order to provide opportunities for professional development that are embedded in the work?
Examine the process by which decisions are made. Are multiple types of data considered when making decisions about instruction both in the individual classroom and on a larger scale throughout the school?
Conduct an equity audit. Have you conducted an assessment to determine how well your school is meeting the needs of each individual student?
If you have any questions or have found any additional action advice for transforming high-poverty schools into high-performing ones, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.