Poorly Supported Assertions Undermine Report on ‘High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools’

Review of Failure Is Not an Option

Mark Paige, (508) 910-9037, mpaige@umassd.edu
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net

URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/akgwcur

BOULDER, CO (January 15, 2013) – A recent report attempts to identify common attributes of successful schools. But, according to a review of the report, it fails to provide sound support for its assertions, and it ignores information found in its own pages about the essential need to address student poverty if education outcomes are to improve.

The report, Failure Is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success, was written by Carolin Hagelskamp and Christopher DiStasi and published by the organization Public Agenda.

It was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Mark Paige, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and UMASS Law. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Failure presents profiles of nine Ohio schools characterized as “high-poverty” and as having shown “sustained success.” The profiles are constructed from a series of interviews with school administrators, teachers, students, and parents. The report identifies 11 attributes that the authors assert are found in the schools, and it then offers six recommendations to help other schools achieve and sustain similar success.

In his review, Paige points to a number of areas where the report falls short of standards for quality research. For example, the asserted connection between the report’s recommendations and the so-called “key attributes” it identifies as common to the successful schools is unclear. Additionally, the report provides little useful explanation of how the “key attributes” and the recommendations were derived.

Paige also points out that the nine schools in the sample do not all meet the stated criteria of “high-poverty” schools, with four of them having poverty levels near the average for schools in the state. More generally, the rationale for the selection of these nine schools is not adequately explained.

But Paige identifies the report’s “biggest deficiency” as follows: “while it is presented as addressing equity needs, and the interviewees pointed out that poverty-related factors must be addressed, the recommendations fail to propose remedies or explicitly address these factors.”

The report’s recommendations for school-level operations are generally reasonable, but the students in high-poverty schools need much more. If the report were to acknowledge these outside-school needs and to include recommendations to attend to those needs, it would more completely address its chosen topic. But it would correspondingly step out of the “no excuses” or “miracle schools” mindset, which the authors appear wedded to. The consequence, Paige concludes, is that the report has little to offer to advance school reform and educational equity.

Find Mark Paige’s review on the NEPC website at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-failure-not-option

Find Failure is Not an Option by Carolin Hagelskamp and Christopher DiStasion the web at:

The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/.

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