The price tag of failing schools

The price tag of failing schools

     It’s no secret that many of our nations failing schools are located in areas where there is a high concentration of poverty.  However; it is surprising that many of the turn-around initiatives from the federal and state levels do not sufficiently address this issue.  For instance, under the Title I School Improvement Grant (SIG) states are awarded funds to assist them with turnaround efforts for their schools that rank in the bottom 5 percent for achievement. With the SIG, schools that are considered tier I & II must select one of the four intervention models that will drive their turnaround efforts. (See Figure below)   A district with more than nine Title I schools cannot implement the same model in all schools.  On the surface of each model it would appear as if the principal and teachers are the main contributors of a failing schools.  In each model the principal is replaced and the teacher-when not dismissed-is provided professional development and is constantly measured by their student outcome data.  President Obama(2011) stated, “Outstanding teachers and principals, a common mission, a culture of high expectation-that’s what it takes to turn a school around.”  The president’s statement is indeed true, but in many of our schools those same conditions are met with little evidence of success in turnaround efforts.  According to Joan McRobbie (2015) “What’s been pointedly ignored is the role that poverty plays in school failure.”


     I have spent over 12 years working in public schools that are located in neighborhoods with a high poverty rate.  The majority of the teachers are committed and passionate about the profession.   A few of them are first year teachers and provisionally licensed-a typical stereotype of teachers working in a low performing school.  However; the majority were fully licensed and highly qualified.  Most of the teachers reported to work every morning prepared and excited to see their students.  However, the energy and the morale of the teachers quickly diminish towards the end of the second nine weeks.  McRobbie states (2015) “Educators efforts are swamped by concentrated poverty; by daunting numbers of low income students and the magnitude of the needs those kids have, through no fault of their own.”  Take a moment and think about the last time you were hungry and could not eat because you were at a meeting or you left your lunch at home. You can even think about the last time that you took an intensive exercise class at the gym and were not able to take a shower because your spouse called and needed you to run an important errand.  During this time, were you motivated to work harder?  Were you in the mood to be social?  I am sure that you felt uncomfortable and maybe even a little moody.  Luckily, for you it is a temporary inconvenience.  However; in low performing schools there are children that have this as their reality daily-of course the causes for their hunger and lack of access to a shower and clean clothes is a result of poverty .  I have witnessed educators at these “failing schools” go above and beyond for their students.   They help make their students hardship seem a little better during the day.  It’s not uncommon for a teacher to pack an extra lunch so that their student will have something to eat at night when they go home.  I have encountered numerous situations like this and the teachers at these schools have to wear multiple “hats”.  However; none of the above models for school improvement provide assistance to teachers for helping these schools to deal with the effects that poverty has on the students.

     It is neither my belief nor my intention to discount the federal governments’ model and efforts towards school improvement.  However, it is my strong belief that many of the models for education reform begin with the focal point on the principals and their teachers.  I believe that education reform will have more of an impact when it starts with identifying the needs of the students.  Geoffrey Canada is a transformational leader that provides one of the greatest examples of how successful schools can become when the students needs are identified and met. In the video posted below he describes the future cost of our failing schools.


McRobbie, J. (2015, February 2). The Elephant in the school failure debate. Retrieved March 4, 2015, from

Obama, B. (2011, March 4). Remarks by the President at Miami Central High School in Miami, Florida. Retrieved March 7, 2015, from

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