How to Help Economically Disadvantaged Students

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by James A. Bacon

Over the past several days I have been highlighting how public schools in Southwest Virginia have bucked the statewide trend of declining standardized test scores. While the Northam administration has implemented a top-down “social justice” approach, a consortium of rural Southwest Virginia schools has embraced a totally different  strategy: (1) identifying the most successful teachers across the region; (2) sharing their instructional materials and other best practices; (3)  measuring results and incorporating feedback, and (4) raising expectations.

John Butcher, the author of Cranky’s Blog, has done some follow-up numbers crunching to show just how effective Southwest Virginia’s Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP) has been at lifting the Standards of Learning pass rates of economically disadvantaged students — the very same demographic the social-justice crowd wants, but has failed, to help.

The first two graphs (above) show how the reading and math SOL scores, which were at rough parity with statewide averages in 2014, have zoomed ahead of the pack.

As is universally acknowledged, better-off students (classified in state data as “non-economically disadvantaged”) out-perform economically disadvantaged students in SOL pass rates by a wide margin. The data above don’t tell us whether the improvements in Southwest Virginia are occurring across the board, or primarily among better-off students, or primarily upon economically disadvantaged students. So Butcher dug a little deeper.

Click image to enlarge.

These graphs compare the reading and math SOL pass rates of better-off students and economically disadvantaged students in Southwest Virginia and for Virginia as a whole.

The pass rates for the better-off students is almost identical to the state average.

But the pass rates for economically disadvantaged students in Southwest Virginia, which was superior to the statewide pass rates to begin with in 2014, has grown considerably wider. The difference in math scores has been dramatic.

Bacon’s bottom line. If your goal is to help economically disadvantaged students master the skills they need to progress through and graduate from public schools, then Virginia as a whole needs to be doing more of what the Comprehensive Instructional Program is doing and less of what is coming down from the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond. It is noteworthy that the CIP consortium has expanded beyond its base in Southwest Virginia (educational Region VII) as other rural school districts across the state have opted in with their own funds.

Essentially, we have two approaches to educational reform in Virginia today:

  • Model A: A bottom-up approach of sharing best-practices as identified through data analysis. (CIP)
  • Model B: A top-down approach of imposing solutions informed by “Progressive” social-justice dogma. (Northam administration, City of Richmond, Fairfax County).

In the past I have predicted that the consequence of Northam administration’s focus on “social justice’ would be seen in declining standardized test scores, particularly among the groups (blacks and Hispanics) who are the intended beneficiaries but, in fact, are the unintended victims. With this data, we can refine our predictions. The gap in SOL pass-rate trend lines will widen between school districts that embrace Model A and Model B.

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8 responses to “How to Help Economically Disadvantaged Students”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Do we have a list of the schools that are part of this consortium?

    Is this something the School Boards in those districts have signed on to and implemented as policy in their respective schools?

    If I went to one of those schools website – would I see verbiage about CIP?

    1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
      Jane Twitmyer

      They have a website … …. and the counties are there. I was intrigued to see that Nelson County is part of the group.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Are the counties actually listed? Do we know for a fact that in each of these counties that CIP is formally adopted Policy that defines, for instance, what a highly-effective teacher is and what precisely is the curriculum? Does CIP work in tandem with PALS?

        etc, etc.. there is a darth of information about whether or not this is official policy of these counties or some non-official voluntary path.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Charles City County, a jurisdiction in which 70 percent of the students come from low-income families, is another “poor” jurisdiction that has made great strides in its students’ reading scores in contrast to the state as a whole. It has done it by concentrating on reading skills and by following the progress of each individual student and giving special attention to those who are having trouble. Although it has many disadvantages, the system does have some advantages. It is small, with one elementary school serving the entire county. That means the classes have a mixture of students from all economic classes. It also means that there can be one program that teachers on all grade levels use.

    On a broader scale, I think Jim has presented a false choice of Model A (sharing best practices as identified through data analysis) or Model B (social justice). The two are not mutually exclusive; you can implement social justice approaches while identifying and implementing best practices. In fact, I would argue that identifying and implementing best practices could enable a school system to move closer to social justice. And the State Superintendent has said that one of his department’s priorities will be to identify those practices of the top performing schools that can be replicated elsewhere. This does not sound like “top-down dogma” to me.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      In Charles City County (pop approx 7,000) 8% of the families are living below the poverty line. How does that equate to 70% low income? The median income for a family is $49,361.

      1. Good question, Don.

        A word of warning to all of us discussing these issues. (I have contributed to this confusion more than anyone.) It is important to distinguish between the percentage of people living in “poverty” in a jurisdiction and the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” kids in a school district. Economic disadvantage is determined by participation in free or subsidized school lunch programs. Those programs serve many kids from families above the poverty line. We have to be careful about making apples-to-oranges comparisons.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Economically disadvantage should be defined here explicitly, so we know what it really means in the context of discussions here.

          but basically it means that people are economically and educationally disadvantaged – that while they may not be in poverty – they earn far less that better educated folks so they do not have the economical means to live in higher income neighborhoods where the schools are typically better than low-income neighborhood schools.

          That’s in school districts that have many neighborhoods and many neighborhood schools – as opposed to the counties alluded to here where are typically county-wide or region-wide schools that serve a more diverse range of parental income and education.

          And it looks like what they have done is direct their funding to basic education and away from higher level academic programs that serve the academically higher level kids.

          That’s not what happens in denser multi-school counties/localities where the schools are aligned with the demographics of the neighborhoods they serve and in the higher income neighborhoods – the parents effectively advocate for higher level academic staffing and programs so their kids will grow up equipped to attend College.

          So first off, we really don’t know enough about the specifics of the curriculum of CIP to try to transfer it/model it to more urban counties with multiple schools that have wildly differing SOL scores – in schools in the same county.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    A whole lot of generalities here. For example, Sharing Best Practices means nothing. SOL tests are by nature very narrow and are often very misleading in judging quality of education. We need go much deeper here. Otherwise we are spinning words not knowledge, like the Virginia Board of Education.

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