M. Night Shyamalan, the film writer and director, recently published his own research on why American students under-perform their peers on international tests. Those of us who read educational research are not surprised when he concludes that low performance in education is rooted in poverty. If you eliminate the poorest students, and focused on the American schools with less than 10% students of poverty, American students performed as well (in fact better) than the averages for foreign students in any nation. He also points out that Finland, which has among the highest performing students in the world, has a poverty rate of less than 4%.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that America will solve the poverty problem anytime soon. Over 20% of American students live below the poverty line, and that number has been increasing. But the reality is that poverty is not an excuse for poor education.
There are public schools serving poor students and doing a great job. Meadow Woods Middle School in Orlando, Florida is everything you would expect to find in a failing school, except that it is not failing. It is big, with about 1,200 students in grades 6 through 8. It is poor, with 85% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Over 70% of its students are Hispanic, many with Limited English Proficiency. Because of special facilities, the school has an unusually high Special Education population. Yet, the school consistently makes passing grades based on its performance on the state’s proficiency tests, and it has for over a decade. More importantly, from the day they arrive as 6th graders until they leave as 8th graders, students continue to improve. The lowest performing students (the bottom 25% that are the really hard challenges) make gains on standardized tests that out-perform their peers statewide, thereby closing the gap.
The keys to success include leadership. Just a few minutes with him on the phone and you can tell that the Principal, Dr. Isom “Chuck” Rivers, is passionate about bringing educational theory to classroom practice. He will tell you that the additional keys are: Training and placing the right teachers in the classroom, and; Diagnosing and remediating the skill gaps that come with students who enter his classrooms. This last point requires integrating technology and teaching, and his models are highly successful.
Meadow Woods has been using New Century software to remediate skill gaps for over a decade.