What The L.A. Times Teacher Series Got Right: Not All High-Poverty Public Schools Are Places of Despair

Now that I've written about what the L.A. Times' teacher assessment series got wrong, I want to be fair and write about what I think the paper got right. Each yellow flag on the map below, created by the Times, represents an elementary school with low average test scores in reading and math, but an excellent record of improving student scores from one year to the next. And each of these schools is a traditional public school; the Times couldn't include charters in this project because charters are not required, as traditional public schools in California are, to track this detailed student-teacher data.

View School API vs. academic growth in a larger map

Los Angeles natives say this map demonstrates that many high-poverty schools–the kinds of schools educated parents fight to keep their kids out of–are very good at making progress with the students they teach. This comports with some of the most interesting new education research out there, including that of Jane Hannaway at the Urban Institute, who found that high-poverty and middle class schools have similar average teacher effectiveness scores, but that in the middle class schools, most of the teachers are clustered around the average, while in the high-poverty schools, teachers are more likely to be either extremely good or extremely bad.

This map does a lot to push back against the idea, unfortunately promoted by some charter school advocates, that high-poverty traditional public schools are almost uniformly places of despair from which children must be rescued. Both charter schools and traditional public schools employ excellent teachers with a record of success working with low-income students. The key is expanding this supply of teachers so that more high-needs students have access to them, regardless of what kind of school they attend.

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