How low-income schools get high-octane results

What's interesting about the suggestions from educators at successful high-poverty schools is what's missing: You'll find almost no references to the need for tough disciplinary measures, anger-management courses, better teacher credentials, or smaller class size. Instead, the focus is how to shift resources toward higher student achievement and teacher prep on the job.

Examples of what works:

*Restructure the school day to spend more time on core academic subjects. The Education Trust found that 86 percent of successful schools in its survey (see story, right) had increased the time spent on reading; 66 percent increased time teaching math.

Outstanding schools provide extended school days and years, after-school and summer programs: "Time on task is the key to progress in time.... Effective principals reject the notion that teaching is an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. They expect the same of their teachers," notes the Heritage Foundation.

*Improve the quality of teaching with more and better professional development for teachers. The Education Trust found that schools in its survey spent more than 10 percent of their federal dollars on professional development - nearly double the national average for comparable schools.

Master teachers can help faculty implement the curriculum, direct peer evaluations, or head team teaching.

*Monitor student progress and provide early support to low performers. More than 4 in 5 schools in the Education Trust survey say that they have such systems in place. Testing is used for diagnostic purposes to adjust teaching and define outside tutorials to meet student needs. Some schools provide weekly progress reports to parents.

*Focus parent involvement on areas that most directly affect student achievement - not just bake sales or band uniforms. Help parents learn more about the new standards expected of students. Some schools establish contracts with parents to read to their children, check homework, and keep in touch with their assignments.

The Education Trust notes that nearly 1 in 3 schools reported that 25 to 50 percent of their parents were involved in processes to help them understand the quality of student work.

*Set and monitor school goals. Make sure that new accountability systems also have consequences for adults. Most states do not hold schools, teachers, or principals accountable for student learning. But the Education Trust reports that nearly half of high-performing schools in their survey held principals subject to sanctions if their students did not improve - and 35 percent report that teachers are held responsible for student achievement.

*Give principals freedom to decide who teaches, what is taught, and how to spend school resources. "Schools serving low-income children are often poorly funded. Even on shoestring budgets, effective principals make their schools work, but innovation and flexibility are the keys to their success.... Effective principals either are given their freedom or take it for themselves," concludes the Heritage Foundation.

*Use standards to guide school activity, assess student progress, and design the curriculum. The Education Trust reports that nearly every school in its survey (94 percent) uses standards to assess student progress and 77 percent offer regular ways for teachers to measure student work against state standards.

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