What Makes a “Good” School?

Posted in: Club Newsletter, Featured, In The News, Reflections Articles

What Makes a “Good” School?
Freda Deskin, Ph.D.

Most parents will say they want their child in a good school or that they moved to a certain community or area school because it had a good school. Business leaders lament that new businesses will only move to areas with good schools. Schools receive grades of A from the state. But what IS a “good” school?

Typically, people mean they want a school with a history or reputation for high achievement. They often will name some of those schools within the region. What do these “good” schools have in common?Studies show a child’s zip code significantly predicts their academic achievement due to various interconnected factors that reflect the socio-economic conditions of the neighborhood (The Costs of Inequity: Education’s the One Key That Rules Them All, The Harvard Gazette, February 15, 2016).

According to 2013 key findings from the Scholars Strategy Network, “Children from disadvantaged households often do less well in school than their classmates from more economically comfortable backgrounds. Researchers have documented this repeatedly – in
studies of individual children and through comparisons of schools, districts, states, and nations. One of every five American children lives in poverty – more than in most other developed countries. U.S. educators and policymakers thus have every reason to look closely at the educational difficulties poverty creates – and take active steps to correct the problems. But lately, the exact opposite has happened. Disadvantaged schoolchildren are left to fall behind.” because reforms like No Child Left Behind pretend that poverty is unimportant.”

Research has shown that children from low-income households often start school at a disadvantage due to less exposure to rich language and fewer educational resources at home. School Funding and Quality: Schools in wealthier areas often receive more funding through local property taxes. This funding disparity can result in significant differences in educational resources, experienced teachers, and extracurricular opportunities between schools in affluent and impoverished neighborhoods. Higher funding typically means better facilities, more advanced courses, and more support services, all contributing to better student outcomes (The Costs of Inequity: Education’s the One Key That Rules Them All, The Harvard Gazette, February 15, 2016).
The socio-economic conditions of a neighborhood, including levels of poverty, crime rates, and access to health services, directly affect children’s academic performance. Children from poorer neighborhoods often face more stress and instability, negatively impacting their ability to focus and perform in school. Additionally, higher-income neighborhoods tend to have more
community resources, such as libraries, parks, and after-school programs, which support children’s development (Ibid).

Families in higher-income neighborhoods often have more educational attainment and can provide a more stimulating environment for their children. These families are more likely to engage in activities that promote learning and development, such as reading to their children, and can afford private tutoring or enrichment programs. The community culture in wealthier neighborhoods also places a higher value on education, creating a supportive environment for academic success (Ibid).

Early Childhood Development: Research indicates that educational disparities begin early in life. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often start school with lower levels of readiness, which can have long-term effects on their educational trajectory. Early childhood interventions, more readily available in affluent neighborhoods, can mitigate these effects and promote better
long-term outcomes (Ibid).

These factors illustrate how a child’s zip code can serve as a proxy for the various social determinants of education that influence their academic achievement and future opportunities. Addressing these disparities requires comprehensive policy solutions that ensure equitable funding and resources for schools across different neighborhoods (Ibid). What schools fall into these zip codes? Urban and isolated rural schools—the very schools whose accreditation and funding are being threatened by current elected Oklahoma State Legislators and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

I am not advocating a lack of accountability. I am advocating for using metrics for determining “good” schools that are equity-based. This approach recognizes the progress disadvantaged students make despite significant challenges. Children in these schools require more, not fewer resources. Additional resources for targeted interventions to ensure that comparisons lead to actionable insights and support policies that address the specific needs of disadvantaged students, such as additional funding, tutoring programs, and
comprehensive support services.

In summary, while comparing the achievement of disadvantaged children to their more advantaged peers is essential for highlighting and addressing educational disparities, it must be done with an understanding of the broader socioeconomic context and a focus on promoting equity and comprehensive support. “Good” schools” are a myth. I hope you will join me in spreading the word so that we may start to address the real issues and not punish the children, the faculty and administrators who need support rather than ostrisizing.

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