The Public Thinks That Poor Kids Make for Bad Schools

That’s one upshot of a fascinating new Education Next article released yesterday. It examines whether respondents are right when they tell pollsters that their local schools are worthy of an A, B, C, D, or F grade. In other words, do Americans’ opinions of local schools have to do with student achievement, or are they based on something else (like the demographics of the schools)? Here are some of the key findings, as reported (in this nice summary) by lead author Marty West:

Student achievement matters (especially to parents):  Citizen ratings of specific local schools do reflect publicly available information on the level of student achievement in those schools.  After adjusting for student demographics and other school characteristics, schools with 25 percentage points more proficient students are rated 22 percent of a letter grade higher.  Parents of school-aged children rate such schools nearly half a letter grade higher.

Race doesn’t matter (not even to parents):  Neither citizen nor parent ratings appear to be influenced by a school’s racial or ethnic composition.  This is not to say that high-minority schools do not receive lower grades (they do).  But this relationship dissipates once poverty rates and student achievement are also considered.


School poverty matters: Unlike race, the share of a school’s students who are poor remains a strong predictor of citizen ratings even after taking into account student achievement.

Sadly, this is not too surprising. We all know that when someone says they are moving to a neighborhood with “good schools,” that really means “schools without too many poor kids.” Not that choosing to send your son or daughter to a school with lots of disadvantaged children is an easy decision. (Heck, I’m writing a whole book for parents wrestling with that very dilemma.) But this does imply that some pretty good schools are getting negative reputations they don’t deserve–and savvy parents would be smart to consider them.

There’s a lot more great stuff in the Education Next article; stay tuned for more thoughts later this week.

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