Finding Educators to Honor -- and Learn From

I recently profiled Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans, one of four schools that won The Education Trust's Dispelling the Myth Award this year.

That post elicited questions about the criteria Ed Trust uses to identify the schools it honors.

Because many children of color and those from low-income families do poorly in school, the idea that we can't expect schools to educate all children to high levels has permeated public opinion. We at The Education Trust believe that schools have an obligation to educate all students, no matter what their background, and so we honor a few schools each year that are doing a great job educating low-income students and students of color.

To find the schools we honor, we first look at state test scores across the different grade levels and, at the high school level, graduation rates. We also study demographic information for each school, so we know how many students are in different ethnic groups and how many are eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meal program, the proxy most widely used for poverty. Because states are required to report how well each group does on state assessments at each school, we examine what is known as "achievement gaps" -- the difference in academic performance between different groups.

We try to recognize schools from different parts of the country, with different demographic mixtures and circumstances to underscore that this work of educating all children can be done across contexts. After honoring a number of high-performing schools where just about all the students are poor and African-American or Latino, we were startled to hear educators in relatively wealthy schools argue that integrated settings pose more difficult challenges for educators than segregated ones. We consider this to be yet another myth that needs dispelling, so we make sure to include economically and racially integrated schools as part of the mix.

Ed Trust does not honor schools that restrict their enrollment. On two occasions it has awarded schools that hold lotteries among applicants, but the schools have no admission requirements aside from a simple contact-information application.

Once we identify a possible school, we visit to ensure that the students are being taught a broad, rich curriculum, not just low-level skills and content. What sets apart our award-winning schools from others is the deep-seated commitment their teachers and administrators have to ensuring that all their students have the kinds of opportunities that middle-class children take for granted -- and the confidence that schools have the power to create those opportunities.

We are proud to recognize a few of the great schools we have in this country every year.

But we don't just want to honor the folks in those schools. We want to learn from them. They know things that we as a nation need to learn to ensure that every child in America gets a good education.

To read more about some of these schools and their specific practices, see my book, How It's Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools, or go to Ed Trust's website.