Cheating Fate

Pretty much all the evidence shows that demographic and socioeconomic factors have huge implications for student achievement. This fact, in turn, sometimes leads people to take a very strong “demographics is destiny” view of kids’ outcomes. That, however, is far too simple. At my reunion over the weekend, I met up with a good friend who now works at the Excel Academy in East Boston and they get very impressive results:

Excel Academy students — 64 percent of whom are Latino and 73 percent of whom qualify for the Federal free and reduced lunch program — outperformed their local and state peers as well as their state-wide Caucasian peers on the 2007 math and English MCAS exams at every single grade level, thereby reversing the achievement gap. Furthermore, Excel Academy’s eighth graders were ranked third out of 280 Massachusetts school districts and fourth out of 461 Massachusetts public middle schools, placing them in the top one percent statewide.

Adequate resources, deployed correctly, can achieve great results even with disadvantaged kids. The trouble, however, is that when you look at the schools that are having success it’s not as if they’re slight variants on the education we’re giving to most poor kids — it costs more money, it involves more hours, it’s more staff-intensive, etc., etc. Basically, to make up for the disadvantages that come from being disadvantaged, you need to give poor kids more and better instruction than middle-class kids need. In this country, however, our general practice is to give them less and worse.