Socioeconomic Diversity as a School Turnaround Strategy

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The world that we’re preparing our kids for is diverse—our workplaces and our society reflect an enormous range of backgrounds and experiences. Succeeding in that world requires having had the experience of diversity in its many forms, particularly socioeconomic diversity. Mounting evidence shows that diversity is a clear path to better outcomes in school and in life. Exposure to other students from a wide array of backgrounds can boost empathy, reduce bias and increase group problem-solving skills. In short, it helps prepare students – regardless of their backgrounds – for the world in which they will live and work.

Socioeconomically diverse schools are especially powerful for students from low-income families, who historically have not had equal access to the resources they need to succeed. For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, children in public housing who attended the district’s most advantaged elementary schools performed better over time than those attending higher-poverty schools, despite additional per-student funding provided at higher-poverty schools.

Given what we know about the benefits of diversity, we are interested in exploring how the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program can be used to promote voluntary, community-supported efforts to expand socioeconomic diversity in schools and improve student outcomes. These grants are awarded to states that then make competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to raising student achievement in their lowest-performing schools.

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Join the conversation

We welcome your input on how we can support school districts or consortia of districts, with support from their states and local communities, to use SIG funds to implement socioeconomic diversity strategies.

We are interested in your thoughts on the use of SIG funds, including your views on the following:

  1. The use of SIG funds to support district-wide socioeconomic diversity strategies aimed at increasing academic outcomes for students in lowest performing schools.
  1. Current SIG requirements for states and districts that may restrict the use SIG funds to increase the socioeconomic diversity of schools, if any.
  2. Other policies or conditions (e.g., high concentrations of students in poverty, strong community and stakeholder engagement, written assurances from effected districts and schools) that need to be in place for districts to successfully implement a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan that increase academic outcomes for students in its lowest performing schools.
  1. Methods and measures states and districts could use to demonstrate progress in implementing a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan.

We welcome your input until April 26. If you have any comments please send them via email to SIG.StrongerTogether@ed.gov.

5 Comments

  1. I have been involved in school improvement for the past ten years. I am passionate about the importance of quality education as a means for improving the life of all Americans and saving our democracy. I have taught in low socioeconomic schools since the beginning of my career and worked for the Department of Education in the Bureau of School Improvement. I have seen school improvement implemented with fidelity and seen it whither under poor leadership. School Improvement Grants are the last opportunity for true revision in our schools. It is my sincere desire that we learn from what works and what didn’t and move forward to address the needs of our schools and communities.
    1. The use of SIG funds to support district-wide socioeconomic diversity strategies aimed at increasing academic outcomes for students in lowest performing schools.
    One of the greatest deterrents to successful school change is lack of teacher professional development. Many of our most needy schools are staffed with the least effective teachers who do not believe in the possibilities for their students. I have been involved in more than one toxic school culture that prohibits students from achieving their potential. I like to remind people that when students come to school, they do not know they can’t perform. It’s only once they are in classrooms that they are told they can’t. I believe this has a lot to do with a lack of understanding of the socioeconomic diversity of our students. Funds and expectations should be provided to lengthen the school day to include more teacher professional development and facilitated lesson planning focusing on analysis of student data and student work. We need to change the culture to view planning as a collaborative activity and not an independent activity. Teachers need support to understand students, the community they serve, the Standards they teach, and how those Standards translate into student outcomes. We need to provide strategic coaching and support for all teachers assigned to these schools. Additionally, we need to monitor instruction regularly just as we do student performance so we can provide additional support and assistance as indicated.
    2. Current SIG requirements for states and districts that may restrict the use SIG funds to increase the socioeconomic diversity of schools, if any.
    The competitive process makes it difficult for small and medium districts to obtain funding for change. Additionally, I have found that lack of oversight and accountability often result in the funds being used to maintain the status quo rather than to ensure true changes occur in the classrooms. Lack of clear accountability that is enforced often leads to misuse of funds.
    3. Other policies or conditions (e.g., high concentrations of students in poverty, strong community and stakeholder engagement, written assurances from effected districts and schools) that need to be in place for districts to successfully implement a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan that increase academic outcomes for students in its lowest performing schools.
    In some cases, individual school needs are not truly determined. Instead, district initiatives are more directly funded at the SIG schools but not specific to the SIG schools. Additionally, there is little support for principals to build a pool of talented principals who truly understand school change. Many districts struggle to find qualified administrators and teachers for these schools. Policies to support administrators need to be implemented to ensure longevity and sustainability of effective changes. Traditional leadership paths that limit principal selection often hinders choice. Perhaps we need to reconsider the principal. A principal needs to be the instructional leader – the one who is a visionary and able to lead change. However, that doesn’t mean that person is a building manager. Investigating and providing support to implement change in leadership expectations is one way to move forward.
    4. Methods and measures states and districts could use to demonstrate progress in implementing a comprehensive socioeconomic diversity plan.
    In my experience, accountability that includes collection of standardized student data, progress monitoring data, discipline data, attendance data, teacher observation data, professional development data, and administrator data all need to exist. Effective schools that I have supported are forthcoming with their data. Data drives their decision making. Additionally, districts and states need to hold schools accountable for implementing the changes and not just wait for the end of year tests to determine success. Implementation is more important that yearly tests – Tests will reflect the change.
    I sincerely believe we have to continue with SIG if we have any hope of changing schools. Schools in my state have abandoned desegregation in favor of choice and charter – leaving few options for our neediest families. Separate is not equal and choice is not equal. Our future depends on changing how we support these schools.

  2. Free field trips for learning on-site to places the students’ families cannot afford to take them or do not see the value of taking them to visit.

  3. Yes, the US Department of Education should do much more to insist that federally supported education programs and activities increase diversity and integration based on sex, race, socioeconomic and disability status. Programs such as “My Brother’s Keeper” should be renamed and revised to address needs that are not defined by student characteristics such as sex or race since this targeting fosters segregation and discrimination rather than integration and equal educational opportunities. Research findings and Civil Rights Laws show the value of stopping all types of segregation in education programs and activities.

  4. Good initiative. Check with IB education and international mindedness to help create a more peaceful world. IB is a great example of what the article is proposing to accomplish with practical results. They have been teaching with international mindedness and respect for diversity at the heart of the program. Beautiful 👍

    • I completely agree and was thinking the same as I was reading the above information. I have seen firsthand the benefits of an IB education not only for students in elite American/International schools throughout the world but also in urban public schools in the US.

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