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HIGH SCHOOLS FOR EQUITY: Report Offers Lessons from High Schools that Successfully Graduate Low-Income Minority Students

"These schools break the conventional links between race, poverty, and academic failure," said Linda Darling-Hammond

In America, only a few more than half of African American and Latino students graduate from high school on time. In addition, only 12-14 percent graduate having met the requirements to attend a state university, according to a new report by the School Redesign Network at Stanford University and Justice Matters. The report, High Schools for Equity: Policy Supports for Student Learning in Communities of Color, examines five California schools that are achieving much greater success with low-income students of color and identifies several practices and policies that similar schools can use to improve both the day-to-day learning experiences and educational outcomes of their students.

“These schools break the conventional links between race, poverty, and academic failure,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University and co-executive director of the School Redesign Network. “Not only do their students receive an academically rigorous curriculum that prepares them for college and careers, [but] they also experience learning opportunities that are culturally rich, socially and practically relevant, and responsive to their needs and interests.”

After examining data on more than three hundred sixty California high schools, the report’s authors chose to focus on five urban public high schools. They include Animo Inglewood Charter High School, Inglewood, CA; Leadership High School, San Francisco; June Jordan School for Equity, San Francisco; New Tech High School, Sacramento; and Stanley E. Foster Construction Tech Academy, San Diego. The schools, which are both district-run and charter-operated schools in California’s largest cities, have no selective admission requirements, serve primarily students of color and low-income students, graduate students at higher rates than the state average, and send more than 80 percent of their students to college, as shown in the table below.

Characteristics of the schools featured in High Schools for Equity

Animo Inglewood Construction
 for Equity
High School
High School
School Enrollment 518 430 371 320 355
Free and Reduced Lunch 74% 68% 48% 52% 62%
Students of Color 100% 81% 95% 96% 70%
African American Students 37% 17% 37% 18% 27%
Latino Students 63% 51% 32% 39% 26%
English Language Learners 7% 24% 13% 12% 25%
Graduates Going to College 94% 81% 95% 100% 100%
Graduates Going to
Four-Year College
69% 36% 73% 68% 42%


The common elements that the report’s authors discovered in these schools include small, personalized learning environments, rigorous and relevant curricula that provide authentic learning and assessment opportunities, and extensive, regular occasions for teachers to collaborate and learn with one another.

Among the commonalities, the report calls personalization the “most striking” difference between these schools and traditional urban high schools, which often have enrollments in the thousands and allow for very few meaningful relationships between students and teachers. Instead, the schools profiled all have much more manageably sized student bodies, in the three hundred to five hundred range. Additionally, teachers in these schools have an advisory group of fifteen to twenty-five students who meet with them several times a week. Typically, teachers stay with the same group of students for two to four years and also work with each student’s family and with other teachers to ensure that the student receives the academic and personal supports that are needed for success.

In addition to more time for students and teachers to meet, the schools studied also provide a considerable amount of time for teachers to work together to design curriculum and instruction and learn from each other. Overall, the schools allocated seven to fifteen days to shared professional learning time, in addition to several hours during the week that teachers used to plan and problem solve around students and subject matter. This common planning time was augmented by mentoring and coaching systems for new and veteran teachers.

Sadly, far too many of California’s students fail to enjoy the quality education that these schools provide. Large numbers of students of color attend schools with such poor learning conditions that the report describes them as “hostile and dehumanizing places that serve to track students into low-wage jobs and prison.”

Because of these conditions, an increasing share of young African American and Latino men are populating the state’s growing prison system, rather than its higher education system. According to the report, every African American male subtracted from a state university campus translates to fifty-seven who were added to state correctional facility. Among Latinos, three Latino males were added to the prison population for every one added to the four-year public university system. As a result, in 2006, California spent as much on corrections as on higher education.

“Low-income students and students of color in California are more likely than others to attend under-resourced schools that are racially and socioeconomically segregated, staffed with under-qualified teachers, unable to offer college preparatory courses or strong technological education programs, and where graduation is not the norm,” said Darling-Hammond. “The work the schools in our study are doing is exceptional and occurs against the odds. Their successes can be replicated, but only if California implements substantive policy changes.”

The report’s authors list several policy changes that the state can make in order to replicate the successes of the schools in the report. First, they call for investments in teacher preparation and development that allow teachers to take on the kinds of pedagogical strategies and advisement responsibilities that are found in the profiled schools. They also recommend that California recruit and develop principals who can lead schools that are organized far differently from traditional schools and that the state support curriculum, assessment, and instruction that helps students develop twenty-first-century skills. The report also mentions the need for flexible funding streams that allow for investments in innovative approaches and financial support that makes college a reality for low-income and undocumented students.

The complete report is available at

The Turnaround Challenge: Report Says Worst-Performing Schools Provide the Best Opportunity to Dramatically Improve Student Achievement


The worst 5 percent of the nation’s schools represent the best opportunity to dramatically improve school achievement, according to a new report from the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute. The Turnaround Challenge: Why America’s best opportunity to dramatically improve student achievement lies in our worst-performing schools, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, finds that 5,000 (5 percent) of America’s public schools are on track to fall into the restructuring phase—the most extreme designation—under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) by the 2009–2010 school year. These schools, the report says, represent a level of “persistent failure” that “commands swift, dramatic intervention.”

“Light-touch reforms simply have not worked for these chronic low performers,” said William H. Guenther, president of Mass Insight Education and Research Institute. “Yet another generation of students, over 2.5 million of them, is receiving a woefully inadequate education in these schools. If bold changes aren’t called for at the lowest-performing schools, then where will we ever have the will to act?”

According to the report, interventions in failing, largely high-poverty schools (particularly high schools), have tended toward incremental-change strategies that have produced little result. However, it notes that some large urban districts (Chicago,Miami-Dade, New York City, and Philadelphia), have undertaken “promising turnaround strategies,” but are still in their early stages.

The report collects lessons from these cities and urges states, districts, and schools to use them in their efforts to turn around struggling schools. The key levers the report cites include creating zones with more flexible operating conditions (hiring, budgets, schedules, programs, etc.), assembling and training leadership teams with specific turnaround skills, investing in a new breed of lead turnaround partners that integrate the work of other providers around a coherent strategy, and conducting the work in clusters of schools for both effectiveness and scale.

The complete report is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.