It’s the season of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) score releases, and once again a bunch of educators around the state are complaining that they can’t be expected to perform at high levels with all their students because many Kentucky kids live in poverty.
Well, I don’t buy that.
Neither does Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.
Today, the commissioner took direct aim at what I am starting to call the “Cult of Can’t” with some very interesting scatter plots that compare each school district’s rate of poverty to the combined percentage of students that scored Proficient or more on reading and mathematics on the 2009-10 Kentucky Core Content Tests.
Here is the graph:
Note in particular the two school districts’ data points the commissioner highlighted with arrows. Both have very similar combined proficiency rates in reading and mathematics of around 70 percent. However, one district’s poverty rate, as measured by the percentage of students in the federal free and reduced cost lunch program, is only 30 percent, while the other district has a very high rate of poverty around 88 percent. Still, that high poverty district is matching the performance of the first district.
So much for the “Cult of Can’t.”
The commissioner had more examples. Click the “Read more” link to see that.
Here is the commissioner’s second slide regarding poverty data:
This slide compares poverty rates in the districts to the percentage of students who were college and career ready on recent ACT tests. Once again, the arrows point out two districts with virtually identical readiness rates, but very different poverty rates.
To be sure, the general trend in both of these examples is for schools with more poverty to have lower performance (shown by the negative Pearson Correlation Coefficients – for readers who like the math “stuff”). However, Commissioner Holliday’s examples show that isn’t necessarily the case every time. Some districts with lots of poverty are making things work much better for kids.
Another way to look at this is to consider the previous slide by looking horizontally across instead of vertically. Consider the two circled data points in this graph:
Notice that one, very low performing district with 60 percent poverty has only about a three percent college/career ready rate. However, another district with the same 60 percent poverty rate has a college/career ready rate of about 45 percent, MUCH higher.
I certainly sensed today that the commissioner has had enough of the “Cult of Can’t.”
I sure have, and I am glad to have him join me.
No-one is saying that getting a lot more poor kids to proficiency won’t be a real challenge, but just making excuses when we see examples of hope isn’t acceptable, either.