When a school with large numbers of poor and minority students do well on state or national standardized tests, it comes as no surprise to the principal and teachers at that school. That’s because these educators begin their workday with the expectation that their students can and will do the academic work necessary to be successful.
From the first day of school to the last, they assess what knowledge and skills students already have and design learning experiences that will move students to where they should be. They know that some children will take longer than others to master the material. They know that some learn their lessons in ways that differ from those of their classmates.
But, these school leaders and teachers strive to find the right assignments, the best learning materials, and the most appropriate learning environment for their students. The faculties of such schools create opportunities for their children to be successful.
This is the kind of performance that parents in San Bernardino expect from Hardy Brown College Prep, a new school that will open in downtown San Bernardino on August 18, 2010. School founders expect to reach the state’s goal of an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 800 out of 1000 points within five years. That expectation is not a pipedream. Hardy Brown is modeled on a Sacramento charter school, called PS7 that made just that kind of academic progress between 2003 and 2009. PS7 achieved against the odds.
Unfortunately, while such schools are not easy to come by, they do exist. There are 13 elementary and middle schools in California with a numerically significant enrollment of African American students where Black students scored an 800 API or more. PS7, the model for Hardy Brown College Prep, earned an 873 API score in 2009, making it the second highest ranking school in California serving significant numbers of African American children.
We don’t usually hear much about these 13 schools, because much larger numbers of failing schools dominate the news. I visited schools on the list and asked principals how they get such great performance from students. It should be no surprise that students who do well in school do so because they spend quality time at home, in the library or in community study groups with their friends who are equally serious about preparing for their futures. Schooling works best when students and adults act upon their expectations by becoming totally immersed in their education.
But we cannot believe the hype—that it is impossible to do better because of the budget, the contract, the poverty, the neighborhood. We will only see progress when progress is expected, and effort matches our highest ambitions.
There is a predominately African American school in Chicago where, for the past 29 years, 100 percent of graduates have gone on to college. Each morning students at Providence St. Mel School sing a creed. It goes, “we believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work. We are not frightened by the challenges of reality, but believe that we can change our conception of this world and our place within in it.”
Beyond wishful thinking, their confidence, efforts, and perseverance match their expectations. And not surprisingly, children flourish.
Rex Fortune is founder of Fortune School of Education and the author of Leadership on Purpose, a study of high performing, high minority, high poverty schools.
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