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  • by Blaine Helwig

What Makes Non-Title 1 Schools More Successful - Academically?

Beethoven was deaf. But, he was not born deaf – which is a remarkably relevant fact. It is historically estimated he went deaf in his late twenties and early thirties. So, he knew the musical sounds that instruments produced long before he lost his hearing. If Beethoven did not hear musical notes prior to the complete loss of his hearing, most likely – no compositions would have ever been produced.

I began my public education career working in relatively high socioeconomic schools – 6 years as a classroom teacher and two more years as a campus administrator. These years were invaluable to me as an urban Title 1 elementary principal and a central office administrator working directly with low income schools. I knew exactly what the student academic outcomes should be in elementary Title 1 schools – and what the outcomes actually were – the academic gap was clear. Put simply – I was acutely aware of students’ academic gap at every Title 1 grade level only because I had worked and taught in non-Title 1 elementary schools.

Working in Title 1 elementary schools also resulted in a reevaluation of my non-Title 1 classroom and school success. Why were more affluent children doing so much better academically than their grade level peers attending low income schools? I pondered this question after only four months of daily visits to urban Title 1 schools.

Reasons for non-Title 1 elementary student and school success?

This is an interesting question – more interesting than I believe the vast majority of educators think it is. I have read and heard many reasons for non-Title 1 academic success: better teachers, kids arrive at school academically ready, rich experiences that come via home finances, student learning continues during the summer months, etc., etc. and etc. All may have a part of truth in answering the posed question with the exception of ‘better teachers.’ I am absolutely certain that is not true. I have worked in both educational settings for long periods of time. I can generally state with professional certitude that teacher quality is generally a ‘wash’ between the two socioeconomic status (SES) settings.

There are two main reasons I believe are at the heart of answering the comparative academic success of non-Title 1 to Title 1 elementary students.

First, parents have the money to hire tutors outside the school when their children struggle academically. They can afford to pay teachers to tutor children or attend tutorial sessions at local commercial tutorial services. There are at least six of these small businesses within two miles of my home. They are expensive, but they are effective. If parents elect not to hire out tutoring assistance, they are usually more than sufficiently educated to help their children at home with homework and content understanding. With academic assistance, many of these kids are able to maintain the academic pace of their class – and do not fall behind.

Second, students attending non-Title 1 schools have had life experiences and basic academic preparation that are much greater than their Title 1 elementary counterparts. But, it is not the totality of experiences and academic preparation that is important, it is the threshold levels that are relevant. High SES children have been exposed to a massive difference in vocabulary and basic words. This comparative literacy exposure is one of the main keys to the academic reformation of Title 1 schools. Math differences are easily resolved using a structured, differentiated numeracy program. But, academically changing our Title 1 schools is the literacy intervention piece that stresses basic vocabulary and word development.

For more information, read the blog, “Achievement Gap Won't Close? Fix the Skill Gap --- Gaps be Gone,” and download the free literacy stop-gap resources for both the fluency and non-negotiable word programs at ‘The New 3Rs Education Consulting website.


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