Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Journey to Urban School Success: Going the Extra Mile

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Journey to Urban School Success: Going the Extra Mile

Article excerpt

The Journey to Urban School Success: Going the Extra Mile*

This research sought to identify what enables some urban schools serving low-income, minority students to succeed while most do not. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were employed to locate schools that met the success criteria and to determine the factors that contributed to their success. A questionnaire identified 62 schools across the nation and four were selected for in-depth, on-site study. Findings indicate that, although the schools differed in size, organizational structure, and financial resources, they had one thing in common: all their stakeholders shared a common vision and went beyond ordinary expectations to ensure student success. Metaphorically speaking, they went the extra mile. This article describes the extraordinary efforts of administrators, teachers, parents and students to achieve educational excellence.

What enables some urban schools serving low-income, minority students to succeed while most do not? This was the research question that drove the study reported here. The answer was found in four schools representing a cross-section of the nation: Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, and Farwest. They were schools where all the stakeholders went over and beyond ordinary expectations. Metaphorically speaking, they went the extra mile.

The evidence has been clear for many years that the majority of low-income, urban children of color rank at the bottom of almost every measure of academic achievement (Olson & Jerald, 1998). Approximately two-thirds of the urban children in high poverty schools score below basic proficiency levels on nationally normed tests. Yet as static as this statistic seems to be, the findings reported in this article describe a small sample of urban schools in which the students ranked in the top quartile in reading and math on district and/or state mandated tests for the past two consecutive years. The staff at these schools are defying the odds and succeeding, while the overwhelming majority of institutions with comparable demographics claim it cannot be done.

The Super Schools Research Project conducted at Howard University's Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At-Risk (CRESPAR) sought to identify and describe those characteristics and practices that enable some urban schools serving lowincome African American students to succeed where others fail. The emphasis was on the way in which the factors and the processes involved interacted to ensure the schools' effectiveness. Although the schools were selected on the basis of test scores, there was a much broader array of student outcomes that were investigated including cognitive, affective, and behavioral effects purported to have a transformative value for the students (Cole-Henderson, 2000).

While there have been reports through the years of "effective" schools (Mace-Matluck, 1987), none specifically relate to those serving minority students. This was particularly noted when two of the authors of this article compiled an annotated bibliography of effective school literature dating from 1970 to 1996 (Cole-Henderson & Serpell, 1998). In recent years, however, a few studies have recognized successful schools serving minority students (Carter 2000; McAdams 2000; Reyes, Scribner & Scribner 1999). These studies have attributed the success of some schools serving minority students to the school's rejection of the cultural deficit paradigm and refusal to make any excuses for student failure. They emphasize the importance of the development of "learning communities" where parents, students, teachers, and principals are all accountable and principals have the freedom to be creative. Carter (2000) listed five effective practices in the schools his project studied: parental accountability, skill in the selection of teachers, frequent testing, attention to basic skills, and principals' spending money effectively on curricula and teachers. …

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