Spotlight Exclusives

Great Expectations Can Drive Educational Success

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Michelle Rhee, chancellor of public schools in the District of Columbia, just wrote a commentary for Spotlight, “Ending Poverty through Education,” which offers her insights on what it takes to make education a pathway out of poverty. And, the day before, the New York Times ran “For Students at Risk, Early College Proves a Draw,” a story about low income students getting ahead through a program that allows them to take college classes and gain college experience while in high school. Both pieces drive home the point that expectations are vital to educational outcomes.

Rhee notes that within the District of Columbia there are successful schools and programs but “What is keeping us from bringing such examples to scale is not a lack of solutions but a frailty of belief. We can absolutely replicate and expand success, and poverty does not have to mean low achievement and expectations.” The story in the Times points out that, “the early-college high schools accelerate students so that they arrive in college needing less of the remedial work that stalls so many low-income and first-generation students. ” And the students respond to social as well as academic expectations that influence performance. Michael Webb, associate vice president of Jobs for the Future, noted in the Times piece that “When we put kids on a college campus, we see them change totally, because they۪re integrated with college students, and they don۪t want to look immature.”

Early-college high schools are already demonstrating success. For example, the Times reports that North Carolina students who attend these schools are getting slightly better grades in their college courses than their older classmates. As one head of an early-college high school states, “We picked these kids out of eighth grade, kids who were academically representative at a school with very low performance. We didn۪t cherry-pick them. Their performance has been so startling that you see what high expectations can do.”

There۪s apparently a big “aha” here. Simply put, poor kids are not inherently poor learners. Excellent education that challenges students in poverty can help the nation avoid a growing pool of poor learners. Remedial education of a different sort is needed, however. In order to secure education that is excellent for those of all incomes, many Americans will need to unlearn old assumptions about the impact of poverty on educational attainment. And, of course, we need to place an expectation on elected officials that they will support and fund the policies and programs that enable all students to perform their best and, thus, strengthen our nation. Should we expect any less of our elected officials?

Posted by Jodie


Here at Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest news and information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From key political appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn۪t always make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take on the twists and turns of the latest political developments and its impact on poverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact or

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