Research has long shown that poverty hurts student achievement. Now, a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse provides further evidence that students from high schools serving large concentrations of low-income families are less likely to enroll or persist in college than their peers from schools with a more affluent population.
Poverty, more than race or whether a school was in an urban or rural area, matters most in predicting students' postsecondary outcomes, according to the report.
(For a complete picture of the report, see Sarah D. Sparks' blog post from Inside School Research.)
Armed with this new analysis from the Herdon, Va.-based research organization, educators and policymakers are eager to make the case for interventions that work to improve college- and career-readiness for disadvantaged students.
"The hope is that, over time, high schools and districts in the United States will be able to use the information to help catalyze thinking at the local level on how to improve their respective higher education readiness rates," said Doug Shapiro, the executive director of the clearinghouse's research center, said at an event in Washington Tuesday to discuss the report that is the first time national transition and progression rates have been captured for high schools based on income, race and location.
"Data is very important to support our decisions, strategies, and programs," said Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Access Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes college access and success for many first-generation college-going students, during a panel at the event. This is particularly true in the trend toward more accountability, as more high schools are being held responsible for postsecondary attainment rather than just graduating students, she said.
S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County district in Maryland, said the report highlights the need to invest in students as early as prekindergarten and to focus on critical transitions years into middle and high school. "In many cases, we are not preparing our students well enough to be successful in college and also we are not giving them access and awareness," he said.
To promote pathways to college, Dance said 8th and 9th graders are participating in the College Board's ReadiStep program to prepare them for the PSAT and SAT college-entrance exams. All high school juniors in the district can take the SAT during the school day at no cost.
The district is also providing opportunities for students to get college-level experience and earn college credit in high school through dual enrollment and Advanced Placement programs.
"As students transition to college, they start to see graduation is possible because they have three, six, or nine credits already underneath their belt," said Dance.
The clearinghouse report reinforces a number of studies that show the biggest impact on achievement rates is income, said Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.
"The reality is poverty is a factor that affects achievement and we cannot continue to ignore it," he said. While teacher quality, curriculum, and pedagogy makes a difference, if children come to school without breakfast and family support, they are not ready to learn, said Domenech at the event.
"What we have to do is confront the problem with the strategies we know work," he said. "It's not an issue of equality. What we need is equity. These kids need more." This means early preschool support, wrap-around programs, high school guidance, and information about college to low-income students."
"We don't need anybody to tell us what to do make education better. We know what needs to be done," he said. "The problem is we can't do it. The resources aren't there to allow us to do all of these things."
Deborah Santiago, the chief operating officer and director of research at Excelencia in Education, an organization that promotes Hispanic success in higher education, said the report provides evidence that can help in convincing policymakers to expand support.
"We do know a lot of what's working," she said. "We don't talk about it in ways that are aligned necessarily with the data and make this compelling case."
The clearinghouse plans to issue annual reports on this topic. In future reports when there is enough data, Shapiro said the clearinghouse plans to profile schools that are outliers, with a high concentraion of low-income students yet high college-going and persistence rates, so that others than learn from their success.