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Poverty = low performance? Maybe not

Much of the fallout from the A-F school grades focuses on the correlation between poverty and low performance. Many people have noted that schools with high percentages of schools with free and reduced price lunch students received Ds or Fs. 

Perhaps this indicates that those schools don’t have the resources to get the job done. Alternatively, the students in those schools may simply start out at such a disadvantage that academic proficiency is a distant goal. However, as many of you may remember from high school science classes: correlation does not imply causation. 

The best example of that are the 17 schools with 50 percent or more free and reduced price lunch students that received As. 

Terry Stoops wrote about this in the Carolina Journal. He noted that 150 schools with 50 percent or more free and reduced price lunch students got an A or B (here is his list). While he hasn’t been able to figure out why, he indicates that this subverts the traditional narrative of poverty equals poor performance in North Carolina schools. 

“Perhaps now that we’ve identified these superb schools, some enterprising researchers or doctoral students will identify the unique elements of their success and share their findings with schools that struggle to educate disadvantaged students adequately,” he said in his article. 

We are going to do just that. We plan to visit the 17 A schools, write profiles about them, and try to figure out just what they’re doing differently. 

Stoops has suspicions as to the reasons. 

“I suspect that each of these schools has outstanding teachers and administrators, supportive educational environments, and high expectations for all students,” he said. 

He may be right. We don’t know, but we’ll find out. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.