Beating the odds with a special blend
Arizona Republic
Apr. 9, 2006


White papers.

Blue-ribbon studies.


No matter how detailed the analysis, how critical the issue or how insightful the recommendations, most studies wind up collecting dust somewhere.




A new report, "Why Some Schools with Latino Children Beat the Odds and Others Don't," has escaped the first two dangers. It has been read by a number of people who found it exciting and promising. As the focus of today's Viewpoints section, it has also been noticed.

Now it should be used.

Arizona's population of Latino school children is large and growing. Because many have language challenges, come from impoverished homes and struggle in school, these children are often regarded as a drag on the state.

A problem.

But they also represent an opportunity for Arizona to stride into the future as a leader in a global economy based on knowledge and information.

It all depends on whether they get a good education.

That's not happening now. Many predominantly Latino schools are struggling and demographics are increasingly being viewed as destiny.

The "Beat the Odds" report rejects that. By seeking out schools that achieve despite their demographics, researchers identified elements and strategies that predict success. The recommendations are based on real-life examples, a real-live best-selling author and a real sense of possibilities.

The successes researchers identified provide clear evidence that some schools understand the strategies necessary to help Latino students excel.
Rather than present these as perfect models, researchers who put together the study for the Center for the Future of Arizona and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy teased out the characteristics of success and presented them in "Beat the Odds" as an elastic and adaptable set of guidelines other schools can emulate.

Rather than a set formula with detailed instructions on how much of each element to add to the mix, it offers the kind of approach your grandmother would understand. Success, like a good meal, can often be put together with what's on hand. You just need some basic ingredients and a little creativity, flexibility and ingenuity.

Schools that use this report to evaluate what they are doing and look for ways to improve will find clear examples of what has worked for other schools and broad guidelines on the best approach to improvement. They won't find a straitjacket.

That's one of the best things about this report. It recognizes the individuality, not just of schools, but of students. It insists on strategies that are aimed at students and rigorously evaluated and refined in response to the needs of students.

Business guru Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Good to Great:
Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't, helped adapt his method to identifying the six key elements of success in schools.

Among the elements of success: These schools are headed by "strong and steady" principals who make no excuses and emphasize the achievement of every student, in every classroom, every day.

Students are assessed frequently, even daily, and adjustments made in programs and teaching as needed.

The report deserves to be widely distributed and discussed by teachers and principals who have the potential to work together to change the culture of individual schools.

It also needs to be studied by policymakers.

It says, "We do need to fix disparities and systemic problems at the policy level, but much of what it takes is actually in the hands of the people within the schools."

That's a remarkable message of empowerment that reflects a huge potential for positive change.

It's too important to gather dust.

To read the report, visit or