SOME SCHOOLS 'BEAT THE ODDS'
June 16, 2006
Author: DAVID HOWELL, Special for The Republic Estimated printed pages: 2
Arizona's less than stellar education statistics have generated a lot of
attention over the years. At a minimum, they tell us there is much room for
But often lost are the pockets of success that exist -- the schools and students
who, to steal the title of a recent study, Beat the Odds.
The study was conducted by the Center for Arizona's Future, the "do" tank
founded by former ASU President Lattie Coor and ASU's Morrison Institute for
The focus was Arizona's Hispanic elementary schoolchildren. The methodology was
borrowed from Jim Collins, author of the business bestseller Good to Great.
Collins' approach is to identify organizations. In this study that meant schools
with mostly Latino and mostly poor students that significantly and consistently
outperform their peers. You then pair the successes with similar schools --
similar in location, demographics and circumstances -- and study the differences
in programs, practices, leadership and culture. In the end, you have a picture
of why some schools succeed and others don't.
In Beat the Odds the focus is on 12 schools where academic performance is much
better than their demographic profile would predict, with students outperforming
their peer schools and often the statewide averages for all students. The group
is, by coincidence, an almost perfect cross section of Arizona. Some are rural;
some urban. They are spread around the state. A couple use special approaches to
education, but most aren't doing anything out of the mainstream.
The study found that the 12 had some things in common, traits that were not
found as at their peer schools. The findings don't point to any silver bullet.
No magic here. Just hard work and discipline.
As Collins puts it, "Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought who
take disciplined action -- operating with freedom within a framework of
For Collins this is the "cornerstone of a culture that creates greatness."
And that's what Beat the Odds found in the 12 successful schools it studied.
The study did not find money to be a key to success. Resources are important,
but more money alone doesn't correlate with better performance.
What sets the successful schools apart is a culture led by a strong, focused
principal who commits to the success of every student and takes responsibility
for that achievement. It means they set goals, work toward those goals and
regularly measure their performance.
The successful schools don't make excuses or blame outside forces. They take the
students they get and focus on helping them succeed. It's not about one specific
program or curriculum model but about picking a good one and sticking with it.
Consistency -- of the program, the measurements, the accountability, the culture
and the leadership -- is what makes a difference.