Earlier this week, AL.com had an article listing the 12 top middle schools in the state as determined by Niche, a website that has a multitude of school rankings. You can find the methodology used in the article. And while any such ranking can be debated long and loud as to it validity, what can not be debated is that once again we see the role poverty plays in school performance.
Time after time we’ve seen that the higher the poverty rate, the poorer the performance. There are certainly high poverty schools that are the exception to this rule and I have been in many of them. But they are the exception.
Here is the Niche list with the percent of students on free-reduced lunches at each school: no. 1 Homewood Middle (26.3%); no. 2 Mountain Brook Junior High (0%); no. 3 Simmons Middle (Hoover system) (28.4%); no. 4 Auburn Junior High (26.3%); no. 5 R. F. Bumpus Middle (Hoover system) (23.4%); no. 6 Drake Middle (Auburn system) (27.6%); no. 7 Liberty Park Middle (Vestavia Hills system) (8.9%); no. 8 Pizitz Middle (Vestavia Hills system) (10.4%); no. 9 Berry Middle (Hoover system) (21.0%); no. 10 Discovery Middle (Madison city system) (22.4%); no. 11 Liberty Middle (Madison city system) (20.2); and no. 12 Hewitt-Trussville Middle (Trussville system) (10.4%).
The most recent info shows that 52.49% of all the 735,000 students in the state receive free-reduced lunches. If we say that any school with an 80% or higher free-deduced lunch rate is high poverty, then we should consider those with 20% or less as low poverty. Last time I checked, we have more than three times as many high poverty as low poverty schools.
This is vividly reinforced when we consider the 56 schools considered to be “failing schools.” The great majority of them are either middle or junior high schools and collectively their poverty rate is 91%. As any knowledgeable educator will tell you, these schools and their students face challenges that most low poverty schools do not face.
We know schools in these situations can excel. I’ve been in them. But until we re-double our efforts to face this issue, we are doing little more than spinning our wheels.