A recent analysis of low-income student achievement in large U.S. cities gives reason for both optimism and concern as it highlights the limitations and potential of state and local data.

The Education Equality Index (EEI) site, designed through a partnership between national nonprofits Education Cities and GreatSchools, recently released its data analysis findings from over 55,000 schools nationally. (Education Cities is a network of “harbor masters” who take responsibility for outcomes in a metro area. We see it as one of the key local intermediary roles that must exist to promote quality at scale.)

The EEI site features the academic performance of students from low-income families in 213 of the 300 largest cities in America, according to school-age population and those that had data available, and found performance numbers match or exceed that of their more advantaged peers in reading and math at the 500 schools identified.

The good news is that schools where students are performing well above the average on the EEI may provide insights to help close long-standing achievement gaps for students from underserved communities, especially as it relates to improving ecosystems. As our Smart Cities study indicates ecosystems matter, and healthy ecosystems promote talent development, youth/family services partnerships, and school services.

“It’s much easier to turn around a school in a city where you can access quality technical assistance, hire great talent and find support for your families, ” said Tom Vander Ark.

Unfortunately, limitations in established data sets, including the availability of disaggregated data for state assessments and inconsistency in the documentation of free and reduced lunch participation, means that adequate data was not available to include all U.S. schools or cities in the Index.

However, the site is still a positive step in the right direction. “Never before have we been able to examine such comprehensive data to compare schools and cities across the country with a focus on the academic performance of students from low-income backgrounds,” said Samantha Brown Olivieri, Vice President of GreatSchools and author of the EEI report.

The table below shares an example of how some of the largest cities have vast numbers of schools with low-income students who are performing at high levels, but also how smaller Brownsville, Texas, is ranking just as high in the “Far Above Average” category:

Texas cities make up a high number of the 213 cities, with math scores in particular driving these strong results. This includes several medium-sized cities in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as the large city of El Paso (learn more about how El Paso Independent School District is working to redefine its graduate profile and implementing an active learning strategic plan). The majority of these cities serve a large number of students from low-income families and a student population that is almost entirely Latino.

Six of the top ten most improved cities (based on a cumulative average year-over-year percentage change in EEI score between 2011 and 2015) are in California. Students from low-income families in the majority of these cities had been performing closer to the “Below Average” range in 2011, but are reported as performing closer to the national average in 2015.

To read the full report, visit the site at www.educationequalityindex.org. Researchers interested in accessing the results for the full list of 55,000 schools can also contact GreatSchools through the EEI website.

For more, see:


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