I've been playing around with the 2005/2006 released scores for Pennsylvania's PSSA exam while doing a little research on the KIPP school in Philadelphia and stumbled upon a few interesting results.
A few months back, the edusphere was atwitter with Richard Rothstein's Kozol-esque claim that poor kids would perform better if they were placed in more affluent schools.
Let's see if this claim has any bearing to reality (at least in Pennsylvania).
I looked at the the data for the 7th grade PSSA exam, a grade when most poor kids have not yet dropped out. There were 803 schools with disaggreagated data for low SES students.
I limited my analysis to schools to good schools, i.e., schools that were capable of successfully educating poor kids. My theory is that bad schools are the cause of education failure in of and themselves. This failuire hits poor kids especially hard.
I defined "good school" as being any school whose pass rate for poor kids was above 67.3, the state mean. I was left with 140 schools (17.4%), showing you what a rotten job our schools do with poor kids in general. I was under the impression that the reason we have this expensive public education system in the first place is to educate all these kids who otherwise couldn't afford to be educated on their own. As always, socializing the problem by getting big government involved has failed to solve the problem. But I digress.
Then I determined the performance of these good schools having high concentrations of poor kids (greater than 50%). Only 18 schools met the criteria. The average concentration of poor kids in these schools was 72%. The average pass rate for these schools turned out to be 76.6%.
As a point of comparison, there were 258 "bad" schools (93.5%) with highly concentrated (average concentration: 81.4%) poor students. The average pass rate for the poor kids in these bad schools was an abysmal 38.9%.
Next, I determined the performance of the good schools with low concentrations of poor students (less than 50%). 112 schools met the criteria and had an average concentration of 24.3% poor kids. The average pass rate for these schools turned out to be 74.7%.
The pass rate for the 410 low concentration (27.3%) "bad schools" was 52.9%.
The conclusion is that Rothstein and Kozol are wrong. Poor kids in predmoniantly poor schools will perform about the same as poor kids in more affluent schools as long as the school is a good school. The problem is that the vast majority of our schools aren't any good. In these schools there is over a half a standard deviation disparity in the performance of poor kids in predominantly poor schools.
The problem isn't poverty; the problem is bad schools.