A large majority of “middle class” public high schools in Colorado had half or more of their students fail to reach proficiency on at least one state math or reading exam, according to a recent report from the Pacific Research Institute.
Middle class schools were defined by the study as those that have one-third or fewer of the students classified as low-income.
The report evaluated results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card, as well as the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, to see how middle class students were performing.
“Are regular Colorado public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations performing well?” asks Lance Izumi, an education policy expert and author of the report. “Lots of middle-class parents think so and believe that education problems are limited to places such as inner-city Denver. Yet, based on a variety of indicators, many of these schools may not be as good as parents think they are.”
Of the 103 middle class public high schools in Colorado, 77 had half or more of their students failing to reach proficiency on at least one grade-level state math or reading exam. Among all middle-class public schools, including elementary, middle and high schools, 22 percent had half or more of their students failing to reach proficiency on the 2014 Colorado assessment.
The study also looked at 2013 results on the national test, and found, for example, that 48 percent of middle class students failed to score at the proficient level on the eighth grade reading test and 45 percent failed to score at that level on the eighth grade math test.
The 2015 results, which came out after the Pacific Research Institute Study was released, had similar bad news for Colorado, showing 48 percent of middle-class eighth graders failing to score at the proficient level in both reading and math.
“These results should cause non-low-income Colorado parents, many of whom are middle class, to rethink their views on the quality of their neighborhood public schools, and, consequently, to open their minds to other education options, choices and policy changes that would allow their children to escape underperforming schools and attend better-performing alternatives,” says Izumi.
The study recommends that Colorado policymakers consider several reforms enacted in other states that increase parental choice. “Tax credit programs, such as those in Illinois,” Izumi noted, “allow individuals to claim tax credits for educational expenses, such as private-school tuition.”
Izumi also pointed out, “Nevada has just passed an education-savings-account program, where the state deposits funds into individual accounts that parents can use to pay for education expenses, including private-school tuition, tutoring, and online education.”
Izumi has studied middle class schools in Illinois, Texas, and Michigan, with similar results, finding that substantial percentages of students at these middle class schools were performing below proficiency on state and national tests. A study of New Jersey schools is forthcoming.
“Too many middle-class public schools,” said Izumi, “are failing to live up to the assumption that a so-called ‘good neighborhood’ automatically gets you a good school, which is why the title of our studies is ‘Not as Good as You Think.’”