Researchers Pinpoint Three Elements of Effective Schools

Writing for the Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay recently reviewed a new index being used in Chicago to identify high schools with the best outcomes. Excerpts from the piece appear below: 

Parents are often stymied by the process of picking a good school for their kids. Word-of-mouth recommendations can be misleading. High test scores provide only a limited picture of a school’s effectiveness since they often reflect family income with wealthier students scoring better. Northwestern University economist C. Kirabo Jackson believes two additional elements point to an effective school: social and emotional skills and student behavior. Jackson argues that schools that boost those two plus test scores propel more students to graduate high school, go to college and reduce the number of students who get arrested. 

In a study of more than 150,000 ninth graders in Chicago public high schools from 2011 to 2017, Jackson found that Chicago high schools that ranked high on his three-part index for ninth graders (test scores, social emotional skills, and student behavior) subsequently reduced the number of arrests at school while increasing high school graduation and college enrollment rates. Students at schools that only produced the highest growth in test scores had less impressive long-term outcomes. For example, a disadvantaged student in the bottom 10 percent would be 3.4 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, 2.2 percentage points more likely to enroll in college and 2.1 percent less likely to be arrested by attending a high school in the top 15 percent of effectiveness compared to an average high school. For a more advantaged student at the other end of the spectrum, there were very small improvements in high school graduation and arrests, but college going rose by almost as much as it did for disadvantaged students. 

The non-test score aspects of school quality seem to be driving many of the results. Schools that improve student behavior the most had the largest drop in school-based arrests. Schools that boost social and emotional skills had larger increases in college attendance.

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