Features of School Education for Children With Levels of Poverty


The second strand of literature reviews school reform from three perspectives. First, a historical view of educational reform over time is identified. This section focuses on early legislations for school reform, No Child Left Behind legislation, and the history and development of the Spotlight School Program in the State of Illinois. The Spotlight School program was developed as a response by the State of Illinois educational officials in response to No Child Left Behind mandates. The section continues to describe the literature on effective schools and the characteristics of leaders that facilitate change in high-poverty, high-performing schools. Finally, the researcher identifies theories on building a capacity for change in schools and sustaining these changes. The chapter concludes with a brief description of an overview of the contribution this study makes to the field of school leadership and school reform.

Historical perspective of educational reform

Reform comes along with some vital purposes. In the realm of education reformation and change, the main purpose that is achieved is that the schools get more effective in the accomplishment of their goals (Bingler, 2002). The reality of the matter lies in the fact that it is quite impossible to accomplish reforms in education without alienating it from the orders of the social norm. Is there a way in which the system affects social change or does it in any way lead to the social changes that we engage in on a day-to-day basis? Based on history, reforms in the field of education at almost any instant were consequently followed by changes in the social norm. The systems that are present today in public education are consequents of history and processes of history but not due to the reasons that caused them (Ingersoll, 2001). This part of the paper seeks to establish whether there is any authenticity in the question of history and reforms in education.

Educational reform can thus be seen to stand against any evidence that can be granted by any evidence whatsoever. This encompasses the fact that the reforms that are to be in any educational system are to be subjected to prior conditions which make the question of what good education is answered. Such conditions include but are not limited to cooperation from the relevant authorities, stability in the economy, the military, and some common realization by the society at large that there lies a need to have some stable goals that are supposed to be achieved by education (Darling-Hammond, 2001).

In the early days of Plato, he said that the only way that children would learn was by wanting to but not being forced to by any other forces. The main reason as per the argument was that it was not possible to have compulsory learning stick in anyone’s mind. In modern times, reforming schools such that they operate in a systemized way can be seen to be a compulsory notion. The only advantage that the world today has gained from the reforms is the economic sustainability of most countries (Linn, 2000). This has helped in the raising of the value of education through such notions as a democracy where the importance of education has been put instilled into all children. Apart from the essence of education alone, the other important focus which has come to be put in place is the value of quality in that the education system needs to be high in quality and also should be very effective. In the modern system, there is a growth in the need to know what education is and also how there should be success in the teaching mechanism and consequent improvement in the teaching systems and the learning systems.

Going into in-depth history on the classical ages, there was some inefficiency in the systems that affected education. There was alienation towards alien systems and languages as compared to the local systems. In this era, the questions that were mainly asked were solid answers and did not seek to ask the details of the questions (Linn et al., 2002).

Early legislations for school reforms

Some reforms were set upon earlier on in trying to make the reforms in the schools and learning institutions more effective to all individuals. One of the examples that this paper can focus on is the Chicago “effective school literature”. One of the convictions that lay deeply entrenched in this act is the fact that all students can learn. Also in the convictions are the leading powers that are granted to the principals in that they have the authority to establish an atmosphere of consensus amongst all factors that are in the leadership square. For a school to be effective in this act, the school is supposed to make sure that all the students get constantly accessed in all their classwork in a way that should always meet their needs.

In this act, the bureaucracy in leadership was to be exempted and the chief focus was directed to the principal who would be deeply involved in the establishment of an effective learning environment for the children. With the granted powers, the principals were liable to change the composition of the different faculties and also ensure that all resources were allocated in a just manner that would ensure that the planning processes were improved and that the expectations of effectiveness to the students were met. This was heavily supported by the decentralization theory that is subject to a workplace environment in which the workers like it most and be more productive when they take part in matters that affect them (Ingersoll, 1997).

Some other early acts are the legislations that are in support of “early college high schools” (ECHS). These are the institutions that allowed the students to at least get a diploma and a credit towards a certain degree such that on the entrance to the university, they could have a regulated time of completion. Some of the acts are the “fast track to college bill”. This act was in support of the dual enrolment modes of learning as explained. The difference, in this case, is that the education secretary would be able to offer the students some grant which would support them in this endeavor.

Another legislation that was enacted in support of the strife is the “graduation promise act”. Here, the schools which proved to be performing on such a low note were funded to turn them around. This model was established in two titles; the first one was a fund for the reduction of dropouts to support systems that were all over the state and another model that was to support the high school students that were struggling and eventually dropped out of school. The last bit of the model would be used to enhance that the state of survival for all children in the state was incorporated with some incentives which would make them like school (Olson, 2000).

Another early model in this mode was the “graduates act”. This act was in support of innovativeness in the schools. This was important in preparing the students to participate fully in life after secondary school and also in life in the working community. The model would partner with agencies that were based locally and those that were based throughout the state, the community, and various other organizations like businesses and non-profit making organizations whose chief focus was towards reforming the secondary school system of education (Linn & Slinde, 1977).

No child left behind act

This law is an amendment of the 1965” Elementary Secondary Education Act”. In this legislation, there is an increase in the requirements for testing and also it demands the standards on how the schools are accountable. This is inclusive of the states and the districts. The law which comes in eleven components which will hereby be discussed later measures the objectives of progress for all students and their subgroups. The subgroups are defined by various situations like knowledge of English, race, ethnic backgrounds, social and economic status amongst others.

The legislation was passed by the Bush administration in the year 2001. The law which became effectual in the year 2002 has had an outstanding impact on the educational reforms of the United States greatly. The law has a direct effect on the way that the students get taught in the schools and also in the way their teachers are trained. The law has also had an impact on the way that money is spent on all factors that concern education. The main question is whether this law is concerned with the ways and means which are relevant in the improvement of the status of the academics (Hare & Heap, 2001).

As the bill was signed into law, it had a very huge impact on the closure of the achievement gaps. In this bill, the schools were directly held accountable for the performance of the students and in this case all the students. In such a circumstance, there was a requirement that all the teachers needed to be highly qualified. The “no child left behind” act was in a unique model of educational reform based on critical values which would eventually increase the effectiveness that was viewed in schools at that time. Accountability policies and control of the policies were left to the local schools. States were then required to make quite some remarkable changes in how they tested their systems of accountability which would be as a consequence of the requirements that were set upon them by the act. They were also required to identify the “adequate yearly progress objectives” (AYP). Amongst other requirements in the process of accountability was the participatory requirement in administration at the level of the state in “National Assessment of Educational Progress” (NAEP) at grade 4 and grade 8 reading and also in mathematics (Cronbach & Furby, 1970).

Flexibility in the allocation of resources was something that was of some other paramount importance. There was a major difference in the allocation of resources to urban schools as compared to the schools which are based in rural areas and such. Standards that were set by the actions needed to be met and so the best schools were rewarded and those that did not meet the standards required to be sanctioned. The parents, in this act, are required to communicate freely, participate in decision-making processes and also make the necessary chp0oices on which schools their children should attend (Feuer, et al, 1999).

Illinois spotlight schools

The “Illinois spotlight schools awards” came from some high profile research that was done on the “high poverty, high performing schools”. This study was done by the officials of the board of education at “Northern Illinois University”. In the study, it was recommended amongst other recommendations that the schools which the most extemporal performances be recognized in a way. There exists an “Illinois school accountability system”, which is allied to the “No Child Left Behind,” which has a requirement that the schools which have the best performance be rewarded and the schools which display dismal performances be sanctioned. The system was a response to the “No Child Left Behind” act. There was a proposition for a reward system by the board sitting at the “Northern Illinois University” for the “high poverty, high performing” schools that were later agreed upon by the ISBE. Using this criterion, the program rolled out and started identifying winners in the year 2003 (Cronbach et al, 1997).

The spotlight schools pinpointed in the awards then started being recognized by a variety of areas and got honors in set ceremonies at the respective schools. The association of principals of the state consequently went ahead and set up some network programs for the principals of the spotlight schools which aided them in development in the professional field. This response by this state was a direct and positive response to the mandate that was set by the “no child left behind” act (American Association of School Administrators, 2000).

Leaders that facilitate change in high poverty, high performing schools

Public schools are in charge of educating all children, no matter their background (Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, 2005). However, these schools have been recorded to have had more achievements when educating white students and those that come from families of middle or upper-class backgrounds compared to poor students and students from minority communities. Any child can be taught (Carter, 2000). It does not make a difference if the child is poor or not. Schools that have leaders that can rise above technical and cultural impediments that limit the education of poor children succeed in furthering the edification of low-income students.

To successfully educate students that come from a disadvantaged background, schools have employed notable practices and have administrators who have certain qualities (Lashway, 1997). These schools are headed by principals, who:

  • Exercise their authority without external influences. Successful principals do not rely on the directions of external authorities to decide the allotment criteria of their resources. They decide when and who to appoint, how, and what to teach in their school’s curricula. Schools that have a majority of poor students are usually allocated fewer resources when compared to the magnitude of the task that they are responsible for. Thus the principal must be free to choose how the resources will be utilized if effective education is to be realized.
  • Have developed a culture of setting goals and constantly monitoring them to induce their achievement. Effective principals have clear foresight. They have goals that are measurable and concrete. They ensure that their visions are communicated to the school and that every teacher strives to bring them their fruition.
  • Make use of the best teachers to develop and direct curricula. These principals employ teachers that are outstanding in their fields (Darling-Hammond, 2001). Through these teachers’ leadership and example, the faculty is steered towards the realization of the schools’ goals.
  • Develop a culture of regularly testing their students to monitor their development. The regular testing of students is used as a means of measuring how effective the schools’ policies are compared to the set goals. Regular testing will result in indicators of where more effort needs to be employed and where resources need to be re-allocated.
  • Constantly direct the school towards achieving success and in so doing create a culture of discipline. The school should, via the undertaking of its curricula, display that effective results are attained by persistent efforts. This will ultimately instill a sense of self-drive and self-discipline in the students.
  • Work closely with parents of their students. Successful schools are the source of delight for the community (Lashway, 1997). When parents are involved in the affairs of their children, they ensure that an environment that is conducive for the education of the child is created and maintained in the home. Thus the child will be geared towards success from all concerned parties and the community will reap the benefits of having enlightened members.
  • Motivate the teachers and students to do more to refine their abilities. Effective principals encourage the school to always do more. This drives the school to improve and in so doing drives every student and faculty to better their abilities.

Effective schools

All high poverty, high performing schools employ common principles which, when used in any other school will result in a significant improvement of school’s results. These schools’ effective practices include:

  • Expecting outstanding results. The school community cultivates a belief that everyone can be successful; as a result, everyone puts more effort to succeed because failure is not seen as an option for the principal, faculty, and students.
  • Respectful relationships. A respectful atmosphere between; the principal and faculty, faculty and students, principal and students; enabled the schools’ goals to be pursued with common determination and eliminated the overheads of stressful associations.
  • Focus. The schools do not lose sight of their goals by committing resources to those undertakings that would be wasteful and deviatory.
  • Effective leadership styles. These schools leaders arrive at their decisions after considering the opinions of those that will be affected.

Building a capacity for change in schools

The theories on building a capacity for change in schools are considered as a set and are studied by one another. Unless these concepts are integrated into the school’s administration model, sustainable change will not be realized (Fullan & Miles, 2002).

The concepts on developing a capability for the school’s transformation include:

  1. Change is a learning process
  2. Change has no template
  3. The challenges of change are good
  4. Change needs resources
  5. Change must be backed up by the authority
  6. Change is methodical
  7. Far-reaching change is realized locally

Change is a learning process

Change is an avenue for accepting fresh ideas, thus is a facilitator for self-edification. New ideas present a learning opportunity; those that come upon change have to take time to integrate the new ideas with the existing ones. This period of assimilating change is characterized by a challenge that is referred to as the “implementation dip”. No matter the ultimate result, the initial stages of undertaking change will always be demanding. If the initial stage is not as taxing as expected, then the transformation is either being substituted for an easier option or is not being carried out with the weight that befits it (Hall & Hord, 1987).

Change means going into uncharted territory with the risk factor as is its major factor. With risk comes improbability. When reformers fail to embrace the difficulty that comes with change, they fail to accept a natural part of the change and in so doing risk not realizing the full benefits of that change.

Change demands that the reformer learns a new way of doing things. When the reformer owns the learning process, she owns the change process. It is only when the reform is owned that the stages of its actualization are completed despite the prevailing difficulties (Hall & Hord, 1987).

Change has no template

Schools house a wide array of personalities with different abilities and perspectives, which in turn means that the administration is tasked with creating diverse policies that have to be carried out concurrently. Reform that is carried in this setup will therefore be intricate and the resulting outcome can not be accurately forecasted. If a reformer tries to create a template for the change process, she will be faced with the prospect of crafting a process to match a complex execution process. The resulting plan will be very complex and more often than not can not be brought to its successful conclusion.

The correct approach to change is not the more likely option of using a drafted plan template then implementing it, but rather, carrying out the reform, then formulating a new process along the way while the reform is underway. The reform goals should be formulated, their implementation measured, and then reviewed again (Hall & Hord, 1987).

The challenges of change are good

The reform of schools’ practices will always be bedeviled by challenges because change introduces involvedness and puts existing systems at risk. Challenges are an inherent part of the change process as they originate from the school’s administration, faculty, and even the students. The most effective way of dealing with these challenges is by tackling them head-on and in so doing resourceful answers are realized.

Challenges lead to deeper transformations, which solve problems of greater magnitude. A school is more likely to realize its objectives if it embraces the challenges that are brought about by change and understanding their intricacies rather than resisting them.

Schools have different ways of coping with problems; they range from superficial ones to more profound ones (Fullan & Miles, 2002). Superficial coping mechanisms include: inaction, delaying action, maintaining the status quo, and increasing or decreasing efforts. Deeper coping mechanisms include organizational streamlining, change of staff, and retraining staff. It was established that those schools that we’re able to handle challenges better were those that employed more profound coping techniques.

Change needs resources

A fairly sized school may need up to a million dollars to take care of its recurrent expenditure per year (Fullan & Miles, 2002). If reform were to be undertaken, additional resources would then have to be provided. Reforms call for extra effort to be committed because the day to day operations of the school still has to be taken off in addition to the extra commitments of the change process.

The school is then faced with the undertaking of sourcing more funds for the reform to get off the ground. The school will have to renounce notions of self-support and formulate strategies of sourcing funds externally (Barber & Dann, 1996). The need for extra resources calls for innovative ways of getting extra resources while at the same time observing prudent spending of the existing ones. When the school solicits support from external sources it displays a dedicated administration.

Change must be backed up by the authority

For reforms to be successful they must be backed by the power to implement them. Change is a very involving process that calls for tasks such as the evaluation and monitoring of the reforms, communication, and coordination of the sub-tasks that form part of the reform agenda.

The running of reforms should be carried out by a collection of the stakeholders, that is, school staff, students, parents, and the administration. In so doing a “cross-role group” is created which lends a greater involvement and ownership to the whole process. This steering group must however take care to avoid elitism which would lead to discontent and subsequently sabotage the collective reform process.

The power to drive and plot the course of the reform should originate internally. However this power is not meant to alienate the school from its community, thus particular care should be taken to ensure that change is geared towards achieving a more integrated solution.

Change is methodical

For change to be methodical, reform should be concurrently directed to the advancement of all the workings of the schooling system. This means that the administration, curricula development, and student development must all be simultaneously addressed. The reform should also address the work ethics and traditions of the school community.

Systematic change occurs when ad-hoc and opinionated tasks are carried out as part of the agenda. Reform should be formulated to cover short-term, mid-term to long-term objectives (Hopkins, 2001). When goals have been set, their implementations must be carried out persistently and logically, to avoid loss of focus due to deviations.

Traditional approaches to reform have been more geared towards haphazard implementations and politically influenced initializations, however, emerging trends call for a more involving reform process and the quest for unremitting improvement. For this to be successful a more methodical approach is of paramount importance if the reforms are to be successful.

Far-reaching change is realized locally

The success of a reform agenda can only be realized if efforts that are geared towards it originate from within the school and not from external sources. The daily efforts of the administration, the faculty staff, and the student body are what bring the reform agenda to a successful conclusion.

The school is solely responsible for the success of its undertakings, however, external influences still play a contributing part in the overall change process (Alma & Christopher, 2002). The parents of the students, the community where the school is located all determine the pace and manner in which the reform process is carried out. It is up to the school to ensure that it sufficiently communicates with the outside world so that the external props its efforts instead of opposing it.


This study has described how the needs of schools in poor and marginalized areas require their leaders to be equipped with a wide range of qualities that are backed by sound values. This paper has shown that great leadership is dependent on the personal ideals of the leaders and is not defined by hassles that originate from outside the school.

A change in the education system is considered as one of the ways that the world will be changed for the better, however, the change process is in itself a complex process, which when not undertaken carefully could lead to regression.


This section of the literature review has focused on school reform from various perspectives. The foremost part was the historical perspective of reform in the school systems from the earlier times to bring the reader to close attention to what has been going on with time. It has focused on some earlier modes of reforms followed by a detailed discussion of the “no child left behind” act. The provisions of the act and the implications together with the values that are held in the act have been spelled out clearly in this area. The aftermath of the actin Illinois this was the “spotlight schools program” has also been explained.

The section on effective schools has shown that although are disadvantaged, they have managed to employ practices that have enabled them to overcome adversity. These schools have fostered respectful relationships between the members; every member of the school is expected to succeed and the school’s common focus has been explicitly defined.


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Bingler, S., Diamond, B., Hill, B., Hoffman, J., Howley, C., Lawrence, B., et al. (2002). Dollars & sense: The cost effectiveness of small schools. Cincinnati, OH: School and Community Trust.

Carter, S. C. (2000). No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation.

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