The 'Do You Believe in Miracles?' Award

Public Agenda for Failure Is Not an Option

The “Do You Believe in Miracles?” Award goes to the Public Agenda Foundation for Failure is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success

A particularly egregious disservice is done by reports designed to convince readers that investment in disadvantaged communities can be ignored.  In this increasingly common mythology, students’ substandard outcomes are blamed on teachers and schools that don’t follow the miracle-laden path of exceptional schools. 

Early in 2013, we sent a report of this genre out for review. The authors of this report, from Public Agenda, identified nine Ohio schools where “failure is not an option.” The report’s basic claim was that certain school-based policies and programs can by themselves overcome the impact of poverty on student performance. Among the earth-shaking recommendations were: “Engage teachers,” “Leverage a great reputation,” “Be careful about burnout,” and “Celebrate success.”

While these seem like good practices and have indeed been pursued since the time when the report’s authors were in kindergarten, it’s hard to see how they will lead to miracles. Miracles are hard to come by and even harder to sustain. In fact, notwithstanding the report’s title, four of the nine selected schools had poverty rates at the state average and thus not particularly high-poverty schools.

While it may be easy to laugh at the idea that the recommended approaches will somehow overcome the effects of unemployment, bad health care, sub-standard living conditions and the like, it is also an outrageous neglect of the fundamental social needs and problems of neighborhoods, families and children. The truth that these reports hide is that school failure will almost always prevail in a society that will not invest in disadvantaged communities and the families who live there.