The impact of poor performing schools on a city are huge. A poor performing school district drives families out of the city and discourages new families from moving in. In an era when jobs are hard to come by, dismal graduation rates have an impact on the economy and government services for generations to come.  The City of Buffalo is the nations third poorest city, with a high school graduation rate of 47 percent and 75 percent of its schools are on the state’s watch list of schools needing to improve.

The Buffalo News did an interesting analysis of the dysfunctional Buffalo School district and compared it to districts that are having success. The conclusion reached is that the difference between a poor performing school district and a successful district comes down to expectations, leadership and accountability.

Columbus Ohio, like Buffalo has 77 percent of its students receiving lunch subsidies due to poverty. Despite the issues that poverty brings with it, Columbus has achieved the type of success that eludes Buffalo. A big part of the success in Columbus according to School Board President Carol Perkins is “We had to develop working relationships between the board, the superintendent and the CEA (teachers union).” In Columbus the Panasonic Foundation was utilized, which helped to break through the deep suspicions all sides had toward each other. The Panasonic Foundation as a third party established a labor-management organization that helped school administrators and the union agree on approaches to improving the education of students. As a result graduation rates in Columbus have increased from 59.9 percent in 2003 to 77.6 percent in 2010. Columbus has also established a system of “vision cards” to measure, monitor and adjust district goals.

In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district officials have chosen a strategy of focusing on results and outcomes instead of simply distributing resources equally and consistently. Equal distribution of resources as a cookie-cutter approach failed to account for the differences among students. Five years ago, only 55 percent of schools met state standards, today 88 percent of schools meet state standards. Over the past two years the graduation rate has improved from 66 percent to 74 percent. Achievement gaps among students of different races and family income levels have narrowed as well. Charlotte-Mecklenburg was recently named the country’s top urban school district, winning the Broad Prize.

Buffalo Schools are in a bad state but as the Buffalo News states:

” It doesn’t have to be this way. Around the country, there are large, urban districts that are doing it right or at least making strides. Students are becoming invested in their own education. Parents are making their voices heard. Teachers, with the encouragement of their principals, are unleashing their creativity on students. Superintendents are putting capable administrators in key positions and then insisting on accountability.

Similarly, school boards are hiring excellent superintendents, requiring accountability and then getting out of the way.”

The difference between an organization that fails and one that is successful comes down to expectations, leadership and accountability. Do you agree?