In many areas of the US people choose the place to live based on the quality of local schools. In districts where schools are geographically segregated, many parents even resolve to various scams in an attempt to get their child into the "right" school.

However it seems unclear to me why bad schools exist in the first place - assuming that the government wants to make sure that all students receive a good education, shouldn't they replace personnel in schools which are considered "bad"? Or do bad schools only exist because the local population is under-educated in the first place and therefore no amount of schooling can help their children become better?

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    "the government" is a very broad and somewhat vague entity, especially for this discussion/question. Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:46
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    Yes, to reiterate the deleted comment, in the US, the federal government doesn't directly influence local school districts to a great degree. Most of the management of a district happens at the district level. This would include funding as well.
    – user1530
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:57
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    "replace personnel in schools" have you seen the salaries for educators and other school personnel? There is not a lot of people willing to work hard for such salaries. So once "bad" are removed you have a high chance to substitute them with "worse". Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:55
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    From the same place anyone else can get any workforce: from the available pool of talent. They are able to get a better talent because of 1) higher salaries 2) more prestige 3) more convenient to work there 4) students/colleagues respect you more. The last thing is especially important. I know a few people who decided to take this low-paying job and all of them told me that they really like to teach. And in the "bad" schools many students do not want to learn and have very little respect to a teacher. Back to my point - it is very hard to replace personnel. Commented May 10, 2017 at 22:15
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    Re "replace personel", consider the possibility that it is not primarily the staff that makes the difference between a good and bad school, but the students.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 5:20

7 Answers 7


While existing accepted answer is rather popular, it's mostly wrong.

As per commenter's request, TL;DR showing the difference

  • Accepted answer seems to imply (without evidence to prove that implication) that school funding disparity causes school districts to be better or worse.

    The (incorrect) conclusion from that assertion is that to address the issue; all that needs to be done is to increase funding to bad school districts and they will be equal to good ones (as funding is assumed to be causative). The problem is that many actual real life politicians in USA assume that implication and make budgetary decisions and public rhethoric based on that assumed causation (example1, example2, example3 from top of Google search first page).

  • My answer asserts two things:

    1. There's no evidence that school funding directly causes disparity in school districts above a minimum baseline (and evidence that it does NOT cause in many cases).

    2. That, however, there are a lot of factors that DO cause disparity of school districts having to do with socioeconomic conditions of the district populace. Those same differences do have corellative (and probably causative) effect on school funding; but they causatively act on school district quality directly and not by proxy of funding levels (above a certain baseline minimal level).

    The conclusion from my answer is that increasing funding to bad school districts above a minimum baseline level would NOT cause them to catch up to the good districts, because that would not address the underlying socioeconomic disparity differences of populace.

  1. School funding is NOT the only (or even the main) cause of bad and good school districts; especially once you take away the extreme outliers (districts that are so poor that schools literally structurally crumble and/or have no heat/water/food - for obvious reason, a certain basic minimal level of funding is required for the school to function at all).

    E.g look at these studies:

    • There is no statistically significant correlation between how much money Michigan’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically, according to a new empirical study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. (source)

  • This CATO study concluded (as tellingly illustrated in the graph below)

    ... overall picture can be summarized in a single value: 0.075. That is the correlation be tween the spending and academic performance changes of the past 40 years, for all 50 states.
    Correlations are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents absolutely no correlation between two data series and 1 represents a perfect correlation. Anything below 0.3 or 0.4 is considered a weak correlation. The 0.075 figure reported here suggests that there is essentially no link between state education spending (which has exploded) and the performance of students at the end of high school...

    enter image description here

In all fairness, there are conflicting studies as well, but none that establish causation, or even perfect correlation. This NPR report (hardly a bastion of conservative right-wingism) cites numerous studies; none of which establishes causation. This is explained by next bullets.

  1. Most impactful factors on educational attainment are instead ones that don't have to do with educational funding; but directly correlate to how well funded the district schools are:
  • Of course we have the original Coleman report:

    Coleman Report had concluded that “schools are remarkably similar in the effect they have on the achievement of their pupils when the socio-economic background of the students is taken into account.” Or, as one sociologist supposedly put it to the scholar-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Have you heard what Coleman is finding? It’s all family.”

  • Single-parent households have a clear correllation to educational attainment. Example study.

    enter image description here

    This is exacerbated by high incarceration rate, that further increases children with only one parent to raise them.

    enter image description here

  • There's a clear effect of actual poverty (hunger, etc...).

  • Parental level of education attainment is the best predictor. Obviously, there's a correllation between that, and district's economic situation.

    In most studies, parental education has been identified as the single strongest correlate of children’s success in school, the number of years they attend school, and their success later in life.

    E.g. this study.

  • While this may prove controversial, parents' and community culture matters a lot. As example; look at educational attainment of education-valuing immigrant communities - while former Soviets or Asians aren't poor (as far as immigrants go), they aren't exactly old WASP money rich. Yet, their kids do exceedingly well educationally. OTOH, minority students face daily downward pressure from the idea that studying hard is "acting white" ; in case someone claims this assertion is "racist', let me source it from someone who hopefully would be rather impervious to such an accusation:

    “Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn.They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” — Barack Obama, Keynote Address, Democratic National Convention, 2004

NOTE: The assumptions in this answer are:

  • I'm excluding the extreme outliers from the discussion.

    Yes, some districts are truly bad because of lack of funding, because the schools aren't even fit for teaching. The buildings crumble; there's no heat in winter (in all fairness, our local magnet elementary school had no heat in winter for 3 weeks this year despite rich district. Go figure).

    It's also without question that students who are literally hungry can't educationally achieve.

    However, (1) there is a minority of such (<20% US population/districts) and that doesn't address the disparity among the other 80%. In other words, it explains why there are extremely bad districts; but not why there are "good" districts; (2) Stating that funding is needed to address poverty - even when true - is misleading in context of education funding; most of the cost of which has nothing to do with feeding poor kids; (3) Experiments shown that throwing money at that problem don't help nearly as much as projected (e.g. Camden, NJ).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 14:27
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    Re "...eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white”, maybe we need to go a little further, and eradicate some of the forces (by no means all originating in the black community) that say "acting white" is a bad thing.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 5:09
  • small nitpick, your first link doesn't exactly conclude that more funding can't help school districts, they suggest instead that schools are not allocating money correctly and thus it's possible that more funding could help after schools remodel how they utilize already provided funding. Doesn't really change you conclusion much but still worth pointing out.
    – dsollen
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 17:16

Only about half of the funding for public schools in the United States comes from the federal and state budget. The other half comes from local property taxes. The property tax income varies a lot between rich and poor districts.

That means schools in poor districts have vastly less funding available than those in rich districts. The yearly budget per student a public school has available can range between below $6k and over $30k.

With private schools, the inequality is usually even worse. It's a market, so they cost as much as parents are able and willing to pay. Poorer regions simply don't have a market for premium education, so even if your income is far above the regional average, you might have trouble finding a quality private school nearby.

Less funding results in less numerous and less qualified teachers, worse equipment and an overall worse school environment. While it is hard to prove a causal relationship between low school funding and academic performance, parents are of course interested in giving their children the best possible environment to grow up in, which results in some trying everything they can to get their children into a better funded school district.

The reason why this system is structured that way is mostly historic. Schools were always considered a municipal responsibility. Changing the system would mean putting more financial burden onto the state governments and federal government which in turn would require an increase of state-level and federal-level taxes. This is generally unpopular among those US citizens who favor a "small state" and privatized over centralized solutions.


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    If this answer is going to focus on funding as the problem, it should really address Title I funding from the federal government. At least where I live, teacher pay is actually higher at Title I schools (those serving lower-income areas) than at schools in higher-income areas, which reverses the statement this answer makes about less money attracting less-qualified teachers.
    – reirab
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:56
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    Furthermore, if teachers were attracted to money in the first place, they wouldn't be teachers. :)
    – user1530
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:58
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    This is essentially wrong and the sources don't provide evidence it's right. They provide evidence that kids with wealthy parents have better schools, but parents give kids a lot more than just tax dollars. Some good evidence spending isn't the issue comes from this report. E.g. see this figure. Note the high spending (national average was ~$9300) and the low graduation rates in urban schools. Spending is not the problem.
    – JoshG79
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:06
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    @JoshG79 well, that's not entirely true either. We can say spending money on the school isn't a cure-all. We can also say spending money on school can improve opportunities and test scores in tangible ways to an extent. It's ultimately a rather complex inter-tangled mix of factors and there isn't a simple solution to any of it.
    – user1530
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 22:14
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    Why is everyone so hung up on student performance? The question is asking for why parents want to send their children to schools in other districts. Neither did the question imply that this is the only criteria that matters, nor does this answer imply that it is one.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 1:20

I am not an American, so I'll talk about Norway instead.

Even here there are bad schools and good schools. While there are some unevenness in funding, it isn't nearly as large as in the US.

I would like to discuss

Self-fulfilling prophecies

A newspaper publishes a ranking of schools. This ranking can be based on the Norwegian equivalent of SAT tests or something else. It doesn't really matter.

Even if the differences are small, some school will be at the top of the list, and some school will be at the bottom. People attach a ridiculous amount of importance to these rankings even if the message should have been that the differences are small.

So, we have a "best" school and a "worst" school.

Some parents read these ranking and decide that their child should attend the very best school possible, so they move to the relevant school district even if they have to live with a longer commute or other inconveniences.

The parents who do this are also supportive of their children's education in other ways, they talk to them about their homework, they have books at home, they have computers and a good Internet connection, and so on.

These children would have done well in any school, but now they attend the "best" school and raise its rating. The difference has increased.

And then we have the teachers. First we have one who graduated top of their class at the Teachers Academy. While good Academy grades doesn't automatically mean they are a good teacher, there is some correlation.

They want to teach at the "best" school. They apply and are accepted. Good grades is a door opener. The "best" school now has better teachers and will get a better rating.

Meanwhile another teacher who just barely graduated from the Academy applies too. They are rejected from the "best" school, the second-"best" school and all the way down to the "worst" school, where they are finally accepted as the only applicant. This school also have several unfilled positions, meaning they have to make do with unqualified temps.

In addition to being academically weak, these teachers are dissatisfied with their job and will use more effort on searching for another job than on their actual teaching.

The "worst" school and its students loses out and falls on the ratings.

After a few years of this, the newspaper publishes another ranking and the differences between the schools have increased. Now there really are good schools and bad schools. A shame, really.

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    Kind of like the tragedy of the commons, huh? Commented May 11, 2017 at 18:38
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    Maybe it's not all bad. Good students are wasted in classes full of low-archivers who drag them down and bully.
    – charlie_pl
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 14:08

However it seems unclear to me why bad schools exist in the first place - assuming that the government wants to make sure that all students receive a good education, shouldn't they replace personnel in schools which are considered "bad"?

This misunderstands how the United States system works. Most schools are run locally. So it is not "the government" that would replace the "bad" personnel, but the schools themselves. Or more precisely the elected school board that local voters picked to run the school.

Worse, most teachers are unionized in such a way that they can't be replaced. The unions won't even let some teachers be paid more than others for producing better results. Unless teachers are criminally bad (think inappropriate physical contact with a student, either violent or sexual), they can't be replaced. Certainly they can't be replaced for merely being bad at their jobs.

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    The last paragraph is a big problem after they get tenure, but they're actually quite easy to replace before they get tenure. The school just doesn't hire them again for the next year. Why tenure exists at all in primary/secondary education is another question and mostly goes back to the unionization that you mentioned.
    – reirab
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 18:42
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    Though it does answer a part of the question, it has to be noted that the "bad teacher" issue is a pretty small issue. There's also the issue that it's very hard to measure teacher quality when we're actually using testing scores as data. Finally, of course people can be replaced for being bad at their job...union or no union. That's just a myth.
    – user1530
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 19:01
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    @blip I've talked with a tenured teacher active in the local union, and their opinion seemed to be tenured teachers would not be fired for anything cops wouldn't be called about. Do you have a source of a tenured teacher being fired for performance?
    – user9389
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:53
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    @notstoreboughtdirt I've worked with tenured teachers. They can be forced out in all sorts of ways even if not directly fired. That said, there's a big misnomer here: that tenured teachers are a big problem. It takes effort to earn tenure. It's not like they pick random people out of a hat and give them tenure. They work for it. So by the time they get it, there's already been a long vetting process. Are some bad teachers tenured? I'm sure of it. There are bad people in any profession at all levels who seem incapable of being fired. But that's not really the problem with education in the US
    – user1530
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 21:29
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    @notstoreboughtdirt While asking blip for a source, you need to provide one yourself. Talking with one nameless tenured teacher doesn't suffice ;)
    – rob
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:54

I'd like to give a more personal answer that might help explain this better for people who don't live in the United States.

My wife and I are both white Americans, both college-educated, and our families have been in this country for more than a hundred years. We now have children, and in a year or two, we're going to have to make some very hard decisions.

When we bought our house, we knew that it was in a "bad" school district. That didn't matter, because we weren't interested in kids at the time, and it was indeed some years after we bought the house before our first child was born.

But contrary to the claims made by many of the other answers here, our property taxes are huge. They're among the highest in the entire state, and the local school district has double the budget of most of the surrounding school districts! (My parents retired and built a million-dollar house in another state, and they pay half of what I pay in property taxes on my little home.) So lest you believe that there's any kind of correlation between "size of property taxes" and "school quality," we are the proof against it!

So how do you have a school district with "double the money" but "half the quality"?

The town we live near was a booming steel town back in the 1970s. It had money, it had people, it had vitality, and it had the resources to expand. But thanks to a variety of global economic changes throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the steel mills closed, and those who could afford to moved away to find other jobs.

The people who were left behind were poor, and poverty is well-known to be strongly correlated to poor test scores and poor educational levels no matter what country you live in. The innermost parts of our town are now mostly inhabited by poor people, and the educational quality went down at pretty much the same rate the poverty level went up. As the richer families and good students left, the good teachers also left for "better" or "safer" jobs, and the system as a whole spiraled downward. To try to compensate, the school district has raised the property taxes that support it again and again — but that only had the net effect of driving more people away, lowering property values, and making the whole system even worse.

However, there's a flipside to that: I live in a nice little house, right at the very edge of the school district. There's no poverty here: It's all upper-middle-class — professionals and managers and engineers and salesmen. We all bought these houses because the houses were nice but inexpensive (thanks to lower property values) and because none of us had children at the time. The houses are close to our jobs, to shopping, and to good resources in richer nearby towns. Even though the property taxes are absurdly high, it's actually a great place to live — except for the schools.

But now that I have children, that means I'm faced with an ugly dilemma, because we're in a terrible school district that for all its money likely won't improve. The status quo is not an option, because I want my children to have a good education, and they won't get one at the local schools. I really like where we live, but we may not be able to stay:

  • I can sell this house and buy one that (literally) costs 50% more money for the same house (or slightly smaller), in a much worse location, but in a better school district.
  • I can stay here and try to get my kids into a charter school (a special state-run school), but those are controlled by a lottery, and my kids will only get in if they happen to be lucky enough.
  • I can stay here and spend huge amounts of money on private schooling, but it might just be cheaper to buy another house.

But, you see, no matter which of those options I choose, the local school district loses: I have no choice to avoid the local school for my children because it's a bad school. It has problems with crime and drugs, its test scores are low, and its teachers are not good. But at the same time, it's bad because good families won't send their good students there and make it better.

I know I and the people in my neighborhood and all the others like us across the country are all part of the problem, but we can't help make these kinds of failing school district better by sending our children to them even if we wanted to, because we'd have to risk our children's futures to do it. Even though as college-educated, well-paid, two-parent households we might be in the best possible position to help these schools' most fundamental problem, we still can't act to help the bad school districts become better, because of our (selfish) desire to give our children the best education we can give them.

And so the good districts become better, and the bad districts become worse.

So you see, it's not about race, or about money: It's entirely about the quality of the school itself, and unfortunately for the schools in distress, that's a self-perpetuating problem.

  • What do you think about the answer above, which implies that the quality of the school is absolutely irrelevant? politics.stackexchange.com/a/18831/7434 Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:24
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    I think that if you think it's irrelevant, you're quite welcome to send your kids to our local school. You can reasonably expect them to be in a gang by age 12, to be doing drugs by age 14, and to drop out by age 16. That's based on the school's actual dropout rates, and on the stories of several people I know who went there. Not all schools in this country are even close to equal. Whether you measure it by the quality of the teachers or the quality of the students, there's still a marked difference in quality. Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:32
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    Not exactly. My answer is that once a school starts into decline, it becomes a self-perpetuating problem: Good students leave, so good teachers leave, so more good students leave, so more good teachers leave, until the school is left with only the students and teachers who don't have any other choice but to be there. For our local school, a few local factories closing was the trigger that started the downward spiral. But now that both the students and teachers are bad, no good students or teachers want to go there, which means it stays bad. Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:40
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    Even if our local school had a sudden windfall of, say, winning the lottery and having an extra $100 million at their disposal, they'd still be a bad school — they'd just be a bad school with a lot of money. Money can't fix the problem, because the problem is really a societal feedback loop, rooted in the individual desire to have what's best for one's own children, rather than on a global desire for what's best for society as a whole. I'd love to be so altruistic as to try to help the local school — but not at the expense of my kids' futures. Commented May 11, 2017 at 20:48
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    @JonathanReez: I think you have the causation mixed up. It's not that the school is bad because local residents are poor. It's that both the poverty and the bad school are the result of underlying cultural problems.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 17:32

The simple answer is over time, perhaps decades, teachers and parents with means flock to the good school districts and flock away from the bad districts.

Let's say you have two school districts (A and B) that start out with equal ratings (5/10 stars). Then let's say school A has a good year or had a great new principal and it's rating increases to 6/10. Parents who really care about school catch on to what is happening at school A and decide to move from B to A, taking the star students, which lowers B's score to 4. As the years go by, housing prices climb faster in near school A. School B's property values stagnate or decline. More and more people catch on to the disparity. New parents moving into the area want the good school, so they choose to live near A. School B is stuck with people who either don't care or cannot afford School A. The inequality gets even worse. It is a hard problem to solve.


In many areas of the US people choose the place to live based on the quality of local schools. In districts where schools are geographically segregated, many parents even resolve to various scams in an attempt to get their child into the "right" school.

However it seems unclear to me why bad schools exist in the first place - assuming that the government wants to make sure that all students receive a good education, shouldn't they replace personnel in schools which are considered "bad"? Or do bad schools only exist because the local population is under-educated in the first place and therefore no amount of schooling can help their children become better?

A good place to begin is to recognize that in much of the United States there is only one school that everyone attends.

For example, I grew up in small town Ohio and there was only one public high school, there were no private high schools, and the nearest public high school to ours was more than an hour away by school bus.

Traditionally, everyone had one public school to which they were assigned on the basis of where they lived with elementary schools being more numerous and in smaller geographic catchment areas than middle schools than high schools. Many high population density urban metropolitan areas now allow some degree of choice against that backdrop.

School desegregation reduced the impact of a geographic catchment area within a larger school district, but it also led to "white flight" to suburban schools and parochial schools (i.e. church run schools, often Catholic in Northern cities and historically white Evangelical protestant in the South).

Another good place to begin is to understand what a "good" and a "bad" school mean, terms about which there isn't a consensus.

Absolute Academic Achievement

One commonly used definition of a "good" school is one that has high academic outcomes in absolute terms - its students don't drop out, frequently go to college, frequently go to selective colleges if they do go to college, frequently find decent jobs if they don't go to college, perform well on standardized tests, take more advanced classes such as advanced placement, international baccalaureate, honors and college classes, etc.

This is overwhelmingly a function of the socio-economic backgrounds of the students and sometimes selectivity in admissions. Mostly, this means the education and income of students, but it also captures factors like the percentage of students learning English as a second language, and the percentage of students who change schools during the course of the school year due to parental job shifts.

The powerful linkage between socio-economic background and outcomes is a mix of nature and nurture. IQ is strongly hereditary, and parents tend to raise their children in much the same manner that they were raised - which is positive in terms of school success in the case of parents who are successful, and negative in terms of school success in the case of parents who have failed socio-economically and when they were in school because of the behavioral and cultural ways of living and parenting that they learned from their parents.

This varies greatly from school to school, because different school catchment areas have a dramatically different socio-economic makeup. Also, school choice within the publicly funded school arena and private education (both religious and non-religious) often accentuate already existing disparities as affluent middle class kids opt out of local public schools in low income areas with "bad schools" by this measure.

The variation is so extreme due to histories of de jure residential segregation, federal housing policies until the last thirty years or so, and histories of economic development and migration that vary from place to place. The extreme socio-economic inequality of the U.S. usually persists right down to the neighborhood level. The 1% and those in poverty, almost never live in the same neighborhoods, and even if they do, they attend different schools with the 1% opting out of public schools if they feel the need to do so.

Basically, school quality varies because schools predominantly draw from quite narrow geographic areas and neighborhoods are extremely segregated by education, income, race and other demographic factors, by design.

Parents work hard to get into the "right" school mostly in the belief that the "right" school will have more students at a similar level of academic development to their child that is also more safe, and has programs and resources that will foster more student growth as a result. Whether this is empirically true or not, it is widely believed. At the extremes there is some truth to it, in the middle a lot of this perception is not supported by reality.

Avoiding "bad" schools is, by and large, perfectly rational for pretty much everyone who had the means to do so and leaves schools full of children whose parents are unable to find better options or simply don't care. Chasing "good schools" is more challenging and less likely to produce reliable results.


Another crude way to define the difference between a "good" school and a "bad" school is the personal safety of teachers and students. Any school in which students and/or teachers must fear for their personal safety on a regular basis is a "bad" school.

In general, personal safety turns out to be closely correlated with absolute academic achievement with some caveats.

"Bad" schools from a safety perspective are considerably more likely to be located in poor urban areas with high levels of crime outside the school (with schools generally being safe relative to the outside world in these neighborhoods), and safety tends to be a concern only in the worst schools (perhaps the bottom 10%). The difference in personal safety between the 5th percentile and the 20th percentile of school safety is much greater than between the 20th percentile of school safety and the 65th percentile of school safety, even though the percentile gap is three times as great.

Levels of gang activity in a school are also closely related to its safety, and some schools may be safe for some students and not for others (e.g. a gay student is at higher risk of personal safety concerns in many schools, and black students are at higher risk of personal safety concerns in many rural predominantly white schools).

Value Added

Another way to distinguish "good" schools from "bad" schools is the extent to which students make academic progress during the course of a school year, or from school year to the next school year.

This measure is much less strongly correlated with student socio-economic background, but is not divorced from it either.

Maybe 80% of schools produce students whose performance is what you would expect for the socio-economic status of these students, perhaps 10% have students who over perform, and perhaps 10% have students who under perform.

Almost all of the schools whose students under perform are students at a "bad" school by the other two measures, and experience minimal or negative academic growth from year to year.

Students at "good" schools often (but certainly not always) tend to make above average progress, but this is much more patchy. Plenty of "good" schools by other measures, however, are only fair by a value added measure. There is little pressure to improve academic performance when the student body by dint of having students from affluent, well educated, stable families will perform very well even with mediocre academic instruction at school.

A significant number of schools that are safe but below average in absolute academic performance (perhaps half to the 10% of schools that over perform) are excellent by a value added measure. Schools in this category tend to be schools of choice or private schools because they typically insist on longer hours of school attendance each year and have a greater focus on behavior modification than an ordinary school could manage without meaningful consent from parents. Another group of schools that often over perform relative to the socio-economic background of their students are well focused vocational training schools.

So, while some schools do have a consistently socio-economically uplifting effect and "add value" through instruction that is more than "par for the course" for a particular student starting at a particular place, usually they don't and it is very hard to replicate the success stories.

Role of Funding

Since a significant share of school funding is local, and communities with lots of students from affluent backgrounds tend to be affluent communities that pay more in taxes, "good schools" also tend to be better funded. But, funding is at best a secondary order affect relative to the socioeconomics of the students who attend the school.

In urban central cities, funding levels per student tend to be at least average, but student needs (e.g. for special education for students with learning disabilities and for general support for very poor students such as homeless students) tend to be much greater.

The least poorly funded schools tend to be rural schools in low income rural areas with an insufficient local tax base to support them and with high costs associated with a lack of economies of scale and large transportation costs for students. These schools are limited in the opportunities that they can offer students due to lack of funding, but partially make up for this with personalized attention to students in small supportive school environments and with tightly knit communities.

Appalachia and the rural Southwestern U.S. tend to suffer the most from reduced funding that leads to reduced school quality, as these areas often lack of social capital from the community that compensates for poor school funding in other rural areas.

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