A poor school district does not automatically mean low-performing schools.

There has long been a relationship in the United States between the wealth of a school or school district and its success rate. However, statistics alone do not account for the success of some schools with a less-than-ideal demographic, or the failure of other schools with a more favorable demographic. Digging into the data of both low- and high-performing schools and districts yields further information on factors that make a school successful or unsuccessful.


Investopedia defines demographics as a population study based on factors such as age, race, sex, economic status, level of education, and income level and employment. Demographics information is used by governments, corporations and other organizations to learn more about a population's characteristics. Organizations, government agencies and researchers use demographics for research and planning purposes, and also to spot trends within a population. For example, one demographic trend that has been studied for the last 15 years has been the rise in the Latino population in places that have not had a large Latino population in the past.

Relationship Between Demographics and School Performance

There has long been a link between demographics and school performance. In the age of accountability from No Child Left Behind there is a large amount of both demographic information and achievement test scores available for research. It is easy to look at demographic information and draw conclusions. For example, the six highest-performing elementary schools in a large city in Massachusetts had majority white populations and were located in areas that had more resources than the six lowest-performing elementary schools, which had large minority populations, a large number of limited English proficient students and fewer resources. A research study in Virginia found that students from schools with fewer financial opportunities consistently scored lower than students from wealthier districts.

Characteristics of Low-performing Schools

Research done on a national scale by the U.S. Department of Education at the beginning of the 21st century indicated that low-performing schools have several characteristics in common. Low-performing schools are overwhelmingly located in poor districts or poor areas. Schools that are classified as low-performing also have inadequate resources to help their students achieve. Low-performing schools tend to be large and tend to have factors that cause stress -- high crime in the area, family distress (absent parent, domestic violence, parents working long hours, poverty) and violence. The population in low-performing schools is mobile, because families often move for economic reasons. Many low-performing schools have a high percentage of minority populations and limited English proficient students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Characteristics of High-performing Schools

It would be easy to dismiss all schools in economically deprived areas as low performing. However, there are exceptions. There are many high performing schools in poor areas and poor districts. According to the Washington Department of Education, high-performing schools, whether in poor areas or wealthier areas, whether the population is minority or white, have common characteristics. The schools have a clear and shared focus. The faculty has high expectations for all students. The school has effective leadership. Curriculum, instruction and assessment are tied to state standards. Learning and teaching are monitored and assessed. The learning environment is supportive. Finally, there is a high level of family and community involvement in the school.