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What Your Zip Code Means For Students


Did you know that a student’s zip code is the strongest predictor of academic achievement?  I was shocked when I first heard the statistics about this correlation.  Even though we understand zip codes to be a great predictor of many things, health, wealth and crime, to name but a few,  as an educator, I had long believed and still do, that a student, through hard work and support, could achieve and move beyond the dictates of their environment.  I still do believe that, but I see the economic divide in our country as a daunting challenge for our future as a democratic society. 

A democracy relies on informed citizenry to be knowledgeable about the society in which they participate.   An educated populace is a key component to a democratic society.  The equal protection clause, in the 14th amendment of the Constitution, guarantees that right.  In 1916, noted United States educator John Dewey wrote Democracy and Education.  His theories, while as pertinent today as they were a century ago, were largely abandoned in the post-World War II era when his theories of progressivism gave way to the factory model of education.   This model flourished during the cold war era when the “race to space” fostered the idea that America was behind the Soviets, and that more instruction and continued testing would fix the problem.  Unfortunately, that method has persisted to today, when standardized testing and sometimes ineffectual standards rule the educational realm.  Teaching to the test, due to pressures on students, teachers, administrators and districts, has become the norm in our society, and Dewey’s learning by doing seems long forgotten.

So, what does all this have to do with zip codes?  In 2012, at the Republican National Convention, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called education the, “civil rights issue of out day.”  In her address, she said,

“We have been successful too because Americans have known that one’s status at birth was not a permanent station in life. You might not be able to control your circumstances but you could control your response to your circumstances. And your greatest ally in doing so was a quality education. Let me ask you, though, today, when I can look at your zip code and can tell whether you are going to get a good education — can I really say that it doesn’t matter where you came from — it matters where you are going.”

Condoleezza Rice to the Republican National Convention, August 29, 2012

Her words resounded with me as an educator.  Educators believe in the future and help foster the belief in students that they can be or do anything.  We want our kids to dream big, because that’s how futures are made.   In a nation challenged by growing poverty and poor test performance in inner-city schools, how do we hold on to that dream? 

  • We believe in the ability of all students. 

  • We hold on to high expectations. 

  • We work to provide quality teachers in every school by addressing teacher pay and morale, and seeking to attract the best and the brightest to the profession. 

  • We seek opportunities to show students the world beyond their neighborhood, regardless of their neighborhood.

  •  We examine standardized tests that are inadequate in fully assessing achievement.

  • We provide students opportunities to learn by doing, and work collaboratively with others, honing critical thinking skills they will need for their future.

Whatever setting students are in, public, private or charter, in the United States, all children should have access to quality education so that it doesn’t matter where they came from, only where they are going.  And their dream, should always be big.