NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Little Correlation Between Achievement And School Honors

September 6, 2000

The federal government and the states hand out "Blue Ribbon" awards to public schools that they consider exemplary. Trouble is that the schools are often academic underachievers or they incorporate "trendy, faddish practices" that have little to do with learning, according to a study by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution.

Loveless studied the federal Blue Ribbon Schools program -- which has handed out recognition to nearly 4,000 schools since 1982 -- the California Distinguished Schools program and the Indiana Four Stars School program.

Here are some of his findings:

  • Students in 17 of the 70 schools selected for the 1999 Blue Ribbon elementary school program scored in the bottom 50 percent of similar schools in reading and math.
  • Thirty of the 207 elementary schools honored in California achieved in the bottom two-tenths compared with schools with similar socioeconomic profiles.
  • Only about 70 percent of Indiana's Four Star Schools this year performed in the top two-tenths of schools in the state with similar socioeconomic profiles.

Defenders of the Blue Ribbon Schools program protest that students are held to high academic standards or have improved test scores more than 10 percent over five years.

Source: Tamara Henry, "'Blue Ribbon' Schools Not Always Tops Academically," USA Today, September 6, 2000.


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