Convention says that low-performing schools are mainly an inner-city problem. To a degree that is the case—urban public-school systems have long struggled to educate their students well. Cleveland’s public schools are something of a poster-child in this respect, and other urban schools systems in Ohio struggle just as mightily. Youngstown City Schools is in “academic distress,” and Columbus’ district had so many problems with academic performance that some of its employees “scrubbed” student records to make it appear better.
That being said, it’s inaccurate to say that weak schools exist only in urban areas. As the maps below demonstrate, inept schools aren’t just an urban problem.
The first map shows the geographic distribution of Ohio’s low-rated public schools (district and charter), along both the state’s achievement and value-added indicator of performance. Many, but not all, of these 218 schools are located in large urban areas (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo). Yet there are pockets of low-performing schools in other mid-sized towns including Warren (near Youngstown in Northeast Ohio), Lima (Northwest Ohio), and Lorain (west of Cleveland). There are even a few low-rated schools in rural areas.
Map 1: Ohio schools that received a D or F in performance index (achievement) and value-added (learning gains), 2012-13
Click on the map for an interactive view of the data. (The color of the points are related to the school's D/F rating.)
When we home in on the state’s value-added indicator, we find a much wider dispersion of low-performing schools. The value-added indicator estimates the contribution a school makes to student growth. Importantly, a school’s value-added score does not correlate well to the proportion of its students who are economically disadvantaged or African American. (Low-income and African American pupils tend to achieve at lower levels than their peers.) This means a more-level playing field when we judge school performance—“proportionality,” to use the words of some researchers. Under value-added, high-poverty, high-minority schools are less systemically disadvantaged, as they tend to be in an achievement-centered accountability system.
In 2012-13, 611 schools received an “F” for their overall value-added rating. That’s a lot of schools to plot on a map, so I take the bottom 10 percent of Ohio’s 2,558 schools that received a value-added score. Map 2 is eye-opening, showing that low-performing schools are situated in practically every region of the state. There are even low-value-added schools located in wealthy suburban areas (e.g., a school in Worthington in suburban Columbus and a school in Shaker Heights in suburban Cleveland). Granted, low-value-added schools still tend to concentrate in metro areas, but the point is this: Schools that could do better for their kids can be found throughout the entire state.
Map 2: Ohio schools in the bottom 10 percent of value-added scores, 2012-13
Click on the map for an interactive view of the data.
 Value-added takes into account test-takers (in math and reading) in grades four through eight.