Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Administration

Major Professor

Vincent A. Anfara

Committee Members

Russell L. French, Randal H. Pierce, Gerald C. Ubben


High academic achievement by students in high-poverty schools is unusual throughout the United States. East Tennessee is no exception. However, there are some schools with high percentages of low socioeconomic student populations, which do excel in helping students reach high academic performance. This study looks at four high-performing, high-poverty elementary schools in East Tennessee to determine how they have overcome the tendency to accept low student achievement as inevitable.

By studying the high-achieving, high-poverty schools that exist in East Tennessee to find not only the characteristics that are associated with these effective schools, but also, more importantly, the practices used by educators in these schools, we can begin to provide some answers that will help all schools improve the academic performance of economically disadvantaged students. This mixed-method, multi-site case study involved four elementary schools in East Tennessee that were selected because of high test scores and value-added scores on the Annual Report Card issued by the state of Tennessee. Using quantitative data (The More Effective Schools Staff Survey) and qualitative data (interviews with the principal and at least two teachers at each school along with observations), this study sought to answer the following two research questions:

(1) Which of the characteristics of Effective Schools do high-performing, high- poverty schools in East Tennessee have in common? (a) How do these characteristics correspond to those identified in the Effective Schools Research? (b) How do the characteristics differ from those identified in the Effective Schools Research?

(2) What underlying conditions (i.e., values, beliefs, and culture of the school) or distinctive practices must be present for the Effective Schools practices to exist?

A clear school mission, high expectations for success, instructional leadership, frequent monitoring of student progress, opportunities to learn and student time on task, a safe and orderly environment, and a positive home-school relationship – the seven correlates of the Effective Schools Research – were all found to be present in the four schools studied. The underlying conditions or distinct practices included strong commitment of teachers and staff members at each school; teachers were held accountable for teaching and students for learning; a positive, caring atmosphere existed where staff relationships were strong and a deep understanding of the local community was evident; and staff development and training were provided to support and consistently improve a wide variety of programs.

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