Methodology - Failure Is Not An Option

Methodology page for "Failure is not an Option". A two-person research team visited each participating school for two to three days in May 2012.


Sample Selection

A total of nine Ohio public schools participated in this study. These schools were selected to make up a geographically diverse sample (rural and urban schools from across the state) and to represent various types of both primary and secondary schools, including traditional public schools, community (charter) schools and lottery-based public schools. All schools demonstrated outstanding academic achievement.

Six of the nine schools in this study were chosen from the state of Ohio’s 2010–11 Schools of Promise list. All six were also recognized as Schools of Promise in the previous academic year (2009–10) and at least one additional year. The requirements for the 2010–11 Schools of Promise award are as follows:

  • At least 40 percent of the student body was “economically disadvantaged”—this designation is linked to a student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches, as recorded in Ohio’s Education Management Information System (that being said, each of the schools selected had a student body in excess of 50 percent “economically disadvantaged”).
  • The school met adequate yearly progress.
  • The school’s graduation rate1 was at least 85 percent.
  • On the Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) and/or Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) in reading and mathematics:
  • In 2010–11, at least 75 percent of all students in tested grades passed, at least 75 percent of students in the economically disadvantaged subgroup2 in tested grades passed and at least 75 percent of students in each racial or ethnic subgroup3 in tested grades passed; and
  • In 2009–10, at least 65 percent of all students in tested grades4 passed.
  • On OGTs, in 2010–11, at least 85 percent of all eleventh graders, 85 percent of economically disadvantaged eleventh graders and 85 percent of eleventh graders in each racial or ethnic subgroup3 passed.
  • If applicable, the school received a “Met” or “Above” for the 2010–11 value-added composite score.

The requirements for the 2009–10 Schools of Promise award were identical except that on the OATs and OGTs, passage percentages were required for either reading or mathematics. In 2010–11, requirements included both—not either—of the subjects.

The three remaining schools chosen for this study have never been on the Schools of Promise list; however, they are all high-needs schools with exceptional academic reputations. Two of these schools have shown remarkable improvements in student performance in recent years and fell short of receiving the Schools of Promise award by only a couple of students. The remaining school is comparatively new and had not graduated its first class of seniors at the time of the study, but it otherwise exceeded all requirements of the Schools of Promise award.


A two-person research team visited each participating school for two to three days in May 2012. In each school, we conducted focus groups with teachers, parents and students, respectively. This methodology allowed us to speak to most, in some cases all, teachers in each school and to a sample of students and parents who represented different grade levels. Participants were recruited with the help of a designated school staff—for instance, an administrator from the principal’s office. Each focus group took place in a room at the school. Conversation lasted about two hours. All groups were audio-recorded, and a subset of groups was also video-recorded. Participants were assured that everything they said would be treated confidentially and that video recordings would be used for research purposes only. We sought active parental consent from students who participated in the video-recorded focus groups. Participating teachers and parents were paid a small stipend for their time. For participating students, we provided pizza and other snacks deemed appropriate by the school leadership.

In addition, across the schools we visited, we conducted up to 10 individual interviews with school leaders, support staff and community partners. In a few school districts, we were also able to speak to district office representatives. Each interview was conducted either in person or on the phone. Interviews were tape-recorded and lasted up to 60 minutes. Interviewees were thanked for their time, and each participating school received a monetary donation for its participation in this project.

School NameCityDistrict
Citizens Academy Elementary SchoolClevelandcharter school
East Garfield Elementary SchoolSteubenvilleSteubenville City
Eastmoor Academy High SchoolColumbusColumbus City
Grove Patterson Academy Elementary SchoolToledoToledo City
MC2 STEM High SchoolClevelandCleveland Metropolitan
Northwest High SchoolMcDermottNorthwest Local
River Valley Middle SchoolBidwellGallia County Local
Robert A. Taft Information Technology High SchoolCincinnatiCincinnati City

1The graduation requirement applies only where five or more students were supposed to graduate in the given school year. 2Only grades with five or more economically disadvantaged test takers are considered. 3The racial and ethnic subgroups tracked are White, Non-Hispanic; Black, Non-Hispanic; Hispanic; Asian/Pacific Islander; and American Indian/Alaska Native. Only groups with five or more test takers are considered. 4The tested grades are 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th

Download the PDF of the Report

Failure Is Not An Option

How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio's High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success

Media Type: PDF

In spite of high poverty, tight budgets, sub-optimal parent participation and ill preparation, there are schools that produce extraordinary students and remarkable stories of success.


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