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Where Poor Students Are Top of the Class

Children in schools dotting the districts along the Rio Grande River in Texas are overwhelmingly poor and Hispanic, and many of them are still learning English – all indicators associated with low academic achievement.

But in a handful of cities there, students are bucking that assumption by performing just as well, and in some cases better, than their wealthier peers.

Brownsville, McAllen and El Paso, for example, represent three of the four cities in the country where poor students outperform students from high-income families, according to a new report from GreatSchools and Education Cities.

“We’re one of the best kept secrets in the entire country,” says Esperanza Zendejas, superintendent of Brownsville schools, the 48,000-student district that is home to one of the highest child poverty rates in the U.S.

Ninety-five percent of students there are poor and 33 percent are still learning English. But the border town also boasts an impressive graduation rate of 90 percent.