David W. Kirkpatrick, the Senior Education Fellow at the US Freedom Foundation, noted in an editorial titled, "Awarding Blue Ribbons: Recognizing Schools or Students?" that criteria for the awards do not take into account the socioeconomic status of the students and that studies show that students who come from homes with higher income and better educated parents do better than students without these advantages by virtue of their backgrounds. Thus, the award is usually given to schools with students from wealthy backgrounds. As evidence to support his case, he pointed to the distribution of awards given in Pennsylvania one year; of eight schools receiving the award, only one was in a district whose income level was near the state average, and the rest went to districts with above average income, including two in the wealthiest community in the state.

Kirkpatrick proposed an alternative to recognizing "blue ribbon students"; he wrote, "Thus a more accurate indication of a good school would be one that adjusts for such socioeconomic factors and identifies those in which students do better than would normally be expected, based on their backgrounds."

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