School principals say Government policies like national standards and charter schools will not reduce under-achievement.
They say the most successful initiatives for addressing the problem involve engaging families and communities, rather than threatening teachers and schools.
The Ministry of Education says it recognises there is no simple answer and runs a range of initiatives.
But the system of self-managing schools governed by their own boards of trustees means schools are largely left to decide what they do.
More on the link between low income and low educational achievement can be heard on Insighton Sunday.