Gathering equitable evidence and putting it into action

A silver lining of these challenging times is that there is new and welcome attention to the concept of equity. 

At City Connects, we’ve spent decades working to achieve equitable outcomes by serving all students.

Now we’re proud that the nonprofit organization Project Evident has recognized City Connects as an example of the use of “equitable evidence.”

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Project Evident launched the Actionable Evidence Initiative, which seeks, as its website explains, “to engage stakeholders in the education sector to accelerate the development of evidence and solutions that can improve outcomes for students who are Black, Latino/a/x, or experiencing poverty.”

A key strategy is “supporting researchers, technical assistance providers, funders, and policymakers to adopt actionable evidence approaches that prioritize practitioners learning and decision making and centers on community needs and voices.”

One tool for doing this work, the initiative says, is the City Connects technology platform, MyConnects. As a case study released by the initiative explains, City Connects had used an internally developed Student Support Information System. But guided by the principle of continuous improvement and by City Connects Coordinators who wanted easier, more nimble ways to capture, review, and share information, staff created a new system called MyConnects.

The case study was written by Mary Walsh, Executive Director of City Connects, Claire Foley, City Connects Associate Director, and Yan Leigh, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Center for Thriving Children in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

To be effective, MyConnects had to be, as the case study notes, informed by and “actionable for multiple people and groups,” including coordinators, teachers, and principals. The more people who could easily use the data, the more powerful that data would be.

“Beyond the school walls, families need a way to make decisions about specific supports and programs for their children and communicate with the school about their views and preferences.” Families provide vital information about their children. And families benefit from the power of an evidence-based approach to providing support, services, and opportunities.

The great virtue of City Connects’ use of data and equitable evidence, of course, is using them to improve students’ lives, clearing away out-of-school obstacles so students can thrive in school, and creating opportunities, from summer camp to music lessons to Lego clubs, that children might not otherwise have.

There are also benefits for the many City Connects community partners that “need to connect with the students who can benefit from their services.” Coordinators use MyConnects to see what students’ interests and needs are, and then match these students with the right community partners.

Additional advantages include helping improve City Connects’ implementation; fueling research at the Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects; providing insights for district leaders and state officials; and inspiring cities and states to add City Connects to their educational reform efforts.

Finally, it’s data that yield outcomes, and it is outcomes that attract and inform funders.

All this work is essential for helping school children succeed. As the case study concludes:

“The fundamental objective of our MyConnects project in terms of capacity building is for everyone in the school community to use robust and meaningful data to maximize their support and contribution to the success of the student, classroom, school, district, and our education system. Ultimately, with the right support at the right time, regardless of the income or zip code, every student finds his or her spark and succeeds.”

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