Education Week: “Learning Payoff Found for City Connects Program”

Education WeekThe work of City Connects was featured today on the front page of Education Week: Learning Payoff Found for City Connects Program.”

The catalyst for the story was a paper authored by our Evaluation Team that was recently published in the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ). The paper demonstrates City Connects‘ positive impact on elementary and middle school students’ academic achievement.

City Connects Executive Director Mary Walsh says:
While schools have always made efforts to address students’ out-of-school needs, the City Connects AERJ paper shows that using evidence to inform practice, making effective use of community resources, and tailoring a plan for every student can alter trajectories for children. It’s a call to action to change the way we address the achievement gap and the ‘poverty gap’ in our most challenged schools and to rethink how school counselors, social workers, and other student support staff meet the needs of students.

New Report Details Positive Outcomes for City Connects Students, Schools

Fifteen years ago, a small team of school, university, and community partners began working on creating the system of student support that is now City Connects. We were  hopeful that we would be able to demonstrate that addressing students’ out-of-school needs would lead to improvements in academic achievement and student well-being.

Our hopes have been more than realized. City Connects not only supports student thriving in school, but contributes to significant academic gains as well.  Our longitudinal research shows that for children who attended City Connects in elementary schools, the beneficial effects continue into high school. We can definitively say that the City Connects system of student support makes a positive and long-term difference in the lives of children.

We are pleased to announce the publication of The Impact of City Connects: Progress Report 2014, detailing results from the 2011-12 academic year in City Connects’ Boston and–for the first time–Springfield, MA, public schools. Highlights include:

  • Lower rates of dropout
    Students who attended City Connects elementary schools beginning in kindergarten have 50% lower odds of dropping out of high school than students never in a City Connects school. See page 25 of the report for the full analysis. 
  • Improved standardized test scores
    After leaving City Connects elementary schools at the end of grade 5, students go on to outperform their peers in middle school and achieve close to state averages on both English and Math statewide standardized test scores (MCAS). Benefits are especially pronounced for students most at risk, like English Language Learners. See page 22 of the report for the full analysis.
  • Supporting school transformation
    After one year of implementing City Connects in Springfield’s persistently underperforming (“turnaround”) elementary schools, the gap between these schools and other Springfield schools was significantly reduced in grades 3, 4, and 5 for both English and Math MCAS. See page 35 of the report for the full analysis.

“The data in this report make clear that thoughtful strategies and rigorous practices that provide non-academic supports for students can make a significant difference toward closing the achievement gap for children living in poverty,” said Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., Executive Director of City Connects and the Kearns Professor at the Boston College Lynch School of Education. “Schools have always made efforts to address students’ out-of-school needs. This report shows that using evidence to inform practice, making effective use of community resources, and tailoring a plan for every student can alter trajectories for children. It has implications for changing the way school counselors, social workers, and other student support staff meet the needs of students.”

For more information:

Support All Students to Close the Achievement Gap

Over on ASCD‘s “The Whole Child” blog, City Connects Executive Director Mary Walsh has a guest blog post about how schools can counter the impact of poverty on students. In “Support All Students to Close the Achievement Gap,” she writes:

How can schools, with their limited resources, address these barriers to learning? Traditionally, the approach has been through “student support,” a catch-all phrase whose definition varies from school to school and district to district. Typically, it encompasses the role of counselors. Often, only the most vulnerable and at-risk students receive the lion’s share of the attention. Student support can be approached differently, in a way that dramatically enhances its effectiveness. It works best when delivered in a comprehensive, systematic approach to each and every student in a school.

For more information:

One in five schools considered high-poverty

The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ “The Condition of Education 2013” report, released in May, shows that one in five schools was considered high poverty in 2011, an increase from one in eight in 2000. More than 16 million children live in poverty in the U.S. At City Connects, we continue to believe that the until we address poverty and the myriad ways it impacts a child’s ability to learn and thrive, the achievement gap will persist.

Today, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville has a commentary in Education Week advocating a “massive redesign” of the education system. Our current model is not working, he writes, and schools alone are not equipped to confront the many challenges of poverty:

I believe that our experience demonstrates, as Richard Rothstein and others have argued, that schools alone, conceived in our current early-20th-century model, are too weak an intervention, if our goal is to get all students to high levels of achievement. Even when optimized with high expectations, strong curriculum, and expert instruction, today’s schools have not proven powerful enough by themselves to compensate for the disadvantages associated with poverty. Of course, there are notable exceptions of individuals and schools defying the odds, but these schools are isolated examples at the margin. We have not been able to scale up their success. The exceptions have not proven a new rule, though some practices have shown promise. The gaps, on average, persist. After 20 years of school reform experience, the data don’t lie.

His ideal 21st-century school would “[meet] every child where he or she is, [provide] education and support beginning in early childhood, and [include] postsecondary learning.” Reville writes that this new model  “should not mass-produce education, but should tailor the education to the individual, much as a health-care system does.”

At City Connects, we tailor our work to the individual strengths and needs of every child in a school across four areas: academics, social/emotional/behavioral, health, and family. Each student in a school is connected to a set of services and enrichment activities that address his or her unique needs. Evaluation of our work shows that by addressing the in- and out-of-school factors impacting students, they are better able to achieve in school–even if that school is high-poverty.

For more information:

 

The connection between students’ health & poverty

Research shows that out-0f-school factors (like hunger or homelessness) contribute to two-thirds of the achievement gap, with the other third being attributable quality of instruction and curriculum. One in five children in the US lives below the federal poverty level; poverty is one of the most pervasive of these factors and it impacts children across all four of City Connects’ domains: academics, social/emotional, health, and family. The connection between poverty and health has taken center stage in the media lately. The New York Times’ Well blog  recently featured a post written by a pediatrician, “Poverty as a Childhood Disease,” which described how poverty impacts a child’s health:

Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains. We’ve seen articles about the language deficit in poorer homes and the gaps in school achievement. These remind us that … poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.

APA_Task_Force_Strategic_Road_Mapver3-1The post highlighted a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty, an effort unveiled at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies earlier this month. It called poverty “the most important problem facing children in the United States today” and advocated for a consistent and unified voice speaking out about children and poverty.

For more information:

  • On Twitter, follow the Academic Pediatric Association  @AcademicPeds

The impact of poverty and out-of-school factors in the news

Central to City Connects’ work is the belief that addressing the “out-of-school” factors impacting students helps them come to school ready to learn and thrive. Children living in poverty face especially pervasive and severe out-of-school factors, like hunger, homelessness, and violence. Three recent articles from Education Week address different aspects of these out-of-school factors and are worth a read:

  • Time to Put Forward a New Reform Agenda
    On EdWeek‘s “Bridging Differences” blog, NYU professor Pedro Noguerawrites, about the importance of urgently addressing the needs of children living in poverty. “…Poverty is harming millions of children and the schools they attend, but we can’t take the position that nothing can be done until we eliminate poverty … their parents don’t want to hear that we have to wait till we muster the will to reduce poverty. Moreover, there are schools that are showing us right now that if we address the academic and social needs of poor children, they can not only achieve, they can thrive.Noguera calls for the federal government to create “a comprehensive support systems around schools in low-income communities to address issues such as safety, health, nutrition, and counseling,” which is similar to City Connects’ work.
  • Must Teachers Shut Down Our Compassion to Survive Education Reform?
    Another EdWeekblog, “Living in Dialogue,” used the adversity faced by victims of Hurricane Sandy to show how teachers can respond to students who have experienced trauma. Because the hurricane affected everyone, “teachers cannot help but respond and modify their instruction. This normalizes the trauma for these students and allows them to see that their feelings of helplessness and frustration, even depression, are normal and can be shared. However, in the case of the storms of poverty, the evictions, the foreclosures, the divorces, the days when there is no dinner to eat, the night their father is arrested and sent away for years – these insults to their being are individual and almost always hidden. They are hidden because the students are ashamed of being poor.”Author Anthony Dowd, a former teacher, wrote, argues that schools and teachers need to respond to the effects of poverty as they did the hurricane: “We do not require that poverty be fixed before we can teach, but we insist that it be responded to, as it often interferes with the healthy growth of the children we care about.”
  • Research Traces Impacts of Childhood Adversity
    And finally, a research story from EdWeek about the relationship between childhood adversity and poor academic achievement. “The stress of a spelling bee or a challenging science project can enhance a student’s focus and promote learning. But the stress of a dysfunctional or unstable home life can poison a child’s cognitive ability for a lifetime, according to new research. While educators and psychologists have said for decades that the effects of poverty interfere with students’ academic achievement, new evidence from cognitive and neuroscience is showing exactly how adversity in childhood damages students’ long-term learning and health. Those studies show that stress forms the link between childhood adversity and poor academic achievement, but that not all adversity—or all stress—is bad for students.”

Massachusetts Governor Hosts Education Summit

This morning, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick hosted Education Summit 2011: Closing the Achievement Gap. Joined by Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville and members of the Boards of Early Education and Care, of Elementary and Secondary Education, and of Higher Education, along with the UMass Board of Trustees, he issued a call to action: make sure every child in Massachusetts has the opportunity to access quality education.

Governor Patrick echoed what we at City Connects see in our schools every day: poverty and other out-of-school factors can be huge impediments to a child’s ability to learn and thrive in school. The Boston Globe reported on a new study showing the concentrations of poverty across the city today. The Governor said:

“We know what the problem is and we know where the problem is. The problem is poverty.  It’s not unions, people; we are leading the nation in student achievement in one of the most highly-unionized environments in American education.  It’s not money; in K-12 we are spending at record levels and have sustained that spending, thanks to the Legislature and the Obama administration, through the worst economy in living memory.  It’s poverty …  I’m not saying that we don’t need more flexibility in the classroom and more money.  I’m saying when it comes to patterns of educational achievement nothing is as significant as poverty.”

His speech laid out four strategies that build upon the Achievement Gap Act of 2010 (read a summary of the Act here):

  1. Getting every child to reading proficiency by the third grade;
  2. Providing every child with a healthy platform for education;
  3. Creating a differentiated education system that meets each student, particularly English Language Learners, where they are; and
  4. Preparing all students for college and career success.

The Governor’s second priority closely parallels the work of City Connects’ School Site Coordinators, who work to provide tailored supports and enrichment services to children. He expounded on this strategy:

“…All children need a healthy start – and when they can’t get it at home, we must find a way to provide it for them.  Poverty begets a whole host of out-of-school problems that affect the readiness of a child to learn in the classroom.  Mental health issues, family violence, housing instability and inadequate nutrition – all are real and present obstacles to student attendance, attentiveness and success.  Teachers know it and they, along with school nurses, do their very best to help; but they can’t be expected single-handedly to solve such complex problems in the lives of their students. So, we propose establishing Student Support Councils and deploying Student Support Counselors to predominantly low-income schools.  Possibly even early education centers or colleges.   These Councils will consist of local human and social service providers focusing their efforts on connecting with students and families through the schools to help meet their needs outside of school.”

Following the Governor’s speech, breakout sessions were held on teacher quality, student support, and career readiness. City Connects Executive Director Mary Walsh was asked to serve as a guest speaker for the student support session, where she relayed her experiences and views on the best practices of student support. We know that optimized student support improves academic performance for students and look forward to learning more about statewide student support initiatives.

For more information:

New White Papers on “Achievable and Affordable” Education

The Campaign for Educational Equity, based at Columbia University’s Teachers College, issued five very interesting white papers about student support and the roots of the achievement gap. The papers will be discussed at a forum today, called “Achievable and Affordable: Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low-Income Students.”

The authors make the case that comprehensively supporting students living in poverty is the key to preventing the achievement gap from emerging in the first place, a belief central to our work at City Connects. The papers include:

  1. A Legal Framework, by Michael A. Rebell
  2. How Much Does it Cost?, by Richard Rothstein, Tamara Wilder, and Whitney Allgood
  3. How Much Does New York City Now Spend on Children’s Services?, by Clive Belfield and Emma Garcia
  4. What Are the Social and Economic Returns?, by Clive Belfield, Fiona Hollands, and Henry Levin
  5. A Proposal for Essential Standards and Resources, by Michael A. Rebell and Jessica Wolff

All of the papers address student support from a unique vantage point, but in the first paper, Michael Rebell, executive director for the Campaign and a professor at Teachers College, sums it all up:

“Providing all underprivileged students with access to the in- and out-of-school resources necessary for school success—what we call ‘comprehensive educational opportunity’—is vital to children’s welfare as well as to our nation’s civic health and future global economic competitiveness.”

For more information: