City Connects in the Boston Globe

Today’s Boston Globe featured a story about the fate of Boston’s persistinly low-achieving “turnaround” schools once the 3-year stint of federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) expire at the end of the 2012-13 school year. The article, “Boston schools seek to avert slip when funds end,” discusses efforts to improve academic achievement at 12 turnaround schools funded by SIG, one of which is City Connects. From the article:

Dever Elementary School in Dorchester used its $2.3 million grant to extend its day by an hour and contract with the nonprofit Generations Inc. to bring in senior citizens to tutor students, the nonprofit Playworks to run organized activities during recess, and the nonprofit City Connects to help students and their families obtain health care, housing, and other services. “It is very important that we are able to keep the additional time at a reasonable cost or we are at risk of losing a lot of what we have accomplished,’’ said Michael Sabin, Dever’s principal.

When Boston received School Improvement Grant funding for the 2010-11 scho0l year, City Connects expanded into 7 turnaround elementary schools to provide optimized student support. Read more about that expansion here.

For more information:

City Connects in the Boston Globe

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe ran a story about the challenges facing school districts in Massachusetts’ “Gateway Cities,” 24 former industrial cities across the state, in establishing partnerships with nonprofits providing services or funding to schools. The article,”Smaller Mass. cities seek non-profit to bolster schools,” reported that almost 75% of the 40 turnaround schools named by the state since 2010 have been in outlying cities, but for a host of reasons, the bulk of partnerships seem to be concentrated in more populated urban areas like Boston.

This article comes on the heels of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed 2013 budget, which includes funding for his “Gateway Cities Education Agenda,” an initiative he announced in November. The agenda comprises five strategies aiming to close the achievement gap, including a student support effort to be funded by a proposed $3.6 million. The Governor proposed creation of Student Support Councils in Gateway City schools and hiring Student Support Counselors to provide comprehensive services to students and their families.

City Connects is currently working with two Gateway Cities: Springfield, MA, which has City Connects in its turnaround elementary schools, and Lynn, MA, who recently engaged in a planning period with City Connects. From the article:

Already, a movement is taking root among some nonprofits to look beyond Boston. ACCESS, which provides college financial aid advice to middle and high school students, has expanded to Springfield. So has City Connects, an organization at Boston College that puts counselors in local schools to help connect students and their families to a variety of programs.

For more information:

Season’s Greetings from City Connects

Boston College Winter
Winter at Boston College

As we approach the holidays, a message from City Connects Executive Director, Mary Walsh:

On behalf of the City Connects team, I extend greetings of the season and warmest wishes for the holidays! 2011 has been a year full of exciting progress for City Connects; we expanded in Springfield, MA, were named a Priority Partner for turnaround schools through Massachusetts’ Race to the Top grant, and continued to see significant positive results demonstrating the effectiveness of our work.

As the year draws to a close, we reflect with gratitude on the enduring support of our partners in schools and in the community. Together, we are addressing the non-academic challenges facing students to ensure that all children come to school ready to learn and thrive.

Thank you, and we look forward to another wonderful and productive year ahead in 2012!

We’ll be back January 3, 2012. Season’s greetings!

Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence

There is a growing body of research about the detrimental impact of poverty and non-academic factors on student achievement. A new paper published by Helen F. Ladd, the Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, compiles a great deal of this research and provides four recommended policy changes to decrease the impact of poverty on children and education. The paper, “Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

One of her four recommendations is to directly address the educational challenges face by children with low socioeconomic status. Ladd, also co-chair of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,  advocates for increasing early childhood and pre-school programs, adding school-based health clinics and social services, more participation in after-school and summer programs, and improving the quality of schools for disadvantaged students.

At City Connects, we know that linking children to a tailored set of services aligned with their individual strengths and needs across academic, social/emotional, health, and family domains, has a real positive effect. The resource-rich settings in which we work, Boston and Springfield, allow our School Site Coordinators to link students to a host of services and enrichment opportunities based in the community. This suggests that in addition to creating services in schools, students would benefit from taking advantage of the services that already exist.

Ladd and Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, co-authored an op/ed in Monday’s Times based on the paper, titled “Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” Largely summarizing the conclusions in her paper, the op/ed challenged education reformers:

“…Let’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let’s agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question. “

For more information:

More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement

City Connects evaluation team member Eric Dearing, PhD, associate professor of applied and developmental psychology at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, has authored an “emerging leaders profile” in the latest Harvard Family Research Project FINE Newsletter, which is dedicated to expanded learning and family engagement. In his article, “More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement,” Eric discusses his vision for the field of family engagement, as well as the nation:

“My vision … is that we abandon the reliance on intuition and instead thoughtfully consider what is and is not working, and why. In turn, we can begin to empower districts—particularly those that are economically disadvantaged—to invest in promising and proven practices that engage families and communities in their children’s education in ways that will ultimately improve life chances.”

Eric cites two examples of successful programs that engage the family and community in education, one of which is City Connects. Peruse the whole issue to learn more about Eric and other scholars’ thoughts on family engagement.

For more information:

  • Follow the Harvard Family Research Project on Twitter @hfrp

City Connects Community Partner Meeting and “Shared Accountability”

Thanks to all of our community partners who joined us today for our annual gathering! We had a rich discussion about using data to create and sustain effective school-community partnerships. A few notable points from our table talks:

  • Most students in City Connects schools receive more than one service or enrichment program. Is there a way we can examine which combination of services is most effective in contributing to positive outcomes for specific groups of students?
  • In light of Boston not having a neighborhood school structure, would it be possible to examine community outcome data for additional insight into the impact of student support?
  • What other benefits do students experience outside of those demonstrated in academic outcomes? City Connects analyzes thriving measures (behavior, work habits, and effort) because they are included in Boston report cards, but are there other non-academic gains to be considered?
  • Can City Connects use its coalition of community partners to make progress in eliminating service gaps–for example, helping to increase capacity in after-school programs for young children?

This meeting with our partners came on the heels of a new Education Sector report, “Striving for School Success: A Model of Shared Accountability.” From the report:

“In the current school reform atmosphere, in which individual schools and teachers are being judged by their own students’ outcomes, this notion of ‘shared accountability’ is rare … But little will be accomplished—in Cincinnati, the Promise Neighborhoods, or elsewhere—unless the supports and services essential to fighting poverty are tightly coordinated and the providers are held accountable for their performance. It may seem obvious that, working together, providers can have a
greater impact than they can have toiling in isolation …  The idea of shared accountability is to not just coordinate these disparate efforts but also to focus them on a common vision for student success that is backed by the collection and analysis of data on a range of related indicators, such as early education, nutrition, and even housing security.”

City Connects and its coalition of partners in schools and in the community definitely have a common vision for students, and our gathering today further demonstrates that we are all committed to ensuring that every student comes to school ready to learn and thrive.

For more information:

  • Read the full Education Sector report here [pdf]
  • Follow Education Sector on Twitter @EducationSector and read tweets related to shared accountability using hashtag #sharedacct 

City Connects at the Council of the Great City Schools Meeting

On Friday, City Connects executive director Mary Walsh and director of new practice Patrice DiNatale will be presenting at the Council of the Great City Schools 55th annual meeting in Boston. Their talk, “Addressing Out-of-School Factors to Drive Achievement,” will share the City Connects model of student support and our results. The Council of the Great City Schools is a national organization representing 65 of the nation’s largest urban school districts. This year, Boston Public Schools is hosting the meeting, which is focused on education reform.

For more information:

  • Attend the panel on Friday, Oct. 28, 9:15-10:30am in the Helicon room, 7th floor
  • Keep up with conference news on Twitter with hashtag #cgcs11 or follow the Council of the Great City Schools @GreatCitySchls

Public Education Network Newsblast on CCNX

City Connects was featured in today’s Public Education Network Newsblast:

“In a profile of the Boston program City Connects on his Public School Insights blog, Claus von Zastrow writes that a rigorous study by Boston College, which runs the program, “tells a pretty stunning story.” City Connects (CCNX) exists in 12 Boston elementary schools, and works to link each child to a “tailored set of intervention, prevention, and enrichment services located in the community.” The beneficial impact of CCNX on student growth in academic achievement (across grades 1 to 5) was on average approximately three times the harmful impact of poverty. By the end of grade 5, achievement differences between CCNX and comparison students indicated that CCNX intervention moves students at the 50th percentile up to or near the 75th percentile, and students at the 25th percentile up to or near the 50th. For multiple outcomes, the treatment effects were largest for students at greatest risk for academic failure. After grade 5, the lasting positive effects of CCNX intervention can be seen in middle-school state standardized test scores, ranging from approximately 50 percent to 130 percent as large as negative effects of poverty. Von Zastrow conducts an interview with two of the program’s leaders, who explain that at root, the program ensures that already existing services actually reach students previously under-served. Implementing the program by putting a support person and the model into schools costs a little less than $500 per student per year.”

Learn more about our results on our website.