New US Dept. of Education Civil Rights Data Released

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights today released data about education equality in America’s schools that show disparities in rates of retention and discipline. The data was gathered from 6,800 districts that enroll 85% of the country’s K-12 population–about 42 million students. The survey, performed every 2 years since 1968, was completed during the 2009-10 academic year and for the first time includes data on grade retention (repeating a grade). The full data set is expected to be made public soon at For now, here’s a roundup of top-line results from an Office for Civil Rights summary:

  • Black students represent 18% of students in the data, but 46% of those suspended more than once and 39% of those expelled.
  • Black and Hispanic students represented more than 70% of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement.
  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.
  • Nearly 1 million students, or 2.3%, were retained across K-12. Black students represent 16% of middle school students in the data but 42% of the middle school students who had to repeat a grade. English-language learners make up 6% of high school enrollment but 12% of students retained.

Retention in grade is a strong predictor of on-time high school graduation. In our evaluation, we found that City Connects students have significantly lower rates of retention than comparison students. The chart below shows that from kindergarten through grade 9, City Connects students identified as the most at-risk have lower probabilities of retention in every grade. The beneficial effect of City Connects persists after students leave the intervention in grade 5 and moved into middle school and beyond.

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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.”

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Poverty and Education Reform

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss has an important piece on her blog, The Answer Sheet, today: “Public education’s biggest problem gets worse.” The problem in question? Poverty.

The post is in response to startling data released yesterday by the US Census Bureau showing that the number of Americans living in poverty in 2010 increased to 46.2 million people, or 15.1%. This is the highest percentage in the 52 years that poverty estimates have been published, according to another Post story. Strauss writes:

The effects of poverty on children matter in regard to student achievement. That is not to say that efforts to improve teacher quality, modernize curriculum, infuse technology into the classroom where it makes sense and other reforms should not be pursued. But doing all of that while ignoring the conditions in which kids live is a big waste of time.

She then goes on to explain how poverty affects childrens’ academic achievement, psychosocial development, and health. This parallels what we do at City Connects and is what our School Site Coordinators focus on in schools (read more about how we support students academics, social/emotional, health, and family wellbeing). We believe that every child deserves to come to school ready to learn and thrive, and that every child can do this if his or her strengths are supported and needs addressed. Our 10 years of data prove that attending to the non-school factors that impact the lives of children is an effective strategy. Poverty cannot be ignored in the context of education reform.

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Out-of-School Factors In the News

Central to our philosophy at City Connects is that the out-of-school factors affecting students have a great impact on their ability to learn and thrive in school. (You can read about how we address out-of-school factors for children here.)

Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute has written beautifully on the subject, most recently in an issue brief, “How to Fix our Schools.” In the brief, Rothstein reiterates research that demonstrates only one-third of the achievement gap in schools is due to quality of instruction.

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in the quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors,” he wrote.

Two great articles published recently advocated for addressing out-of-school factors. Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville and Jeffrey R. Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University, jointly authored a commentary, “Why Attention Will Return to Non-School Factors,” in Education Week. Reville and Henig wrote:

“Our vision of the future of education reform is simple: American schools won’t achieve their goal of ‘all students at proficiency’ unless they attend to nonschool factors.”

They propose a multi-tiered solution comprising data that links student outcomes to services, quantifiable indicators of success that are measured long-term, and benchmarks that can provide feedback on student progress. Reville wrote an accompanying blog post, “Closing the Poverty Gap: The Way Forward for Education Reform,” about the relationship between poverty and student achievement in Massachusetts.

In the New York Times, Lisa Belkin considers attempts to increase parental engagement in schools in her article, “Whose Failing Grade Is It?“. Belkin introduces several pieces of state legislation aimed at mandating parents’ involvement in their children’s schools as a means to improve student performance. Belkin quotes Diane Ravitch, an education historian, who argues that parent education should be targeted to parents when their children are born up to age five. Ravitch goes on to say:

“…We need to acknowledge that the root problem is poverty.”

These two pieces call attention to the impact out-of-school factors can have on children–something we believe in strongly at City Connects. Our systematic approach to supporting students strengths and needs has proven effective; you can read about our results here.

City Connects’ Partner ReadBoston Featured

Photo by Dawkeye/Flickr

In a recent story on elementary school students’ reading achievement, “Making Sure Mass. 3rd Graders are Strong Readers,” WBUR interviewed the founder of one of City Connects’ community partners, ReadBoston.

Rick Weissbourd, who also founded WriteBoston, commented on the reading achievement gap related to poverty: while 37% of third-graders statewide read below grade level, among children from low-income families, 57% do. Weissbourd noted that an early difference in experience with spoken language may be related to the gap; children growing up in low-income families may come to school not knowing as many words as their peers growing up in more affluent families.

Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer dug deep into the issue, asking what factors in the lives of low-income families may be affecting the difference in spoken language experience. Weissbourd’s answer reinforces a core belief of the City Connects mission: poverty creates stress. An example is the pressure of working more than one job, which limits time for conversation with children. Weissbourd also cited the low-level depression that can accompany life under the pressure of poverty.

Like ReadBoston, the City Connects intervention aims to provide supports to students and families that can help address the out-of-school factors impacting achievement. Watch our blog in the days ahead for a description of City Connects’ successful partnership with ReadBoston at one of our schools.

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