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.

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 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.”

City Connects featured in Education Week blog

We are delighted that our work was written about on Education Week‘s “Public Engagement & Education Reform” blog today! You can read the post here:

More on Turning Schools Around

Here’s an excerpt from the piece featuring a quote from our Executive Director, Mary E. Walsh:

While strong school leadership is imperative, we believe that it is unfair to ask schools and teachers to bear sole responsibility for closing the economic divide. Systematically addressing out-of-school factors can help students achieve and removes the burden from teachers, allowing them to focus on delivering quality instruction.

For more information:

City Connects in Education Week’s ‘Futures of School Reform’ blog

As we wrote about earlier this week, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville has been writing this week about the importance of addressing non-school factors in education reform. Today, he authored a blog post, “Bolder, Broader Action: Strategies for Closing the Poverty Gap,” that mentions City Connects as a successful strategy for addressing out-of-school factors. As Secretary Reville wrote:

“… the challenge now is to translate our analysis into action by implementing a series of strategies, coupled with measurable outcomes, to ensure success.”

We feel strongly about evidence informing our practice and have conducted rigorous evaluation of our work. Learn more about City Connects’ positive impact on:

City Connects Executive Director in Education Week

On the heels of the Education Innovation Forum happening in DC later this week, City Connects Executive Director Mary Walsh was quoted in an Education Week article about the Forum. Read the article here:

Event Aims to Leverage ‘i3’ Competition Momentum

Said Mary:

I’ve written a lot of grants in my life, and no one has ever said, ‘Well, you didn’t get it, but here is the chance to talk to a large and deep group of policymakers, grantmakers, the for-profit world. … Let’s have a conversation and see where your ideas and your practice can move,’” said Mary Walsh, the executive director of City Connects, a Boston-based organization that promotes the integration of academics with support services.

Stay tuned for updates from the Forum on Thursday and Friday, or come visit us in booth 201! We’ll be updating via Twitter @CityConnects using the hashtag #EdInno.