SEED, a five-day-a-week boarding school for low-income Washington, D.C. students, has been trying to “break cycles of poverty and unhealthy family and neighborhood pressures at home,” writes Eric Schulzke in the Deseret News.
However, SEED may not raise test scores through high school, boost graduation rates or discourage risky behavior, according to a new MDRC study. Despite some “positive behavioral effects,” SEED DC “did not show an impact on the key non-academic outcomes, such as teen pregnancy or interaction with the criminal justice system, that could justify its higher cost.”
SEED is a charter school supported by district funding and foundations. It costs nearly $40,000 per student, about twice as much as traditional schools. Students, who pay nothing, are chosen by lottery.
Two years ago, MDRC found significantly higher test scores for SEED DC students, who start in sixth grade, but the effect fades by 10th grade, the latest study concludes.
SEED is nearly the ultimate in “wrap around services,” a term for the current trend in education circles to provide more services traditionally provided at home for children from underprivileged backgrounds. These include after school programs and breakfast, in addition to lunches. In some cases, schools literally merge with community centers, becoming, by design, the focus and locus of students’ entire lives.
The SEED model has spread to Baltimore and Miami.
College graduation is what counts, responded Christina Brown, communications director for the SEED Foundation. Ninety-four percent of SEED graduates enroll in college, where they are three times more likely to earn a degree than similar students.
“I would be reluctant to consider SEED a failure,” said Martin West, a Harvard education professor. “They may not be helping more students graduate, but it may be that those who do graduate are better prepared. When a school dramatically changes the high school experience, just looking at test scores or graduation rates may not tell you everything that is happening.”
“Wrap-around services” are worth the higher cost, argue researchers on the Brown Center Chalkboard, in response to a post calling for a reliable cost-benefit analysis of providing social supports at school.