Social services alone won’t improve learning

Cincinnati has piloted community schools, which “wrap health, dental, therapeutic, and family support services around existing schools” to “improve students’ learning and life prospects,” writes Paul Hill of University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. The idea has spread to New York City and Philadelphia.

However, social services along won’t improve student outcomes, he warns. Students from poor families need a high-quality academic education in addition to social supports.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services -- at a high cost.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services, but costs are high and the effect on achievement is not clear.

Oyler School, Cincinnati’s model community school, provides an array of health services, including vision and dental care and mental health counseling.

However,  “the links between even intensive services and student learning are weak and tough to find,” Hill writes. “In Cincinnati, the strongest link between wrap-around services and outcomes like normal progress in school comes from attendance gains: on-site health services mean a parent or guardian no longer needs to take children out of school to wait all day to be seen at an emergency ward.”

“Careful studies” have found that students’ learning growth in the Harlem Children’s Zone “is a result of improvements in the schools,” rather than improved social and health services, he writes.

“Despite enormous support from Cincinnati hospitals and businesses, only Oyler has the full menu of services,” Hill notes. Community schools are expensive.

Pay for what works


Salt Lake City uses social-impact bonds to fund high-quality preschool for at-risk children.

There’s a wild and crazy idea in funding social programs, writes AEI’s Katharine B. Stevens: Pay for what works — and stop paying for ideas that don’t work.

New York’s Rikers Island Jail tried a program to reduce youth recidivism that worked elsewhere, but failed at Rikers. Thanks to Pay for Success, also known as social-impact- bonds, it was evaluated rigorously and lost funding when it proved ineffective. Other ways of keeping juveniles out of jail will be explored.

Less than 1 percent of billions of public dollars spent annually on social services goes to programs that have evidence of actually accomplishing their goals,” writes Stevens. What’s unusual is that an idea was tried — and abandoned — without any cost to taxpayers.

1. The government and investors work together to find a social service provider with a rigorously-documented track record of success that proves their program is worth investing in.

2. Investors pay that service provider to run a scale-up of the program, aiming to improve specific, agreed-on outcomes for a defined group of at-risk individuals.

3. After the program is implemented for several years, the results are evaluated to see if the program achieved its goals.

4. If, and only if, the program is proven successful, the government pays investors back their original investment plus “success payments” out of the taxpayer dollars saved by preventing expensive problems that would have occurred without the program.

5. If the program isn’t successful, like Rikers Island, the government pays nothing and the program is closed.

Two private investors, Goldman Sachs and J.B. Pritzker, have put $6.8 million into the Utah High Quality Preschool Initiative. If Utah saves money on special education for preschool graduates, the state will use the savings to repay the investors.

Six Pay For Success projects have been approved so far and more are in the pipeline, writes Stevens. All are focused on preventing problems.

NYC: Community schools backers fear failure

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to turn around 94 low-performing schools by converting them to “community schools” with an array of social services. Advocates of community schools fear the plan will fail because it tries to do too much, too quickly, reports Chalkbeat.

Principals will have to adopt the school renewal approach “regardless of whether they appear willing or able,” writes Patrick Wall. “And the schools will be required to boost students’ academic performance within a few years, even though community schools’ record on that front is mixed and the city has offered few details about how it will help them improve instruction.”

The turnaround plan . . . will connect the schools with agencies that will bring in physical and mental health services for students, after-school programs, tutoring, and perhaps job training or housing assistance for parents. The city will also provide teacher training and principal mentoring, a curriculum review, data-tracking systems, and an extra hour of learning time each day, officials said. In return, the schools must show that students have made academic gains within three years or they could face leadership changes or even closure.

. . . several city schools that have used the community-school model for years still grapple with low test scores and graduation rates, such as P.S. 50 in East Harlem, which has been a Children’s Aid Society-partnered community school for 14 years but still landed on the renewal-schools list. The principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, who recently resigned, brought in mentors from Good Shepherd Services last fall and a health clinic as part of a years-long effort to create a community school by partnering with outside groups and bringing in services. But the school’s curriculum and instruction still had flaws, evaluators concluded last year, and it remains on the state’s lowest-ranked list.

A Child Trends study found “mixed” results for community schools: The model “can improve academic outcomes; but findings are mixed and tend to be stronger in quasi-experimental studies than in more rigorous random assignment evaluations.”  So benefits are uncertain — and found only in weaker studies.

Principals will have to choose from an array of support programs and find the right providers, reports Wall. It takes “a very significant amount of time,” said Mark House, principal of the Community Health Academy of the Heights. “Even with a full-time site coordinator he spends at least one-fifth of every week dealing with the program’s logistics.”

The city’s after-school program at middle schools is very popular, writes Meredith Kolodner on the Hechinger Report. But critics say it doesn’t provide much academic support.

If you’re going to give students more time to learn, it must be quality time if you want to get results,” writes Sara Neufeld, who reported Hechinger’s Time to Learn series.

Bad NYC schools get cash, counselors

New York City’s lowest-performing schools will get more money and staffing, a longer school day and on-site social services, said Mayor Bill de Blasio at an East Harlem school, reports the New York Times.

Criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s strategy of closing low-performing schools, the mayor said, “We reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools.”

He spoke at the Coalition School for Social Change, where the attendance rate is 74 percent. It is one of 94 “renewal schools” with low test scores and graduation rates that will extend the school day by one hour. Teachers will have extra training.

. . .  the centerpiece of the proposal involves turning these institutions into so-called Community Schools, which try to address the challenges students face outside the classroom, with offerings like mental health services for those who need them or food for students who do not get enough to eat at home.

Nationally, community schools’ performance is “uneven,” according to the Times. In Cincinnati, a national leader, “some community colleges still showed dismal academic performances even after years of work and millions of dollars of investments.”

Where has De Blasio’s approach worked at any scale? asks Eduwonk. Why not target help at “middling schools” while continuing Bloomberg’s “aggressive strategy” (closure) on the worst.

“The track record on turning around the lowest-performers is pretty stark,” he concludes. “In the context of that evidence base do those parents and children deserve more immediate relief now?”

The renewal plan could “delay action on schools that are in desperate straits and should be reorganized or closed in fairly short order,” editorializes the New York Times.

Detroit schools compete for students

Detroit schools — district-run, charter and suburban — are competing for a “dwindling poool of students,” reports Bloomberg News.  “The prize is the $7,200 in state funding that follows each student in the bankrupt city.”

Detroit Public Schools has turned a closet into a “war room” for attracting students after losing about two-thirds of its enrollment during the past decade. Charters advertise smaller classes and tablet computers or gift cards to woo children. A state authority that took over low-performing schools is fishing for pupils, as are suburbs whose enrollment is declining, too.

Detroit Public Schools enrolled 80 percent of the city’s children a decade ago. Now only 42 percent attend district schools, which post abysmally low test scores and a high dropout rate. Another 42 percent go to charters, 9 percent attend schools in nearby suburbs and 7 percent are enrolled at schools run by a state agency created to take over low-performing schools.

Middle-class parents are fleeing Detroit:  The city lost 25 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010, while the number of children ages 5 to 9 dropped by 47 percent.

Charters are advertising on radio and television. They attracted Chanel Kitchen, 16. She left a city high school last year where there were 42 children in a Spanish class for a charter with about 14.

Detroit Public Schools, which has closed more than half its buildings, is advertising its new, improved offerings.

That includes music and arts offerings and schools combined with social-service centers, such as at Marcus Garvey Academy on the east side. Besides instruction for elementary students, it offers a health clinic, pool, food bank and a parent resource office with computers and classes such as one last week on household poisons.

“You’ve got one-stop shopping,” said Principal James Hearn.

The competition for market share is “disgusting,” said Sharlonda Buckman, chief executive of the Detroit Parent Network, a nonprofit offering development programs. Nobody is managing the education market, she complained.

The Detroit Future City recovery plan calls for “thriving schools as anchors for neighborhoods,” reports Bloomberg. “Hypercompetition” for children is no help, said Dan Varner, chief executive of Excellent Schools Detroit, a group of education, government, community and philanthropic leaders. He wants the state to regulate the education market.

Competition is forcing schools to offer what parents and students want. Advertising helped Chanel Kitchen find a school with small classes. Would less competition create “thriving” neighborhood schools?

21 Detroit schools are open 7 days a week

Twenty-one Detroit schools will stay open 12 hours a day, seven days a week to provide tutoring, recreation, health care, parenting classes and other social services.

State funds and donations from local businesses will help pay the cost.

Needed: More ideologues, less kumbaya

“Can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. No, answers Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. School reformers and traditionalists have different ideas on “what’s best for kids.”  Ideas matter.

A Teach for America alum, he criticizes TFA President Wendy Kopp for writing, “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as locked in an ideological battle and focus on doing everything in our power to give students today the education they deserve.”

. . . Kopp seems to create a dichotomy between ideologues –those “locked in an ideological battle” – on the one hand, and those who want to do what’s best for kids, on the other. In actuality, ideologues not only want what’s best for kids, they actually have ideas – some good, some bad – for how to achieve results. Reformers emphasize school choice, parental empowerment, and teacher quality; traditionalists focus on class size, early-childhood education, and wrap-around services.

It seems to me that part of the problem in education is not too many, but rather, too few ideologues.

Traditionalist Diane Ravitch and union leader Karen Lewis have engaged in increasingly vicious attacks, writes Barnum. Reformers have employed “harmful and distasteful rhetoric.”  He favors “discussing ideas over demeaning people.”

At times, compromise may be necessary Barnum concedes. But not always. An “uncompromising, ideological vision of change to our education system may, in fact, be what’s best for kids.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone is Harlem only

The Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers everything from prenatal classes, preschool, charter academies and help with college applications, has been “a wild success,” writes Amanda Erickson in The Atlantic.  Why hasn’t it been replicated?

 In 2009, every third grader at the HCZ’s Promise Academy tested at or above their grade level in math, outperforming their peers in the city and throughout the state. Over 84 percent of Promise Academy II students scored at or above grade level in city-mandated English tests, topping the average test scores among all other black students in New York City. And in 2008, 93 percent of Promise Academy High ninth graders passed the statewide Algebra Regents exam.

President Obama pledged to spend billions to create “promise neighborhoods,” asked Congress for $210 million and ended up spending $40 million. Instead, he’s spent billions on direct aid to the poor and working poor.

Cities aren’t moving ahead without federal funds, writes Erickson. The Harlem Children’s Zone had Geoffrey Canada’s leadership, a board of very wealthy philanthropists and strong support from Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. That’s hard to replicate.

A blogger explains why Durham has struggled to create a children’s zone, and notes the Brookings Institution bdoubts that HCZ is cost effective.

Children’s Aid Society plans charter school

New York City’s Children’s Aid Society will open a charter school offering health care and social services to low-income Bronx children, reports Gotham Schools.

Drema Brown, a former elementary principal in the Bronx, will lead the effort. She plans an outreach effort to persuade welfare parents to apply to the new school.

The 158-year-old charity works with city schools to provide social services and after-school programs. Children’s Aid also runs a clinic in the Bronx.

 

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods, argues Paul Tough in a New York Times op-ed. The initiative aims to create a network of support services — child care, parenting classes, health clinics, etc. — and high-quality schools in 20 high-poverty neighborhoods.  The model is the Harlem Children’s Zone. Tough wrote the book on the zone, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest To Change Harlem and America.

Last month, a Senate subcommittee cut more than 90 percent of the $210 million that President Obama had requested for Promise Neighborhoods.

A Brookings report questioning the Harlem Children Zone’s effectiveness in raising student achievement proved devastating.

There’s no proof Promise Neighborhoods will work, Tough concedes, but there’s some hope. If Congress is willing to spend billions on Title I and Head Start, proven failures, why not a few hundred million on a new idea? (One could argue Model Cities tried this idea from 1966-74.)

According to a new report (pdf) by Educational Testing Service, the combined Title I and Head Start budgets grew in inflation-adjusted dollars from $1.7 billion in 1970 to $13.8 billion in 2000. This year’s budget was $21.7 billion.

Head Start, which provides preschool programs to poor families, is a prime example of the Senate committee’s true attitude toward evidence-based decision-making. In January, the Health and Human Services Department released a study of Head Start’s overall impact (pdf). The conclusions were disturbing. By the end of first grade, the study found, Head Start graduates were doing no better than students who didn’t attend Head Start. “No significant impacts were found for math skills, pre-writing, children’s promotion, or teacher report of children’s school accomplishments or abilities in any year,” the report concluded.

Nonetheless, the Senate allocated $8.2 billion for Head Start in 2011, almost a billion dollars more than in 2010.

Rather than stick with the same strategies and hope things somehow magically change, Congress should find more room in the budget to support the Obama administration’s declared approach: to try new strategies and abandon failed ones; to expand and test programs with strong evidence of success, even if that evidence is inconclusive; and to learn from mistakes and make adjustments as we go.

Trimming the growth in Head Start would fund Promise Neighborhood pilots. Perhaps organizers will study Model Cities’ problems and do it differently this time. Or we could just give the Harlem experiment more time to prove itself.