2015-06-11

Jim Balfanz
President, City Year, Inc.
Alumnus, City Year Boston ‘94
 

We were pleased this week to see Sarah Sparks’ article in Education Week, which reveals encouraging results from a recent study on City Year’s work in high-poverty schools, conducted by Policy Studies Associates (PSA).

The study shows a few key findings, including: (1) City Year partner schools were two to three times more likely than non-City Year partner schools to improve on English and math tests and (2) City Year partner schools gained the equivalent of approximately one month of additional learning in math and English as compared to non-City Year partner schools.

And school leaders across the country, like Providence, Rhode Island’s Gara B. Field, attest to the power of City Year partnership. In the piece, Principal Field is quoted saying, “One of the best things we ever did was write [City Year] into our school improvement plan" and "[City Year’s] impact is so deep and the connections so meaningful.”

These results testify to the tireless work of the young adults serving as City Year AmeriCorps members, teachers, school leaders, students, and families. We know this work is more critical now than ever: earlier this year, a Southern Education Foundation report revealed that, for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. These students need extra support to overcome the challenges they face every day; and though talented, dedicated teachers and school leaders across the country believe in the potential of these students, there’s a gap between what students need and what schools are designed and resourced to do.

To close that gap, City Year is making a generational commitment to students, partnering with the highest-need schools, year after year, to provide a steady force in the communities where we serve. In these communities, kids grow up with City Year in their schools. We draw upon innovative, student-centered practices, and we follow the evidence about how kids learn. City Year’s diverse teams of near peers promote academic achievement and foster student engagement, both in and outside of the classroom. City Year AmeriCorps members view students holistically, recognizing not only the challenges they face, but also the many talents and unique strengths they possess. Corps members see a budding artist, a charismatic leader, a shrewd debater, an innovator in robotics.

City Year AmeriCorps members work with teachers and principals to provide intensive supports to students who are struggling and enable schools to implement evidence-based programs to improve the quality of instruction, reduce negative behavior incidents, enhance schools’ learning environments, and engage families. For 26 years, we’ve developed our corps members as leaders and engaged citizens. We leverage our track record in youth development to build a school culture and climate in which students feel a connection to each other, to their school, and to the broader community -- and to develop academic behaviors and mindsets that will help students succeed in school and in life.  

The recent PSA study suggests a City Year effect. By that, I mean that our corps members help individual students succeed, and as part of the fabric of the school, partnering with teachers and school leaders, improve the school’s overall performance. We’ve heard that over and over from our partners, and now we’re seeing increasing evidence for it.

As a learning organization, we are using this recent study, along with our internal evaluation and other external studies of our impact, to continue asking questions about our work -- and improving it by ensuring that our corps members provide the right help to the right students at the right time.  

We also deeply believe that partnership and collaboration, especially with other high-impact organizations, amplifies and expands our work. This belief led us to team up with Talent Development Secondary at Johns Hopkins University and Communities In Schools to form Diplomas Now, a comprehensive secondary school turnaround model that combines three complementary and evidence-based programs. With our partners, we are conducting the largest-ever randomized control trial study of a secondary school turnaround model. Another recently-released report, prepared by the research firm MDRC, reveals significant contrasts between the schools with Diplomas Now and those without. For example, teachers in Diplomas Now schools more frequently use data to inform instructional practices. We are using this information to build our capacity to help schools consistently implement evidence based practices that will help kids.

By the end of this year, the next report on Diplomas Now will show us how student outcomes at Diplomas Now schools compare to those in non-Diplomas Now schools.

For today, I’ll be thinking about Principal Field; about the thousands of talented, passionate educators across the country who believe in students’ ability to achieve their potential in school and in life; about the latest cohort of almost 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members and the tens of thousands of City Year alumni; and, most important, about the hundreds of thousands of students whom City Year serves.

Together, we will continue to make better happen by unlocking the potential of students across the country.

 
 
 
 

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