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Turning the Tide of NYC’s Educational Outcomes

Turning the Tide of NYC’s Educational Outcomes

A recent column in the New York Times by Dr. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University sheds light on the troubling disparities that exist in our country’s education system. The article discusses national data that is strikingly similar to what we see here in New York City – while there have been improvements in graduation rates in recent years, we continue to see disproportionately high dropout rates in African American and Latino communities.

The article suggests that to turn the tide for our city’s young people, we must not only reach out to struggling students in our high schools, but in the younger grades as well. According to Dr. Balfanz’s research, most students who eventually drop out can be identified as early as sixth grade based on their attendance, behavior and course performance.

“These young men,” he says, “are waving their hands early and often to say they need help, but our educational and student support systems aren’t organized to recognize and respond to their distress signals.”

A look at the data in CCC’s Keeping Track Online makes very clear our responsibility to do better by our children well before they reach high school, particularly in communities of color. The charts above show the percentages of public elementary and middle school children who met the new common core standards in reading and math in the last school year by race and ethnicity – and the disparities are evident.

So what can be done?  Like Dr. Balfanz, we believe that with the right interventions and supports, at the right period in a young person’s life, we can make important changes in their educational and life-long outcomes.

Through a series of conversations with school administrators, including a policy briefing and an analytic project that led to the publishing of our 2014 report, Keeping Middle School Students on Track for Success, CCC explored this very issue.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Nearly every stakeholder we spoke with emphasized the need for greater partnerships with community organizations and additional access to services for students. Particular attention should be given to addressing the absence of services in high-need communities and to building linkages between schools and community organizations.  In New York City, there are already several community school models that are examples of successful school-community partnerships that provide families with access to critical services, such as health, mental health, dental care, emergency food, and parental supports, among others. These models should be expanded.
  • Research shows how a school’s climate and the capacity of the school to respond to students’ needs play important roles in setting students up for success. Our discussions with school administrators showcased efforts to increase engagement with students as well as parents. For example, one school we visited conducts home visits to all incoming students in the fall, providing an opportunity to welcome students to the school, give the students a uniform and answer the families’ questions. Some schools have also implemented restorative practices, which are cooperative approaches to discipline, such as peer mediation, conferences, restorative circles and justice panels.
  • In order to make interventions like these truly effective, schools need both systems to follow students’ progress and training for school staff on how to make the best use of the data and supports. It is important that the education system engage in efforts to identify key early warning signs, including examining data on attendance, behavior and course performance, particularly in English Language Arts and Math. Data on students’ elementary school experience should be shared with middle schools, just as data on middle school experience should be shared with high schools when students transition. Some principals also shared that the use of data can positively inform staffing structures that help schools more fully explore the issues underlying students’ struggles and provide tailored interventions like those described above.

Read more about our findings and recommendations in Keeping Middle School Students on Track for Success.

More recently, CCC explored efforts in NYC’s public schools to help struggling students at an even younger age, through our Policy Briefing about literacy instruction for elementary school students.

Our research shows that NYC has a number of promising initiatives underway – just a few of which are mentioned above – to respond to the educational needs of our city’s young people. We look forward to partnering with the Administration to expand on these opportunities so that we can ensure that the children who need these supports the most can benefit from them.

Explore more of New York City’s education data on Keeping Track Online.

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