Improving education equity is a complex problem, and no one-size-fits-all solution exists. However, the “spotlight” programs throughout this report prove it is effective to identify a strategy, integrate it into everyday work, and make it a long-lasting priority rather than a fleeting program. There are lessons to be learned from what has worked to date—both factors to replicate and challenges to overcome.
Researching these programs has led to introductions and relationships with educators, administrators, business leaders, community activists, policymakers, and even the students themselves. What follows are common themes these leaders believe are key to ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality education.
The Small Things Matter
While the achievement gap is a macro-problem, some of the smallest countermeasures prove to be the most beneficial. As one administrator told us, “You can never underestimate the effect of a positive building. It’s things like cleanliness that let parents know we care and make them want to take a more active part in their children’s education.”
The Michigan Department of Education launched a three-year pilot program in 2013, the American Young Men of Promise Initiative (AAYMPI), which stresses creating an environment conducive to learning. Participating schools strive for goals ranging from keeping the building clean to ambitious challenges directed at teachers like the Positive Phone Calls Home Initiative. “Teachers’ perceptions of their students positively or negatively influence how students view themselves,” the AAYMPI reference guide states. For the most part, only poor behaviors warrant communication with parents, but the initiative encourages teachers to call the homes of male students to reinforce positive behavior. Principal Melissa Paschall of Northeastern Elementary School in Jackson, MI, says: “It can’t be a call to let mom know, Johnny fell on the playground today. It has to be something good, something to let the parents know we are proud of his or her child.”
Get Support From the Right Places
Gaining community support is imperative. Dr. Blake of BPS points out that City Hall is often the best place to target for public outreach. Without the public's and parents’ support, efforts can be short-lived. Several of the people we spoke with encouraged collaboration between nonprofits, schools, and business. Each has its own motivations, but in the end they all want the same outcome—success for all students.
Don’t Forget to Follow Through
Even more tragic than seeing gaps in college admittance rates is seeing subsets of the population drop out at disproportionate rates. In Detroit, promoting student access to college is only part of the battle. The long-term goal of getting productive and career-ready members of society requires work beyond counting college acceptance letters. Every step toward improving the gap must be accompanied with a game plan for sustainability.
Educators in the Boston Public Schools warn against “fade-out” from their pre-K programs. With an intense focus on early education, student performance can plateau and eventually decrease without special attention. Jason Sachs, director of early childhood program at BPS says, “It is critical to make efforts to sustain these gains made in the first few years. Going forward we can say K0 and K1 are great, but ultimately we need to improve upon K2, first grade, and beyond to make sure that students’ whole educational careers are conducive to their success.” Despite this concern, the results continued through third and fifth grade where students who completed K1 scored higher on state standardized tests than those who did not.
Great education reform does not start and end in pilot programs. Measurement of progress is essential for long-term success. Programs such as President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative emphasize the importance of consistent program measurement. The most promising of programs highlighted are able to connect success stories to real data that are moving the needle on improving student performance. Investing in what works makes perfect business sense, and all students deserve to be a success story.