Friday, December 11, 2009

Higher Achievement Signs on to Race to the Top Letter

Higher Achievement helped draft and signed on to a letter highlighting the role of summer learning in the Race to the Top initiative at the US Dept of Education.

The select group of high-quality summer learning providers listed below, wrote to respond to the recently announced priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria for the Race to the Top Fund. We are requesting further clarification on the new definition of “increased learning time” to ensure there is no confusion among applicants as to whether the new term specifically includes summer programs run by non-profit and community-based organizations.

The letter was also endorsed by:

National Summer Learning Association
Aim High (San Francisco)
Bridges to a Brighter Future at Furman University
Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools
Energy Express at West Virginia University
Harlem RBI
Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative
Higher Achievement
Parks and People Foundation (SuperKids Camp-Baltimore)
Project Morry
Summer Advantage, USA
Summer Scholars (Denver)
Think Together
Trail Blazers

For more information on the Race to the Top Fund, click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Higher Achievement Alumni Gets Accepted into the Posse Program

Higher Achievement is proud to announce that our alumni, Joseph Ferguson,was accepted into the Posse Program at Bucknell University for next fall! Joe (currently a senior at Georgetown Day School) will be able to attend Bucknell University on a FULL SCHOLARSHIP!

Congratulations, Joe!

If you areinterested in learning more about Posse, please click here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Community Collaboration

A day doesn’t go by that I am not asked about what “we” can do to improve education and opportunity for all children. So, who is the “we?”

It’s me, it you, it’s parents, it’s teachers – it’s the community. We must encourage collaboration between the children, their families and those within the community, like Higher Achievement and other programs, who provide resources. At Higher Achievement, the community is what makes our program thrive. We solicit the help of local and national foundations to sustain our budget as we do this work; we use retired teachers, college students and young professionals to mentor our scholars; we rely on partnerships with the local school system to help provide a space and a means to run our program; we encourage our current mentors to tap into their personal and professional networks to ensure that every scholar has a mentor for every subject; and we reach out to local corporations who provide resources like field trips and school supplies for our scholars. Without all of these external resources, Higher Achievement couldn’t exist.

I am a strong proponent of enabling every member of our community to have access to opportunities to improve their lives, and enable them to fulfill their responsibility in a civil and democratic society. Our development as a community, and as a society, depends on each of us fulfilling our obligations.

At Higher Achievement, we believe in three main principles. First, that talent is everywhere. In every city, every community and every school, there are students who have the talent to do anything they set their minds to. Second, that intellect is built through effort. The more rigor a student approaches their academics with, the more they enable themselves to build intellect. And third, opportunities matter. Every chance you give a student to shine, is a chance that puts them one step closer to their destinies. As we believe in all of these principles at Higher Achievement, I also believe that we have the responsibility to use our talent to improve our lives and the communities we live in. By doing so, we increase our community’s potential to grow and develop and ensure that all of us are thriving.

This work of shaping our community’s potential is not just work that we need to do. It is our responsibility to do so. No ifs, ands or buts. We live in this community and it is our responsibility to make sure that we are building the kind of community our children will want to grow up in, live in, and make a difference in.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Things Are Happening in Baltimore!

Higher Achievement Baltimore was featured in the Baltimore Sun today! Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Higher Achievement Enewsletter

Click here to read the latest and greatest news about Higher Achievement!

Friday, November 20, 2009

CEO, Richard Tagle on Measuring Success

I am often asked how an organization like Higher Achievement measures success. Do we measure it through individual student progress or do we measure it through school performance? District-wide changes? Do we measure our impact on teaching and learning in schools? Do we assess how we improve community culture and supports for young people?

I would like to put to rest one thing: we did, currently do, and always will measure our success through individual scholar outcomes. It is what we are passionate about, it is our niche, and it is what makes us unique. Are you familiar with the Hedgehog Principle? That is why Higher Achievement constantly collects data about individual scholars: their demographics, their grades, test scores, attitudes, behaviors, skills. That is why we have small mentoring groups, summer class sizes. That is why we have competitions that enable individual scholars to shine. That is why we have an 8:1 ratio for homework help time. We provide individual attention.

Of course we analyze data both in aggregated and disaggregated fashion. But we need to differentiate our core strategy from our mechanism of analysis. We analyze group data to determine trends and center-specific and affiliate specific issues. But we will always measure scholar outcomes individually – did a scholar improve his or her grades? Test score? Did they build this or that skill? Is the scholar improving their academic behavior and attitude? Is this scholar doing better academically because of Higher Achievement?

Does our focus on scholar outcomes prevent us from measuring other ways we impact schools and communities? No, not at all.

When I meet with people not familiar with Higher Achievement, I highlight 3 things that make us different from other out of school time programs:
1. First, we are year-round. We offer both summer and after school academies. Very few programs have a year-round approach. Even fewer are year-round approaches that are academic-centric.
2. Second, we have a high school placement component. This niche allows us to concentrate on successfully transitioning youth in middle school, and placing them in high schools that get them on track to college.
3. Third, the combination of our culture and curriculum is a powerful force. Marrying a culture of excellence and high expectations with a social-justice themed curriculum is genius.

Add these three things together and Higher Achievement has found its unique place under the sun. The beauty of these elements is that these are both scholar-centric and allow Higher Achievement to have an impact at various levels: at the family level (we increase the level of parent involvement and engagement), at the school level (our feeder-based recruitment allows us to see if we are able to influence and impact school culture and performance), and at the systems level (our partnerships extend our reach and voice to promote a culture of excellence to everyone).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Recognizing Achievement from Beginning to End

This week, our very own Erin Hodge-Williams, Executive Director of Higher Achievement Baltimore, is a guest blogger on The Open Society Institute’s blog about audacious ideas. Click here to read why we should celebrate the beginnings of students' successes rather than waiting until their journey’s are complete.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CEO, Richard Tagle Reflects on His First Day of Mentoring

Last month, I started mentoring two 5th grade scholars at our Ward 1 Achievement (Adams Morgan section of Washington, DC). Jessinia just turned eleven and Jonathan is ten. To get to know each other better, I asked each of them to make a list about their likes, dislikes etc, that would help me get to know them better. I asked for their favorite subjects in school. Jessinia likes science and social studies because she likes learning new things, while Jonathan likes reading because he likes to write stories. Both think Math is hard and takes a lot of hard work.

I asked them about favorite food. Jessinia likes pizza…with pepperoni…from Dominos. Jonathan likes chicken parmesan. His choice came as a no brainer when he explained he wanted to be a chef when he grows up. We talked about food that he already knows how to cook.”Eggs,” he said, “I scramble it with salt, pepper.” Jessinia, not to be outdone, said she knows how to make tortillas. And Jonathan, in a show of one upmanship raised the bar: he knows how to make pupusas.

“You take the dough like this, and roll it like this with your hands."
"Okay," I imitated with my own hands.
"Then you take the chicken or the carnitas and put in the middle like this."
"Umm," I wondered, "how do I cook the chicken or carnitas?"
"Umm…. I don't know, It just comes that way. I will ask my dad, but usually when I get to the kitchen to help, its ready."

Both spoke about their fathers in high regard. Their fathers are the best – one put his son in the soccer team, while the other takes his daughter shopping for things she needs in school. The high level of pride and beam in their eyes when they talk about the work their fathers do were feelings I can relate to. Both of their dads are great cooks – in fact one is a chef at a big hotel in downtown.

We then moved on to the lesson at hand: understanding standard English and vernacular (they learned the definitions of the word vernacular, which according to American Dictionary are 1) the language of state or nation of origin; 2) slang; or 3) everyday language. It was differentiated from standard English.

Why do you need to be good at both vernacular and standard English?
Both gave good answers:
1) Because in school they are strict about standard English;
2) Because other members of your family can only speak Spanish so you need to be able to talk to them and there are other people who only speak English.
3) Because if you are applying for a job, and you know two languages, you will get hired.

Its amazing how our scholars can grasp the real world issues of culture, economy, and of course street survival.
The focus eventually turned toward me when they started asking me about my language -- which led to my travels, which led to China. They asked me 3 times throughout the evening if I were Chinese. Three times I reminded them I'm Filipino. And three times they asked me why I looked Chinese.

Anyway, we had some geography lessons as well, because they asked about China a lot:
1) Is the Great Wall really great? I said yes, its about a thousand miles long. And from outer space, you can actually see its outline.
2) Is Tokyo the largest city in China? Umm….. no because Tokyo is in Japan. The largest city in China is Beijing, but only based on how you define a city. There are places in China that are larger than Texas which is considered a province, and they have big cities, too.
3) We love Chinese food. What's the best Chinese restaurant in DC? I said, probably Mei Wah on M Street, but I haven’t been to all. Jonathan said the best is the one beside 7-11. He likes the fried rice there.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The First Lady Presents Higher Achievement with the Coming Up Taller Award

On Wednesday, November 4, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Higher Achievement with the Coming Up Taller Award, the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school time organizations providing humanities and arts programming to children with great potential, but limited outlets for creative expression. Higher Achievement is one of only 15 award winners selected from more than 400 nominees from across the nation, and one of only 2 award winners from the DC Metro area.

Lynsey Wood Jeffries, Executive Director of Higher Achievement DC Metro, and Brion Tillman-Young, Ward 7 Higher Achievement scholar, received the Coming Up Taller award on behalf of the organization. Read Lynsey’s comments below:

“I must say, Michelle Obama was even more amazing in person than she is on television or in photos. She’s stunningly beautiful, elegant, poised, warm and kind.

At the ceremony, the Co-Chairman, Margo Lion, named only one winner in her comments –hometown awardee Higher Achievement! She praised the organization for our significant grade improvements and intensive mentoring structure.

Despite strict rules to simply walk across the stage, shake the First Lady's hand and say, "Thank you,” Brion sprinted across the stage and gave Mrs. Obama a huge hug. As we posed for a photo with her, she leaned down and asked him, "What are you thinking?" With an enormous grin on his face, Brion simply said "I'm just happy. Just so happy."

My sentiments exactly, Brion :) Way to go Higher Achievement!”

For more coverage of this news by the Washington Times, please click here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Higher Achievement Applauds Gains in Baltimore

The Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) has been receiving a tremendous amount of positive press primarily due to the gains in student performance and the community-wide embracing of BCPS CEO Andres Alonso. We commend Dr. Alonso for his vision, strategy and engagement of the community – teachers, principals, students, families, and program providers—to bring about much needed improvement in public schools.

An article in Education Week states that BCPS graduation rates are modestly rising, out-of-school suspensions have plummeted, and, for the first time in decades, enrollment in Baltimore public schools is going up. This is exactly the picture Higher Achievement was impressed by when it decided to have Baltimore as its first replication site outside of Washington, DC.

Higher Achievement, a rigorous, year-round academic enrichment program for hardworking, motivated middle school students conducted an 18-month due diligence and advance work process that started by looking at 23 cities that showed promise, vision and structure for school improvement. Higher Achievement wanted to be in school districts that were also working hard to improve student performance and close the achievement gap. From the beginning, Baltimore was at the top of that list.

Another impressive strategy that Mr. Alonso implemented is giving more budget authority to principals. When principals have the power to make decisions around resource allocation and align it with their academic mission and goals, positive things happen. Teachers get more support, families get more engaged, and students learn and achieve. These strategies have been piloted, tested, and proven effective in many school districts across the country. The alignment of vision, authority, resources and public will always win the game.

Because of these structural changes and academic gains, the Baltimore community needs to invest more in building more supports for teaching and learning. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores across the country indicate impressive gains made at the 4th grade level but insignificant ones at 8th, which tells us that middle school is where we need to focus. Even Mr. Alonso pointed to the fact that he needs to focus at the 6th and 9th grade levels to prevent drop out and departure problems. Addressing this goes beyond the hands of educators. Programs like Higher Achievement can help maintain momentum and continued progress through the middle school and help prepare students face the rigors of high quality high schools and , in Baltimore’s case, the transformation schools.

As an out-of-school time program, Higher Achievement can be a connector between educators, families and other community-based programs to create that cohesive advocate for student achievement. We align our curriculum with the state academic standards, we base our performance and outcomes on grades and standardized test scores, and we create a cadre of "scholars" who are not only performing well academically, but also are conscious of what is happening in their community and how they, as its young citizens, can contribute to its continuous development and improvement. We all have a stake in the community’s future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Higher Achievement Supports Request for Increased Funds to OST Programs

As part of a coalition for afterschool policy convened by the Afterschool Alliance, Higher Achievement signed onto a letter to President Barack Obama asking for his support for an increase of $250 million in funding for out-of-school time programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program in the FY 2011 budget.

Please see the letter below:

Dear President Obama,
As organizations representing millions of individuals committed to advancing opportunities for our nation’s young people, we thank you for your support and appreciation of the critical role that before-school, afterschool and summer learning programs play in keeping children safe, inspiring learning and helping working families. We are writing to request your support for an increase of $250 million in funding for these programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program in the FY 2011 budget.

Students across America depend on 21st Century Community Learning Centers for high-quality, safe afterschool learning activities critical to their success in school and in life. Working families rely on this program to provide children with the academic, social and professional skills they need, delivered in a safe and familiar environment. Through hands-on activities like robotics, gardening, music, cooking and art, students in many 21st Century Community Learning Centers are supplementing what they learn in science, math and other subjects during the school day. Students who regularly attend quality afterschool programs have better grades and behavior in school, better peer relations and emotional adjustment, and lower incidences of drug-use, violence and pregnancy.

The current funding level for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program allows just over 1 million children to participate, while research shows well over ten times that number have no safe, supervised place to go when the school day ends. While parents from all socio-economic backgrounds contribute 76% of the funding for afterschool programs, federal grants only provide 11% of afterschool program budgets. An increase of $250 million in 21st Century Community Learning Center funding would be an important down payment toward the full $2.5 billion funding of the program and would result in an additional quarter of a million children having access to quality afterschool programs.

Thank you again for your commitment to our nation’s children and your leadership in striving to give our students the best possible education and learning opportunities. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding the 21st Century Community Learning Center program.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Higher Achievement Signs on in Support of the ASPIRE Act

Through its relationship with the Afterschool Alliance, Higher Achievement signed a letter of thanks to Senator Blanche Lincoln, who introduced the After-School Partnerships Improve Results in Education Act (APSIRE) Act. The ASPIRE Act will provide a greater focus on afterschool programs for middle and high school students to improve academic achievement, lower dropout rates, and help develop our future workforce. The bill authorizes a two-pronged grant program for national and local afterschool programs that target older youth who are struggling in school, come from low-income families, or attend schools in a rural area.

Please read the letter below:

To the Honorable Blanche L. Lincoln

On behalf of the millions of children and families served by afterschool programs across the country, we are writing to thank you for introducing the After-School Partnerships Improve Results in Education Act (ASPIRE Act.) The undersigned organizations strongly support this important legislation that provides targeted investments for afterschool programs serving older youth – programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and support working families. Your longstanding support for our goal of making quality, affordable afterschool programs available to all the children and youth that need them is commendable.

Afterschool programs provide myriad benefits to all who participate, but the majority of programs are geared toward younger children. According to the 2009 report America After 3 PM, xx million children in the U.S. are in afterschool programs. But just x percent of students in grades 9-12 participate in afterschool programs. The report also found that there are xx million high school students who would participate if programs were available.

In spite of the autonomy that typically comes with age, teens still need guidance and adult supervision to help keep them safe, in school and on the path to success in life. While the rate of juvenile crime triples between 3 PM and 6 PM, older youth who participate in quality afterschool programs geared towards them avoid those pitfalls and are given a boost both academically and developmentally.

Programs for middle and high school students are designed to attract, engage and meet the varied needs of more autonomous older youth. Programs for older youth often include elements to overcome barriers that often keep this age group away, including the need to work, family responsibilities and disinterest. Quality afterschool programs aimed at this age group include relevant and hand-on learning opportunities that are grounded in the real world, such as part-time work, internships or apprenticeships. This type of real-world learning helps keep students engaged in school and provides them with marketable skills for their future in the workforce.

The ASPIRE Act will provide a greater focus on afterschool programs for middle and high school students to improve academic achievement, lower dropout rates, and help develop our future workforce. As you know, the bill authorizes a two-pronged grant program for national and local afterschool programs that target older youth who are struggling in school, come from low-income families, or attend schools in a rural area.

Our groups are proud to endorse this legislation. Afterschool programs offer an effective and affordable way of overcoming obstacles confronting older youth, helping them realize their full potential. We look forward to working with you in the future to translate our common vision of high quality afterschool opportunities for all into a reality.


Afterschool Alliance

After-School All-Stars

Citizen Schools

Higher Achievement

National Collaboration for Youth

National PTA

Save the Children

The After School Corporation (TASC)

YMCA of the USA

Friday, October 23, 2009

Afterschool Alliance Releases New Study on the Need for Afterschool Programs

The Afterschool Alliance has released findings from its 2009 America After 3pm study, with updated data on the supply and demand for afterschool programs. The study highlights the need for continued development of high-quality extended learning opportunities, especially for middle school children.
• Nationally, 30% of middle school children are unsupervised after school.
• Of the 8.4 million children who do participate in programs, only 18% of them are middle school age.
• Of those not currently in programs, 36% of middle school students would participate in an afterschool program if one were available to them.
• Nine out of ten parents surveyed agree that there should be some type of organized activity or place for children and teens to go after school every day that provides opportunities to learn.
• The top barriers to program enrollment for minority students are program cost and transportation.
Read the New York Times editorial about the report, calling for President Obama and Secretary Duncan to increase spending for high-quality afterschool programs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Higher Achievement Speaks Out on Core Standards

Recently, the DC State Board of Education (DCSBOE) held a joint public hearing with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to review the proposed common core college and career readiness standards. This state-led proposal aims to create the college and career readiness standards in English-language arts and mathematics to establish what students should know to succeed in college courses and in the workforce.

Higher Achievement’s Chief of Programs, Rachel Gwaltney, presented at this hearing. Her comments are below:

Good evening, and thank you for this opportunity to publicly comment on the proposed common core standards.

My name is Rachel Gwaltney and I am here in my capacity as Chief of Programs for Higher Achievement, a national non-profit organization providing rigorous, year-round academic supports to middle school students during out-of-school time. Currently Higher Achievement serves over 550 students, about 350 of those here in the District.

Higher Achievement supports the common core standards being developed for national implementation. No matter where students live or go to school, all children have the capacity to learn at high levels if given the right opportunities and supports. I’ll say it again: talent is everywhere, in every community, in every school and every home. What we need is a common goal of preparing all students to be ready for a range of college and career options. The common core standards will establish for all schools and academic support providers like Higher Achievement, the key skills that all students must attain to be college and career ready. By understanding a common set of standards, schools and programs can truly collaborate to meet the needs of learners at each grade level, in every community.

Common core standards are a critical tool in ensuring that academic support providers like Higher Achievement align their work with what happens during the school day. This alignment allows a natural and seamless extension of academic support beyond the school day, giving those students who do need more support, all of the resources necessary for them to achieve and succeed at the same level as their more resourced peers.

The value of core standards is not only in defining a discrete set of skills, but in supporting a national culture of high expectations for learning for all students. We know that students will rise or sink to the expectations set for them by adults. Only by closing the expectations gap with high quality standards for all children, can we ever hope to close the achievement gap. Achieving high quality and challenging standards gives each student the opportunity to make a choice about his or her future, whether it be college, a career, or another path, rather than having that choice taken away or imposed on him/her merely by circumstances of birth into a certain community. To fully realize the potential that these standards hold for our community, what will be needed still is an agreed-upon measure of whether students achieve those standards, and financial support to equitably implement those standards in every community.

Higher Achievement knows from over 3 decades of experience that a culture of high expectations and rigorous academic work, aligned with the work that students do in school does lead to success. Research shows that 8th grade achievement is the best predictor of college readiness; during the critical middle school years, Higher Achievement reverses the typical decline of grades, with scholars improving from an average GPA of about 2.5 in 5th grade, to an average of about 3.2 in 8th grade. (For more information, refer to ACT (2008). The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring that All Students are On Target for College and Career Readiness before High School. Iowa City, IA.)

In 07-08, 100% of DC Higher Achievement scholars improved their DC CAS scores by an average of 20%, especially remarkable gains for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged youth. Over the past 35 years and working closely with the district, principals, and classroom teachers, Higher Achievement has helped over 10,000 young people develop the skills behaviors, and attitudes they need to be college and career ready, sending them on to college preparatory high schools and then college. We are excited to continue as a partner to DCPS, OSSE, and the entire community to further develop this collaboration around the core common standards, and to generate these outcomes for every student in the District.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demonstrating Strength

Strength, as defined in dictionaries, refers to the extent of power or ability one possesses. In the Gallup context, it refers to the talents inherent in all of us and the capacity we have as creators and thinkers to use those talents to advance ourselves, our work, or cause.

In the work Higher Achievement does, however, I look at strength as the collective energy that results from our individual contributions to advance our mission. We are a strong organization. We set high goals for ourselves, our scholars, our families, and in turn, we turn our scholars into strong forces of change in their community. They succeed in school, at home, and, as we have witnessed thousand of times in the past thirty-two years, in life. Our scholars' successes are testament to our collective strength to change lives. We should all be proud of that fact.  

Ultimately, strength comes from two concepts -- talent and results.  If we are conscious of our talent -- our muscle fibers, our intellect, our capacities and competencies -- and use those talents to drive work that leads to clear, measurable results, we demonstrate real strength.  And with that strength, we can lift entire communities.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"How to Develop Yourself as a Nonprofit Leader"

Check out the latest article from Bridgestar on "How to Develop Yourself as a Nonprofit Leader," including observations from Higher Achievement Program CEO Richard Tagle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making a Difference

I have always said that my own indicator of program quality is the distinction anyone can make between a program participant and the rest of the children in the area. We should be able to spot the participant on any street, grocery aisle, school building, church, and anywhere else in the community because of the way they speak, the way they carry themselves, and confident with what they know and strive for.  This is the real test of the difference we make in children’s lives.  This is particularly true of those students who are Higher Achievement Scholars. They are already smart – they don’t need us to be smarter. They are already curious – they don’t need us to point out things. They are already motivated – they don’t need us to push them further.


But like any gem, they need to be polished. They are raw talent waiting to be honed, shined and crafted.  This is what we do. We take dreams and make them real. We take ambition and we make them reachable.  We help all students see that the impossible is indeed very possible. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Investing in Community

 As I think about how we can improve opportunity and success for all students – particularly those that have the motivation, but have lacked the push to succeed – I am reminded of a tradition we have back in the Philippines. There is a Filipino term for it, bayanihan (pronounced bah - yah - nee - han).  It is taken from the word bayan, referring to a nation, town or community. The whole term bayanihan refers to a spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective. The term also can be traced from a common tradition in Philippine towns where community members volunteer to help a family move to a new place.


The process involves literally carrying the house to its new location. This is done by putting bamboo poles forming a strong frame to lift the stilts from the ground and carrying the whole house with the men positioned at the ends of each pole. The tradition also features a small celebration, a fiesta hosted by the family to express gratitude to the volunteers. The entire community celebrates when a family is able to improve their life and move to a new and better location in the community. It is a momentous occasion because it reminds other community members that what is possible for other families is possible for them. This is nothing short of solidarity – a term all of us should be familiar with.


By knowing where you can carry the weight, which end of the pole to hold, and how to synchronize our steps so that our “house” moves in a perfect and balanced way, we are all able to take K-12 education, particularly in the middle grades, to a higher place.

(Posted by Higher Achievement Program CEO Richard Tagle.) 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Working as a Not-for-Profit Partner

Higher Achievement takes its role as a partner middle schools throughout the greater Washington, DC area very seriously.  We recognize the importance of strengthening the middle school experience, particularly for those students who may not see college prep or postsecondary education as a viable option.  We recognize that every student has the potential to succeed, with the right motivation and the right support.  That is why we started Higher Achievement in the first place, and that is why we have had the successes we have posted over the past three decades.


As important as our work with external partners is, we must also remember who we are internally.  In education, one’s strongest ambassador is the current staff and volunteers.  They are the ones who carry the message and boast of the work.  To help our Higher Achievement family focus on what is important for our larger school community, we always keep three key principles in mind:

·      Know our work – Know what each of our core responsibilities are and what we are individually and collectively accountable for

·      Develop our work – Know what we will need to have in order to do our work effectively and efficiently; know what tools we need and the resources required to get them; know where our work sits within the context of the field (are we the bearer of promising practice? Or are we reinventing some wheel?)

·      Elevate our work – We need to continuously develop and innovate. How are we continuously learning? How are we helping to elevate the organization as a whole to a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency? If something we are currently doing cost $5, can we do the same thing for $4.75? – Mundane? Perhaps. But without this conscious incremental effort to elevate our work, how are we measuring our professional growth?


These are important issues for Higher Achievement, but they are also key for any not-for-profit organization that is committed to change and improvement, particularly in this economy and with expectations that seem to grow exponentially by the day.


(Posted by Higher Achievement CEO Richard Tagle.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extending the School Year

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk regarding modifying the school year.  In such discussions, the key to modified school year calendars is not that kids are in school year-round, but that learning takes place year round.  As we continue this debate, communities need to view schooling and learning differently: learning can take place anywhere, anytime.


School districts that take on a modified calendar agenda need to look at teaching and learning qualities that are already in place. Without high-quality teaching and learning environments, it does not make any difference how long you have students for – they will just be exposed to more of the same.


If we want to improve the quality of public education, we must first address the basic, core work of schools.  Then we can look at the calendar.


With those basics in place, we must then work to ensure other institutions within the community can help children and youth have a well-rounded learning experience.  Schools alone can’t do it. Where are the after-school programs? Summer programs? Where are the arts and music centers? Where is athletics and health education? Where’s technology and computer literacy? Where’s service learning and civic studies?  Where is leadership development? Where are environmental programs?


The community must also take a careful look at what it can put in place to support schools and programs, ensuring the full spectrum of learning opportunities are working together. These can’t all be supported by district student formula funding alone. Where is city money? What about parks and recreation? Mentoring money? Foundation dollars? Corporate philanthropy? Volunteers?


Finally, we must provide families the orientation and training they need to understand this full, rich learning landscape. Will the schools leave it to families to navigate themselves? Or will there be a well-coordinate set of supports during times when families are enrolling their students at the beginning of each school year?  When parents register to vote? When new families buy a new home in the neighborhood? When parents attend PTA meetings?


These kinds of experiences currently happen to families that are largely middle class in suburban settings.  If the schools are not making it available then they go and buy it.  These families pay for ballet classes, soccer practice and tennis lessons.  They put out the dollars for computer classes and their children’s trips abroad.


But what about poor, working families in distressed urban school districts and those students who need such opportunities the most? Who is going to coordinate these things for their children? The school that isn’t even close to reaching its AYP benchmark? The school that is having difficulty hiring all the qualified teachers it needs?


If we are serious about educational improvement and change, there is far more we need to consider than simply the number of classroom days on the school calendar.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Higher Achievement in Our Nation's Capital

Each year, I am impressed with the progress we make with middle schoolers in Washington, DC.  According to recent data, three of four students improved grades last year, with test scores improving by at least 60 percent.  More than half our students improved attendance.  And more than eight in 10 of our scholars were placed in college-preparatory high schools, avoiding the paths to dropout factories on which they were originally placed.


With results like these, Higher Achievement can help DC Public Schools reach its target of high academic performance. We create a strong pipeline of middle school students who are able to meet the rigors of college-preparatory high schools. and these students will successfully transition from middle school to high school and then to college.


How do we do it? Our model consists of three core elements: After School, Summer, and High School Placement:


First, we have the After School Academy that runs for 25 weeks, 3 days a week, 3:30 – 8 pm. A key aspect of this period is a two-hour academic mentoring, from 6 pm to 8 pm where 3 scholars are paired with one mentor for each of the three days. All mentors focus their mentoring sessions on math, literature, or technology.


Second, we have a Summer Academy that runs for six weeks, Monday through Thursday of academic teaching, and with Fridays devoted to field trips. Scholars are taught by a paid summer faculty on Math, Literature, Social Studies, Science, and an elective.  Once every summer, scholars are taken to a three-day college trip thus exposing our scholars to no less than 4 universities during their four-year stay in the program.  We expose our scholars, as early as fifth grade, to university life to make it real and achievable for them. They get to interact with college students, college professors, and most importantly, college admissions personnel.


Third, we have High School Placement: We assist families in making good academic choices for their children’s high school placement. For school year 07-08, 73 percent of Higher Achievement graduates will attend top public schools, including Banneker, Wilson, Walls, McKinley.


What’s required from our scholars? Simple: motivation and commitment. Our scholars spend 650 hours in our program in addition to the 900 spent in school.  That’s 30 additional school weeks each year for 4years! This is what we mean by motivation.

(Posted by Higher Achievement Program CEO Richard Tagle.)