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.