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.