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VOL. 131 | NO. 185 | Thursday, September 15, 2016

Foundation to Evaluate After-School Programs

By Bill Dries

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The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis is putting up $300,000 to measure the results of five local nonprofits offering after-school and summer education programs for children.

The first-year funding of a multiyear “Beyond The Classroom” effort announced Tuesday, Sept. 13, is an indication that education reform efforts locally continue to move into what happens outside the classroom.

And the grant is designed to measure whether those efforts not only work but are also aligned with and consistent with what happens in classrooms.

“Literacy Mid-South has a great summer reading program,” said Robert Fockler, president of the Community Foundation. “We want to measure the student achievement level at the beginning of the summer, their achievement level at the end of the summer and hopefully demonstrate that they not only didn’t lose what they learned during the (school) year but actually even gained during the summer.”

Or the programs are improved as a result of the more objective data.

In addition to Literacy Mid-South, the other nonprofits involved in the pilot program are Latino Memphis, Porter-Leath, Communities in Schools and Knowledge Quest.

The organizations will work with Seeding Success to develop curricula and training.

Fockler said the effort is the result of a survey of philanthropic organizations the foundation works with. It found that most are involved in K-12 education but few were working in summer and after school efforts.

When the foundation looked at those efforts, it found a lack of objective measures that tell the organizations or the public how those programs perform.

“Only a measurement can tell you that. It’s not just a bunch of smiling kids in a class,” Fockler said. “It’s only through real measurement and analysis that you can really decide whether what you are doing is working.”

The same kind of analysis of 150 organizations in Boston found no link to what was being taught in Boston Public Schools, said Carol Johnson, who was superintendent of the Boston school system from 2007 to 2013 after leaving Memphis City Schools, where she had been superintendent.

Johnson has since moved back to Memphis, where she is regional director of New Leaders, a leadership training effort for school principals and administrators.

In Boston, Johnson oversaw a ramp-up and alignment of the summer school and after-school programs in an effort to bridge the education achievement gap between rich and poor students nationally.

For several years now Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson as well as former Achievement School District superintendent Chris Barbic made a point of saying they welcomed such programs outside the school day. But they also wanted to see those programs working with the school systems to coordinate their efforts with the schools.

Johnson said the interaction in Boston’s effort was not one-sided, with teachers learning new methods of keeping students’ interest based on what the out of school programs were doing.

The SCS board is several years into an effort to have all third-graders reading at grade level – an effort than began with less than a third of those students at grade level. The literacy effort involves tutoring and reading programs during the school day as well as in the community and away from schools.

“These programs do more than occupy our children’s time,” Fockler said of the after-school and summer programs.

Johnson said such programs are not new, and because they are not new they are a measure of what she sees as a widening gap among students nationally, built in part around the learning experiences they have when they are not in school.

“We have a system of haves and have-nots,” Johnson told a group of 160 Community Foundation funders and supporters Tuesday at the Shelby Farms Event Center, noting the achievement gap between rich and poor nationally is twice as large as the same gap between black and white students.

She cited 2006 figures showing parents at the higher income levels spending $9,000 a year on out-of-school enrichment activities and experiences compared with $1,300 a year by parents at the bottom income level. Johnson points to Shelby County Schools’ estimate that 40,000 of the school system’s 96,000 students are from families that earn less than $10,000 a year.

“Today our poorest families have less money than they did before to invest in their children. And less social support as well,” Johnson said. “That does not have to be the case. We can make other choices. Memphis has a wealth of resources that can be brought to bear. It’s not so much the quantity.”

Fockler agreed.

“We need to be able to align the in-school process with the out-of-school programming. Otherwise they are going in different directions,” he said. “The economic gap creates more widespread performance gaps than the racial gap. And God knows we have massive economic gaps. This issue is probably more important here than anywhere else.”

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