Poverty and Student Success

For children growing up in generational poverty, graduating from high school or college and becoming career-ready is often an uphill climb.

Poverty keeps students from attending school regularly, diminishes their ability to pay attention in class and undermines a foundational driver of positive student behavior -- the belief and experience that effort leads to success.

A report released as part of the Grad Nation conference this week, authored by Dr. Bob Balfanz of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, highlights the unique role that nonprofit groups, community volunteers and full-time national service members can play in the efforts to overcome the challenges placed on students as a result of poverty. The report, titled "Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All," is a joint effort by City Year and the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

In order to overcome the educational impacts of poverty, the report argues, high-need schools must provide direct, evidence-based supports for students. Community volunteers and full-time national service members can play unique roles in deploying those evidence-based supports for students.

The report argues:

To move towards high impact, cost-effective student support strategies, we need to adopt an evidence-based framework for providing student supports and wisely deploying the increased capacity of nonprofit organizations that leverage community volunteers and national service members to provide the human capital and expertise needed to implement and scale evidence-based student supports in schools that serve high-poverty populations.

A growing number of high performing nonprofit organizations -- including those supported by AmeriCorps -- are uniquely positioned to partner with teachers, schools or school districts and play a role in implementing direct, evidence-based student supports.

Minnesota Reading Corps, the Nashville K-2 Reading Program, Experience Corps and GenerationOn are examples of organizations specifically designed to leverage citizen volunteers able to support struggling students periodically for a set period of time.

Diplomas Now, a collaboration of specialized organizations -- City Year, Communities in Schools, and Talent Development Secondary -- is designed for whole school support, improving student and school performance. A partnership of this type is designed specifically for a school with large segments of the student population performing behind grade level.

A third level of community partnership is necessary for district-wide intervention for school systems facing multiple low-performing schools, high rates of chronic absenteeism and soaring dropout rates. A unique combination of nonprofit, specialized organizations that leverage all community assets by deploying community volunteers and full-time national service members can make full use of the available assets. AmeriCorps programs like Jumpstart, Citizen Schools, Playworks, City Year and others can work in partnership with a district for this purpose.

These organizations are already having a measurable impact on student success where they serve. The implications of the absence of these direct, evidence-based student supports are daunting. As the report indicates, schools with the need for these supports, but without the deployment of effective strategies to implement them, tend to fall back on so-called "ad hoc" strategies, which can be costly, but result in low impact.

There are challenges to scaling effective strategies. The delay in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, lack of incentives on state and local levels for the implementation of evidence-based strategies and reduced investment in the Corporation for National and Community Service all serve as barriers to the strategic deployment of direct, evidence-based student supports.

As the Dr. Bob Balfanz authored report says:

Decision makers at all levels of government must recognize that student supports are necessary to achieving the educational outcomes the nation needs to succeed, and must ensure that secure and continuous federal and state funding streams be developed to enable the implementation of high impact, cost-effective student supports at the scale and intensity required.

To move towards high impact, cost-effective student support strategies, we need to adopt evidence-based, targeted student supports and deploy nonprofit organizations to leverage community volunteers and national service to address this challenge.