Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Real Cost of Educating Low-Income Students

This Op Ed from John Sully in Education Week. Sully is the Chair of Making Waves Academy a successful inner-city charter school that operates in San Francisco and Richmond.

Making Waves is one of those success stories whose reputation seems to rest on hard work. Boasting a 99% graduation rate with 94% continuing on to college (Harvard, Tufts, Stanford, Brown...) Sully says, Making Waves "stands in stark contrast to urban districts that graduate only about half their students."

...Making Waves, began as a year-round supplemental education initiative
offering services that extended well beyond the bounds of traditional tutoring.
We identified student needs that are barriers to success and developed the
services necessary to meet them—from academic interventions to nutrition
programs and dental care. Over time, we added other new resources to the list
such as extensive psychological services, bus transportation, and college
advising and counseling...
It is notable that the school has used a broader, bolder approach to achieveing its success. Dental Care? Yes. Try to solve for X with a toothache.

The program is exclusive to the extent that they only work with those families willing to commit. But once committed, it would seem the program delivers.

...The program succeeds partly because of the demands it makes on students and their families. We expect students to attend daily after-school support sessions, work closely with their tutors and counselors, and make steady progress. The program implements a zero-tolerance policy for unexcused absences from school and insists that students receive additional support when they earn grades of C or below. Parents and guardians are required to attend meetings with teachers and student caseworkers, and to participate in workshops that equip them to take part in their children’s education...
Is this what it takes to achieve success for students living in poverty?

In Kentucky, where 1,100 teachers were terminated for lack of funding, it's hard to imagine the political will exists to deliver the kinds of resources being brought to bear at Making Waves. If a child has a pressing need Kentucky teachers have to search for help. But as Sully points out,

We don’t simply make referrals for students. The program has on staff a
roster of psychologists, social workers, academic advisers, college counselors,
and nutritionists...

This is not exactly news. The faculty in the best schools, whether public or private, are working their butts off to deliver services to kids.

Making Waves attributes their success to a handful of practices for at-risk kids:
  • Extra time for learning
  • Pay for performance
  • The best location available
  • A commitment to every child
  • Developing a sustainable model

Making Waves' model? Sully says, by encompassing all the elements of the after-school and summer programs within the charter school model, we can offer a more significant dose of services, and reduce the cost of delivering the program. "Making Waves spends about $21,000 a year on each student in the after-school program, including the cost of tuition at private and parochial schools."

Is this what success for 99% costs?

Making a rigorous education available to every low-income student in this country will require that charter schools and traditional public schools work together, and that policies will support schools that demonstrate their effectiveness.


Richard Innes said...

"In Kentucky, where 11,000 teachers were terminated for lack of funding...."

Did you mean 1,100?

The Principal said...


Yes! 1,100 is what I meant. My error. I'll correct that above.

Thanks Dick

Leah Webb said...

On paper the waves program sounds like a godsend to children living in poverty. However,I do not believe this program would work well in areas that are in poverty. The waves program in big cities could be a great success as long as the children and parents come together and put the child's education first. In a smaller town, I believe it would be harder to afford having resources such as psychologist, dentist, and a nutritionist. This is a great program for big cities. If this program can get a few students to finish and go to college, then the program has done its job.