The following comes from a story written by Gary Stern of Lo-Hud.
I have been working with YPIE to attempt to help them augment their program to make Yonkers high school seniors more ready for college and career. We are negotiating with them to include the opportunity for a WISE program of experiential learning for credit whereby these students can gain college and career skills out of a classroom setting on a project or internship of their choice.
“The “holy grail” for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.
But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success.
So Bernard “Bud” Kroll, a retired Wall Streeter from Scarsdale, rolled out a schools-based version of “Moneyball.”
The YPIE board member went searching for statistical links that could help explain why some students are college-ready and many are not. He found that one factor has an overwhelming, undeniable influence on educational success.
“Poverty,” he said. “Poverty has everything to do with student readiness. It is the one thing that explains so much.”
Many researchers have outlined connections between poverty at home and achievement in school. But Kroll, who worked for 27 years in financial markets and asset management, is making the case that educators and the public can’t accurately judge school districts or teachers without considering the impact of poverty.
And the time has come, he said, to figure out how to alleviate poverty’s strangling effects on students so they have a better shot at earning a college degree. This is what YPIE now seeks to do through a variety of programs.
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said he’ll wield Kroll’s study in Albany to call for a new commitment to New York’s urban school systems and more money for a range of programs.
“Everyone needs to hear about this,” he said.
The group had a fast impact by helping students focus on graduation requirements and college acceptance, subjects of daily conversation in neighboring suburban communities.
Last year, Yonkers students made almost 30,000 visits to college advisory centers run by YPIE in the city’s high schools. The value of college scholarships secured by Yonkers students soared from $23,000 in 2009-10 to more than $61,000 last year.
But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.
“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”
Enter Kroll, an outsider to the world of institutional education who once served as head of U.S. equity quantitative research for J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Last year he turned his attention to defining college “readiness” and mapping the factors that lead to or away from this elusive goal.
A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. “The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”
Kroll found that only one factor had a game-changing link to how students perform in a given school district: the percentage of students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch because of low family income.
He found that this measure explained 63 percent of the variability across districts when it comes to student readiness for college.
What’s most important to Kroll is that his statistical framework can be used to compare the performance of school districts and schools, big and small, urban and suburban, while accounting for their levels of poverty. His graphs show whether a school district does better or worse than expected, given its percentage of students who come from poverty.
The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.
”We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”
The big picture
This is what YPIE aims to do in Yonkers. The group is now working with graduates who enroll at Westchester Community College to prepare them for college work. And YPIE has taken a major step by placing staff at WCC to continue assisting students on the path to an associate degree.
Last week, YPIE learned it will receive a $492,489 federal grant for several key programs, including new efforts to help high school juniors and seniors overcome their academic weaknesses so they are better prepared for college.
Kroll and his colleagues emphasized that there is more to a full K-12 education than being ready for college coursework. Students should take art, music and other electives, they said, that help produce well-rounded adults.
“When you take away other things from school, it detracts from the full educational experience,’ Nadel said. “We know that.”
Yonkers received other good news last week. The city’s schools will get $33 million in federal funds over four years to reinstate full-day prekindergarten. The goal is to lessen the effects of poverty on young children before they reach kindergarten.
“There is a culture of poverty that affects a child’s self-esteem, motivation, discipline and organizational skills,” Yonkers schools Superintendent Michael Yazurlo said. “Let’s talk about it. Let’s do something about it.””