personalized pathways

What happens when you pay students to get ready for college? One state is about to find out, with help from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC, speaks during the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 on September 6, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has a new tactic for helping more students get ready for college: paying them money as they take small steps in that direction.

CZI is helping Rhode Island try out the strategy, aimed at high-scoring students from low-income families in the state. It’s the latest foray into education giving for CZI, the organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, which has donated over $300 million to education causes since 2016. (CZI is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

The program, called Rhode2College and announced earlier this week, will work like this: Starting in 11th grade, students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and who scored well on the 10th-grade PSAT will be able to earn money by completing certain tasks. Those include creating a list of potential colleges, scoring higher on the SAT than the PSAT, submitting a federal financial aid form, and submitting college applications, according to the program’s website.

The program will allow students to earn up to $2,000 total — $500 that is immediately accessible and $1,500 that is put in a saving account that students can tap into once they start college.

It’s a small but significant incentive in a state where tuition is about $14,000 a year for state residents at the University of Rhode Island.

“Together, we will provide Rhode Island students with resources and personalized learning, while also modeling a different approach to financial aid linked to college readiness,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

The Rhode Island initiative is in some ways consistent with CZI’s past approaches and in other ways novel. Though it’s not clear exactly how much the program will cost, a spokesperson for CZI said it is part of a nearly $14 million grant to the College Board, which administers the SAT. One task that can earn students money is studying for the SAT through Khan Academy, the online learning and test-prep platform that was part of CZI’s partnership with the College Board. (CZI also has a prior relationship with Rhode Island, granting $1.5 million to support its statewide push for personalized learning.)

Megan Geoghegan, a spokesperson for Rhode Island’s department of education, said no public funds have been spent on the program, for which 1,200 students will be eligible this year. “The first two cohorts will be funded by CZI, and if the program is successful, the state will continue funding the program in future years,” she said.

The program targets low-income students, who may have less access to college-prep resources. But because it determines eligibility based on students’ test scores, it will likely disportionately benefit low-income students who are white, given the racial disparities that show up on standardized tests even controlling for family income.

Research on this kind of incentive-based program for high school students is mixed, and the question of why certain programs seem to work and others don’t remains vexing. Some studies have suggested that paying students for doing specific things — or “inputs” — produces better results than paying students for outcomes, like test scores. Giving awards immediately may be preferable to doing so with a delay.

The Rhode Island approach includes all four tactics: short and longer-term payments, some based on completing discrete tasks and at least one based on a specific outcome (scoring better on the SAT than the PSAT).

Geoghegan said the initiative draws on research showing “that programs that provide individualized assistance and even low-cost incentives like the ones we’ve set forth can have comparable results to large-scale scholarship programs.”

She pointed to a study showing that offering low-income parents help completing financial aid forms boosted college attendance; two other studies, one of universities in Chile and another of K-12 schools in the U.S., found that providing more information to students about school performance can steer them toward better schools. (Some of this research was conducted by Brown University’s Justine Hastings, who the press release notes is helping to design and evaluate the new Rhode Island program.)

Meanwhile, the idea of encouraging high school students to do better in schools by promising to help pay for college isn’t new. Most prominently, LeBron James has promised to pay tuition at the University of Akron for students at the school he recently opened in that city. A number of places, most prominently Kalamazoo, Michigan, have created similar district-wide initiatives over the years. (The amount dedicated per student in these programs is usually significantly more than Rhode Island’s $2,000 ceiling.)

Research on such “promise” programs has generally been positive, particularly for black students, suggesting that in many cases they can boost students’ performance in high school as well as their chances of attending college.

But one study released last week by the Brookings Institution, came to less rosy conclusion: Students in some Milwaukee public schools were randomly assigned the opportunity to receive up $12,000 to pay for tuition at a public or private college if they met requirements for high school grades and attendance. The program appeared to have no effect on high school or college outcomes.

Vision

Lawmakers pledge to ‘put some legs’ to new Colorado education plan

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes stressed that a new education blueprint respects local control, as state Rep. Bob Ranking, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, and Gov. John Hickenlooper look on.

With just a few weeks left in office, Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled an educational blueprint for Colorado that he hopes his successor, governor-elect Jared Polis, will take to heart.

The proposals range from increasing teacher pay and making training opportunities more relevant to the classroom to forging partnerships between business and education. They urge policy makers to build on ideas that have already worked at the school or district level. They also suggest revamping the school finance formula, a challenging task that has eluded lawmakers so far.

The legislators who served on the Education Leadership Council that wrote “The State of Education” praised the final product and promised it wouldn’t languish on a shelf. State Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat and former teacher who will chair the Senate Education Committee, said she was committed to “put some legs on it.”

State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale who served as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council with Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, said that a common refrain during his years in the legislature has been that the state lacks a broad vision for education. That’s made it difficult to move forward on thorny questions.

“The State of Education” provides that vision, Rankin said, and can serve as an “anchor” for lawmakers drafting bills and district leaders looking for new ideas. It’s also a way to show the public how Colorado could be a national leader in education, starting in preschool and continuing all the way through retraining for workers changing careers, he said.

Anthes stressed that the report is not a new set of mandates for school districts and that the plan respects Colorado’s principle of local control.

“We recognize that local context matters,” the report summary reads. ”While the subcommittees came to consensus on the principle and strategies for their components of this plan, we know that not every improvement strategy is right for every community.”

Even as the plan lays out ways to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, it also highlights the state’s acute need for many of those students to choose careers in education. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who was heavily involved in the project, noted that the “talent pipeline” for early childhood teachers in particular needs to be larger and that pay and opportunities for advancement will have to increase if more workers are to enter and stay in the profession.

The report calls for higher base compensation for teachers, for financial incentives like loan forgiveness and paid student teaching, and for evaluating and improving the working conditions in “hard-to-staff” schools.

It also calls for maintaining a high bar through teacher licensing and for alternative certification programs — used by many to enter teaching as a second career or after majoring in something other than education — to have equivalent standards.

At the same time, the report said the state should monitor licensure policies that may disproportionately discourage teachers of color as Colorado seeks to have a teacher workforce that looks more like the students it serves.

In contrast to earlier pushes for school improvement that focused on test-based accountability for schools and teachers, this report frequently mentions flexibility, collaboration, support, respect, and empowering educators.

The report calls for schools to provide a greater diversity of learning experiences for students, to be more flexible in where learning occurs, and to pay more attention to the challenges students face outside the classroom. It calls for deeper exploration of the community schools model, which involves greater collaboration between parents and teachers and a wide range of services not just for students but also for parents and younger siblings.  

“The State of Education” was developed by the Educational Leadership Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, educators, business and community leaders, and heads of state agencies convened by Hickenlooper in 2017. Members used input from more than 6,000 people who took an online survey about their education priorities, some 500 people who attended more than 70 roundtable discussions, and 100 people who served on four subcommittees.

Lawmakers will be weighing these ideas without a major new revenue source after the failure of the Amendment 73 school tax increase. Polis campaigned on a platform that included funding full-day kindergarten and significantly expanding access to preschool, while some lawmakers have suggested special education needs more attention.

Rankin said the state budget has money for targeted programs — Hickenlooper’s proposed 2019-20 budget already includes $10 million to fund ideas developed by the Education Leadership Council — but he also stressed that districts and local communities don’t need to wait for the state to pursue the ideas in the report.

“There is significant money going into education even after the failure of Amendment 73,” said Rankin, who also serves on the Joint Budget Committee. “There’s always room for new initiatives, whether they happen out in rural Colorado or in Denver Public Schools. I think it’s going to be up the districts themselves within their budgets to take up some of these priorities.”

Members of the incoming Polis administration have been briefed on the plan, and Hickenlooper said he hopes the plan will prove useful. A spokesperson for Polis declined to comment on the report.

Hickenlooper said providing all students with a good education is essential to maintaining Colorado’s strong economy.

“We will not stay No. 1 if we do not invest in our kids,” he said.

Read the full report here.

growing enrollment

Denver Green School is the district’s pick for a new middle school in growing Stapleton

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Workmen frame the walls in new affordable housing units in Stapleton in August 2018.

To serve a growing number of middle school students in the family-focused northeast Denver neighborhood of Stapleton, district administrators have recommended opening a middle school replicating the popular Denver Green School.

The seven-member Denver school board is set to vote on the recommendation Thursday night. Should the board approve it as expected, a second location of Denver Green School would open next fall on a shared campus north of I-70 in the area of the neighborhood known as Northfield. The campus is already home to Inspire Elementary School.

Enrollment in Stapleton schools is expected to increase as new home construction brings more families to the area. The new middle school would start with sixth grade next year and add a grade each year. The district has requested the school eventually be able to serve as many as 600 students.

A committee of parents, community members, and district employees reviewed applications from three schools interested in filling the district’s need for a new middle school. Committee members said they chose Denver Green School because of its stellar academic track record; its success with serving a diverse student population, including students with disabilities; and the fact that the person who would be its principal is an experienced leader.

Denver Green School is rated “blue,” the highest district rating. The original Denver Green School is a K-8 but the Stapleton school would be solely a middle school.

High Tech Elementary School in Stapleton also applied to fill the need by adding middle school grades. The third applicant was Beacon Network Schools, which already has two middle schools in Denver.

All three applicants are district-run schools, not charter schools. Denver Green School is part of Denver Public Schools’ first “innovation zone.” Being in a zone gives Denver Green School more autonomy over its budget and operations than a regular district-run school has.

The new Denver Green School would be one of six middle schools that families who live in the Stapleton, Northfield, and Park Hill neighborhoods can choose from.

Thursday’s vote will bring to a close a process the district calls the “call for new quality schools.” Instead of simply building and operating new schools, Denver Public Schools puts out a request for proposals, inviting anyone with an idea for a new school to apply. The district then facilitates a competitive selection process. The school that’s chosen gets to open in a district building — a prize in a city where school real estate is at a premium.

In this case, some Stapleton parents were disappointed that the district’s most requested middle school, McAuliffe International, didn’t apply. McAuliffe already has one replication — McAuliffe Manual Middle School — and Principal Kurt Dennis said the timing was not right for another.

“We have several excellent leaders in our pipeline that would love to open a new school, but the timing didn’t work for them in terms of where they are both in their careers and with their families,” Dennis wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. “If opportunities were to open up in the future, we would be interested, but not for the fall of 2019.”