Monday, July 20, 2015

Educational Options

There are some fantastic programs underway in the Boston Public School (BPS) system. Two were recently highlighted in the Boston Herald, demonstrating some of their potential. It is easy to exaggerate with statistics, so any numbers released by an organization as (unfortunately) politically sensitive as a school system need to be interpreted with some sober skepticism.  But even so . . . .

Boston Educational Options Program

The first one is the Educational Options (EO) program.  Unlike many “options” programs that allow students in low rated schools (based on my nemesis – standardized testing) to transfer to a different school, this one is for homeless students – giving them options for when and how to attend their classes.  The sad baseline stat is that there are over 2,300 homeless students currently in the BPS.  Even sadder, the graduation rate drops significantly.  Only 61 graduated this year.

But thanks (at least in part – remember that statistics caveat) to the EO program, 80% of those graduates have enrolled in college for the fall.  That is a jump from only 53% last year. 

Here is how the EO program works. In essence, it gives homeless students the support they need to derive the education that they are promised by the law. This can include
·         food assistance
·         referrals to social agencies (it is amazing how often homeless people don’t take advantage of services designed to help them because they don’t know these services exist or they don’t know how to get them)
·         online learning (yes, I know they are homeless, but they can access the courses from the public library or even in some shelters 24/7).
·         resources for mothers of homeless students so they can provide a better support system for their kids.

This investment seems like a no-brainer to me.  The cost of the program is easily recovered through the increased lifetime productivity of thousands of students (who generally stay in the area after they graduate) and the reduced need for future social services.  One example – a recent homeless grad won a $10,000 scholarship that includes an on-campus dorm room. Not coincidentally, this is the first “home” she will have.

Boston Summer Learning Project

The second program is the Boston Summer Learning Project. This one is focused on all disadvantaged students, not just the homeless. It includes English language learners, mandatory summer school for failing students, and “off-track” high school students. Importantly, it also identifies promising ninth graders and puts them into advanced learning programs.

The idea is to work with all of the various summer programs around the city to increase their ability to accept these disadvantaged students.  This is particularly important because disadvantaged students lose more of their academic progress over the summer than other students do. The city doesn’t just provide subsidies, they also work with the programs on logistics.

This year, 6,574 students will take classes in 78 different summer learning programs at a cost of $2 million – just $300 per student. Again, an easily recoverable investment.  And in this case the investment is not even from the city. The program is funded by private foundations.  The goal for next year is to increase this to 10,000 students in 100 programs in the next year or two.

Some of the programs sounds pretty cool too.  There is one at the Franklin Park Zoo.  Another one is at Boston Harbor Islands.  I wouldn’t mind spending the summer at the zoo or an island.