2019 Year in Review

How can we work around barriers that inhibit families from making informed high school choices?

We supported The Education Trust—New York on two data visualization projects that make New York State high school data transparent and accessible to families.

The first is a data visualization tool that shows the percentage of seniors with a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in each public high school in each school district in New York State. Consider that 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA go on to college immediately after graduation, compared with 55% who do not. Not only does this tool lead families to more successful schools, it also builds urgency around improving FAFSA completion rates.

The second project is a “To & Through” data visualization tool that allows parents to learn how well a particular high school is doing in educating students to succeed in and graduate from college. (We know that one of the best measures of a high school is whether its students earn a college degree, not whether they graduate or just matriculate at college.) Prior to this project, there was no such public data tool for New York families.   

What if high schools collaborated to share innovations that promote college access?

In 2019, we renewed our support of a strategic partnership between three schools in East Harlem—Park East High School, Central Park East High School, and The Heritage School. The schools, which are close to each other and serve predominantly low-income youth, had historically pooled athletic resources into one sports team under the name “East Harlem Pride.” Our funding expanded this collaboration into school improvement and college readiness. Each school has a unique strength: Park East has a successful math program, Central Park East has an outstanding college guidance program, and Heritage has an arts focus. We support each school in meeting its own identified needs while also investing in shared professional development and teaching techniques so that the strengths of each school can be leveraged by the other two. The results of this collaborative are striking. Heritage’s college acceptance rate increased from 35% to 100%, and its college matriculation rate increased from 30% to 91%. Central Park East’s Algebra 2 pass rate increased from 69% to 82%. Heritage’s Algebra 1 pass rate increased from 26% to 38%. Park East’s 18-month college persistence rate increased from 77% to 89% and the percentage of its graduates enrolled in a four-year college increased from 48% to 68%. What started as one math teacher at Park East sharing effective practices for instruction with algebra teachers at Heritage and Central Park East has since expanded to collaborations among all core subjects, select AP courses, and assistant principals. The Young Women’s Leadership School has since joined the partnership.

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Harlem Educational Activities Fund

What would help first-gen students feel like they might belong in college?

We’ve learned from our own Heckscher Scholars, mentees, and students in grantee organizations that visiting and staying on a college campus offers an unparalleled experience. We conceived of a SUNY Summer Residential Program for low income, first-generation-to-college New York City high school students aimed at improving the likelihood of their college matriculation and success. In 2019, we continued to support this pilot at the University at Albany and SUNY Potsdam, and added a third campus, SUNY Oswego. Selected in partnership with the SUNY Impact Foundation, each campus offers a three-week summer residential program that includes a transition to college course, an experiential credit-bearing course, career exploration, and social and recreational activities. Following the summer program, each campus tracks college application and enrollment behavior, and facilitates the application process for those participants who choose to apply to their respective campuses.

Another way we’ve addressed this question is by connecting incoming low-income, first-generation college students to each other before they arrive on campus. For the past six years, Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) has organized College Decision Day at the historic Apollo Theater in partnership with 20+ New York City-based college access and success organizations. The event is modeled as a college draft where over 200 graduating high school seniors proudly announce their college choices in front of an audience of cheering families, students, staff, volunteers, and supporters. Leveraging this opportunity of having a significant number of low-income and first-generation college students in one place, we designed a series of regional post-event workshops and dinners so that students headed to the same or nearby schools can network and build relationships with other first-generation students prior to arriving on campus. The workshops include topics such as financial literacy, health and wellness, self-identity, and using failures to produce success. College representatives are invited to attend.

Can a digital innovation encourage family engagement in learning?

Substantial research demonstrates that parental engagement can be a key driver for student success. In 2019, we funded PowerMyLearning (PML) Family Playlists: mobile-friendly kindergarten to 8th grade math homework assignments that enable teachers to partner more effectively with families. (One study showed that Family Playlists enabled four months of additional learning.) Our funding specifically supports work with a select number of schools that will serve as sites for research and innovation around the program. With our funding, PML will, among other things, find ways to optimize the teacher adoption process and the “triangle of learning relationships” between students, teachers, and families. The goal of this project is to contribute to PML’s continuous improvement and evidence-building efforts, and to optimize the triangle approach so that it leads to the greatest level of student achievement. Family Playlists is a scalable and affordable solution to improving student outcomes and parental engagement, and it has the potential for exponential growth in New York City across all subjects and grades.

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Partnership Schools

How can we support effective literacy instruction to tackle summer learning loss?

During a typical summer, far too many students experience a three-month regression in reading level. Springboard Collaborative, which harnesses the potential of parent-teacher collaboration to close the literacy gap, was again a grantee in 2019 because of its impressive results. Its flagship five-week summer program not only avoids the regression but replaces it with an average 3.1-month gain. The summer program launched in Philadelphia; we underwrote its expansion to New York City. Now that it has a foothold in New York City charter and public schools, Springboard is rolling out its first after-school program for the 2019-2020 school year. The after-school program is for the bottom quartile of readers for whom summer gains alone will not fully close the reading achievement gap. It combines teacher coaching to  differentiate instruction and engage families, small-group instruction, family workshops, and incentives to bolster engagement. Students average a 3.5-month reading gain during the four-month intervention; parent workshops average 98% attendance. 

How can we improve faith-based school options for families who want them?

Low-income families in New York City who believe in providing a faith-based education for their children are often faced with limited choices. Catholic schools in particular have faced significant declines and have been less than transparent in terms of ongoing student success in both high school and college admissions. Partnership Schools, a network of Catholic Pre-K through 8th grade schools in Harlem and the South Bronx that we supported in 2019, is committed to reversing these trends.

In 2013, Partnership Schools convinced the Archdiocese of New York to outsource the management of failing Catholic elementary and middle schools to its independent nonprofit. Partnership shifted from focusing solely on providing philanthropic and scholarship support to becoming a school management organization with full management, operational, financial, and academic responsibility for six flagship schools. When Partnership assumed management, only 17% of students passed the New York State math exam and only 22% passed the New York State ELA exam. On the most recent State exams in 2019, 52% of Partnership students passed the math exam and 49% passed the ELA exam. For the fourth year in a row, all Partnership schools met achievement levels that outperformed City and State school averages.

Partnership also developed a comprehensive high school choice matrix that factors in the success of neighboring charter, non-charter, and Catholic high schools in order to counsel families in making better choices. There will be at least two high school placement workshops for middle school students and their parents along with a guide and workbook to prepare for the admissions process. Through this work, Partnership will ensure that at least 75% of qualified 8th grade students apply to more than one school and that, of those schools, at least one is a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school as ranked by Partnership’s internal system. Additionally, Partnership anticipates increasing the average number of students scoring proficient on the 2020 New York State exams by at least 20 percentage points for math and at least 10 percentage points for ELA.

Can more effective tracking tools help schools improve student performance?

Classical Charter Schools serves kindergarten through 8th grade students in the South Bronx and is one of the three highest-performing charter school networks in New York City. Students attending Classical schools have outperformed State, City, and District school students since its inception in 2006: on the 2016-17 state tests, 89% of Classical students passed the ELA exam and 95% passed the math exam compared to a 47% and 43% New York City pass rate, respectively. In 2019, we continued our support of an innovative open source data technology system that can be shared with other school networks. The tool, developed over a three-year period with our support, houses granular student-level academic, behavioral, and attendance data in one place which allows teachers, coaches, and deans to work together to identify conditions that might put a student at academic risk, thus allowing for early intervention. Our support is helping Classical transition from measuring performance and tracking these data points in separate silos (academic, behavioral, demographic, attendance) to managing information and results across these areas. Part of our grant was a condition that Classical make its data systems technology open source so that other schools can learn from the tools.

New Visions for Public Schools is an organization focused on system-wide improvement efforts in New York City’s public schools. As the support organization for 71 district schools citywide as well as the management organization for ten New Visions Charter High Schools, New Visions has also begun supporting 346 additional schools citywide, at the direction of the NYC Department of Education, with their suite of data tools. With this shift, New Visions data management tools are now used in nearly 40% of New York City high schools. The core tool, which our catalytic funding helped create, is the New Visions Data Portal, a comprehensive school management platform built specifically to address the needs of high schools in New York City through the lens of increasing graduation rates. The tool is designed to support schools in making timely and strategic decisions about students and in comprehensively monitoring student progress. In 2019, we supported the expansion of the Portal to include additional functionality related to college advising. New Visions is well-positioned to take this systematic, scaled approach because it has consistently driven increases in graduation and college-readiness rates by solving parallel infrastructure and process challenges related to the assignment of students to activities and supports, and the tracking of the completion of key milestones. It also has the technical expertise to design high-quality software as well as the strategies to develop buy-in among a broad and diverse base of school users. Finally, the infrastructure they are building will be embedded in managerial software which already has an authentic user base among counselors working in New Visions schools.

Can a digital tool help underserved students become better writers?

Quill is a free, personalized online learning tool that helps middle and high school students build writing, grammar, and proofreading skills. We previously supported a research pilot that implemented Quill’s sentence-combining tool in three Icahn Charter Schools. The findings demonstrated statistically significant increases in writing scores and, although the pilot showed positive gains with limited fidelity, the results would have been even greater with more uniform usage of Quill.

In 2019, we sought to build on these learnings and supported a new cohort of Quill Lab Schools in which Quill can examine their own questions:

  • What are the conditions and circumstances under which Quill is most effective?
  • How much student progress can be made under optimal conditions?
  • How can Quill improve its tools to suit the needs of teachers and students?
  • What does it take to shift the culture of a school to a writing culture?
  • How does a strong culture of writing affect the school as a whole?

Following the 2019–2020 school year, results and feedback from the Quill Lab Schools will offer deep insights into best practices for optimal student outcomes. This grant was co-funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation, and the Siegel Family Endowment to focus on the potential of technology to transform learning in New York City.

Can we develop a pathway from middle school to college graduation (from one of the best schools for lifting students out of poverty)?

In order to develop a strong pathway from middle school to a career, we funded the investigation and development of a unique partnership that involves two large middle schools in Queens (MS 216 and MS 217), a career technical high school (Thomas A. Edison), and a non-profit private college (Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology) which offers both two- and four-year degrees.

In a study conducted by leading economists and based on millions of anonymous tax records, Vaughn College had one of the highest rates of mobility for its students, which measures the share of children who come from the bottom fifth quintile of family income and move to the top fifth as adults. Well over 90% of Vaughn graduates find gainful employment in careers with substantial salary and career advancement tracks upon graduation. Vaughn also has the capacity to serve more students than it currently does.

With our planning grant, Vaughn and Thomas Edison will work closely to share curriculum, provide opportunities for co-teaching of college-level courses in high school, and collaborate in providing hands-on experiences normally offered in college. The hope is that Vaughn and Thomas Edison will enter into a formal agreement that sets objective standards for granting one year of college credit to those Thomas Edison students who meet the requirements.

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Row New York

Can sports and dance programs enhance a college-going culture?

In 2019, we made catalytic investments in programs that successfully combine sports and the arts to spur interest in academics and college readiness. 

Since 2005, New Heights has been operating out of shared office space and rented basketball courts and classroom space to operate its programs. As it has grown, New Heights has searched for a permanent and centralized home facility to scale up its athletic and academic programming. They recently finalized a 30-year lease agreement to relocate to the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We anchored this capital campaign as the first major foundation funder. New Heights has outstanding results with 100% high school graduation rates, 100% college matriculation rates, 100% college persistence from year one to year two, and 86% of alumni currently enrolled in four-year colleges on track to graduate within six years.

ROW New York is one of the most successful outcomes-driven sports and college prep and persistence programs in New York City. Its programming consists of a year-round mix of competitive rowing instruction and individualized academic support including college-readiness workshops, formal check-in points during students’ first year, visiting students on campus, and connecting students to on-campus resources. ROW New York maintains stellar metrics with an impressive record of 95% of students matriculating to college, an 89% first-year completion rate, and an 85% college graduation rate within six years. We played a central role in the successful efforts of ROW to plan and construct a new community boathouse and learning center which will greatly expand its programs for underserved youth.

STEM From Dance (SFD) delivers school residencies and summer programs in which the art form of dance is used to introduce girls of color ages 12 to 18 to computer science. Participants choreograph a dance that is enhanced with a technological component they learn to code throughout the program. This could be a synchronized animation that serves as a digital backdrop, a musical composition created through coding, or a costume with programmed LED lights to accompany choreography. SFD aims to use the confidence built from dance to prepare minority girls for the social and academic challenges that lie ahead in STEM.

How can we sustain experiential learning programs that prepare underserved youth for college?

Global Glimpse centers around a three-week summer experience in a developing country (such as Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, or Panama), with an extensive curriculum covering history, politics, culture, poverty, business, education, and development. The program targets high-potential, low-income 11th graders who demonstrate leadership qualities and have a minimum GPA of 3.0; they are also required to conduct 40 hours of community service prior to the summer experience. Participants remain engaged in the program as 12th graders through one-on-one mentoring with the incoming cohort of 11th graders, community service projects, and supplementary academic workshops that emphasize college essay support.

Though not a traditional college prep program, Global Glimpse’s experiential learning program yields academic gains: 80% of participants write their college essay on the experience; 100% graduate from high school; 80% matriculate to four-year colleges, with an additional 15% to two-year community colleges; and 97% are persisting in college.

With our three-year commitment to expand the program as the catalyst, Global Glimpse is moving closer to serving 50 to 60% low-income and 40 to 50% affluent students (who pay full cost). Global Glimpse also solidified a high-level national partnership with United Airlines, which covers all air travel costs, provides additional in-kind support for program expansion through teacher incentive strategies, and invests in marketing to raise awareness around the partnership. In 2020, program revenue will exceed 55% of operating costs while serving 1,300 students, increasing to 58% in 2021 while serving 1,700 students.

How can we encourage college-access programs to teach other organizations what they do and how?

We’ve encouraged college access programs to share best practices and expand their reach by training other organizations in what they do and how. Over eight years, College Access: Research & Action (CARA) has developed and refined college access and persistence programming in more than 100 high schools, nine CUNY community colleges, and 14 community-based organizations. In 2019, we provided funding that allowed CARA to develop more strategic partnerships—ones that would be sustainable beyond CARA’s active involvement. The approach for this includes extensive consultation with program leadership to determine the best ways to integrate CARA models and resources into existing structures and practices, and ensure dedication of needed resources; distribution of CARA’s high-quality resources and the modeling of their use; and professional development to implement programming with fidelity. Schools that have partnered with CARA, with our support, and implemented both programs for at least three years have seen an increase of up to 20% in post-secondary matriculation rates, and an increase of up to 10% higher than those of peer comparison schools in New York City.

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2019 Year in Review — Contents