Improving student achievement: comprehensive services


by David Safier

Education Week (subscription only) has an article about the Say Yes to Education initiative in New York state. The way it's being implemented in Syracuse, NY, goes beyond tutoring and guaranteed college tuition to offer a wide array of services and programs designed to alleviate many of the hurdles poverty puts in front of children. Before looking at the program, let's look at some results since the program began in 2008.

Since the initiative began in the 2008-09 school year, the 9th grade dropout rate has fallen by nearly half, to 281 students; high school graduation rates have risen 10 percent, to 55 percent in 2011; and college certification and degree earning grew by a third, from 451 students to 579 in 2012.

Juvenile crime rates have fallen as well, from 580 arrests per year to 398. None of these results are spectacular — these kids won't enter college and adulthood with the same skills set as kids from higher income areas — but the results are more significant than what you see with most programs. Of course, it's not cheap. But then again, the Bill Gates Foundation spent more than $150 million to get Common Core up and running, with the idea that if we tell kids we want them to learn more, they will. Gates can see problems like malaria in third world countries, but the successful American businessman doesn't want to admit our economic system, which fits him like a pair of $10,000 leather gloves, grinds others down and dumps innocent children into a nearly inescapable cycle of poverty. That money could be far better spent by putting kids into the mental and physical condition they need to succeed in school. Hell, with the Gates Foundation's enormous endowment, it doesn't have to choose. It could fund both programs without breaking a sweat.

Here's a quick run-down of some of the programs offered by Syracuse's Say Yes effort.

  • "The district implemented a student-monitoring system, which includes 15 K-12 indicators in the categories of academic progress, social-emotional development, and physical and mental health."
  • "Six schools now have full-service dental and physical-health clinics, with screening available in all schools and health-insurance support available for families who don’t have it."
  • "The state’s office of mental health partnered with Say Yes to provide mental-health clinics in 23 of the 32 district schools so far, as well as social workers to help individual families and provide home visits."
  • "The local bar association also created legal clinics in several high-need schools and community centers, where lawyers volunteer their time to help students and their parents with any problem that could affect students’ schooling, from immigration to visitation and custody disputes to landlord-tenant problems."
  • "The city launched 3,000-student summer camp, including academic enrichment and creative arts."
  • "A curriculum and funding audit . . . [led to] a curriculum overhaul and [added] two additional hours a week of class as well as after-school programs in kindergarten through 5th grades, with more planned for middle school in coming years."
  • "Syracuse University also now provides free teacher training to launch more Advanced Placement courses, as well as summer teacher professional-development institutes in writing, mathematics, and science. The university also created a special education training program with two schools."

One of the few things we know for sure about education is that there's a direct correlation between poverty and low student achievement. If we raise families out of poverty, that would go a long way toward making children perform better in school. And a program like this, that looks at the kinds of advantages children from higher income families take for granted and attempts to provide some of those advantages for poorer students, can give these kids a boost that can close some of the socioeconomically related achievement gap.


  1. You mean, you getter results if you actually deal with the affects of poverty than by just teaching a test to break those nasty teachers’ unions? That can’t be right, because my local TeaPublican elected official says that can’t be right. /end snark

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