Education / 2013
Building A Community of Leaders One Middle School Student at a Time
Minds on Fire is a new initiative that actively empowers middle school students who are most at risk for dropping out to succeed as learners and community leaders. Minds on Fire will improve middle school attendance, student engagement and achievement by empowering students to apply academic coursework to the real-world issues they care about. Students take ownership of their education by creating connections between their classroom lessons with student-led community projects. MOF will place trained ‘Mind Partners’- retired teachers and college grads - in each class to work with and support teachers. These Mind Partners will work with teachers and administrators to build frameworks for projects that fit the content and pacing of each teacher’s curriculum. They will work directly with students as they design and execute their project. Mind Partners fill a range of roles, from facilitating student-led discussions about the issues they care most about to identifying developmentally appropriate projects that utilize the skills of the particular academic unit; from engaging parents, community partners, businesses and/or government strategically to seeking project funding. The work of students and teachers will be amplified through a network of ‘real-life’ and virtual platforms, creating a growing community of engaged and knowledgeable Angelenos. Students and teachers will be able to exchange ideas and share experiences throughout the school year through an online platform. Teachers and school leaders will be able to connect with one another and other community leaders through quarterly ‘learn and link’ events. And the entire Minds on Fire community will celebrate their achievements at a year-end event that showcases student impact and academic achievement. Student voice is central to this approach. In a national survey, students who themselves had dropped out told us how they would improve schools (1). Among their comments, students asked for: - 81% - Opportunities for real-world learning (e.g. service-learning, internships) to make classroom more relevant - 81% - Better teachers who keep classes interesting - 75% - Smaller classes with more individual instruction These comments are borne out in the research findings and recommendations of education experts like Dr. Robert Balfanz of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins and Dr. William Daggett of the International Center for Leadership on Education. The Minds on Fire model incorporates these concepts through use of student-led, project-based learning with immediate goals and opportunity for success. The classroom-level support allows facilitates exciting learning in personalized, small-group work among students. Los Angeles is home to a disproportionate number of America’s Drop-out Factories – schools in which less than 60% of students who enter high school in 9th grade graduate on time. Minds on Fire will focus outreach to schools that feed into these Dropout Factories and where middle school students are most likely to be struggling. By targeting these ‘feeder’ middle schools, we can reduce the dropout rates in the schools hurt most by a loss of students. We can identify which students are most likely to dropout of school in high school based on their middle school performance (2). Dr. Balfanz coined the term ‘ABCs to describe these indicators – Attendance, Behavior and Course performance. His research is echoed in the findings of others, including the California Dropout Prevention Center. Minds on Fire will work with students who demonstrate risk for dropping out based on use of the ABCs – students who: - Attend school less than 80 percent of the time - Have repeated behavior problems and/or problems that are mild but sustained - Fail one or more courses, particularly in math or English. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2011 “As a target for school reform, the middle grades present the last, best opportunity for educators to reach all students—and not just those who persist and thrive in high school.” Minds on Fire deploys a classroom-level reform model to increase the likelihood of at risk-students leaving middle school prepared to succeed and graduate from high school. In the first year of operation we plan to serve 300 youth in up to six schools, helping that many of the most at-risk middle school students stay on the path to graduation. By Year 3 of operations we will be serving 1,500 students per year, a figure large enough to have a significant impact on the 9th grade dropout rate. In the 2010-11 school year, 3,000 9th graders dropped out of LAUSD schools. REFERENCES 1. The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Assoc for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006. 2. On Track for Success: The Use of Early Warning Indicator and Intervention Systems to Build a Grad Nation. Balfanz, Everyone Graduates Center. Nov. 2011
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Minds on Fire is in the start-up phase. However, the organization’s founder created and piloted a similar model in New York City public schools as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s inaugural NYC Civic Corps in 2009, an initiative launched in partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA to engage people across that city in volunteerism. The Minds on Fire model is shaped by the successes and learnings taken from that pilot, in combination with a deep understanding of the Los Angeles education landscape and challenges specific to our school system.
In the NYC Civic Corps program, a three-member team of VISTA Volunteers engaged 197 student- and teacher-leaders and 4,721 students across 58 schools in the development and implementation of service and service learning opportunities.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
MOF is in the process of developing partnerships with schools and community agencies. The most critical partnerships will be with the individual teachers and school leaders in MOF schools. We will also work with the education management organizations that have oversight for likely MOF schools along with leaders of the LAUSD. Other partnerships will be based on the needs of the specific communities in which students are implementing their projects. We will develop new partnerships and collaborations with community agencies, businesses and local government as defined by project needs. MOF is also engaging with foundations to build a sustainable future for the organization.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Minds on Fire will use a rigorous evaluation tool to identify and measure the impact of Minds on Fire on participating students. Key to our approach will be comparing data for participating students against non-participating students from the same school and schools with similar characteristics where Minds on Fire is not in place.
The evaluation will utilize a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to provide a full picture of impact on student and community.
Attendance – Use school attendance data to track (1) all student attendance levels and (2) change in number of students who miss 20 or more days of school in a year
Behavior disruptions – Use school level data to measure (1) number of behavior infractions and (2) change in number of students with 2 or more infractions
Classroom grades – Use District data and teacher-data and to (1) track number of classes failed by participating students, (2) compare student grades in classes and individual class units using MOF approach with non-participating students.
CST scores – Use District data to evaluate impact on CST scores in relevant content areas.
Student hope, engagement and college aspiration - Use a modified version the Gallup Student Poll tool to track student’s feelings before and after participating in MOF. Gallup polling has found a strong correlation between the factors of student hopefulness, engagement and well-being to college success. Hope in particular is shown to be a stronger predictor than GPA or test scores (1).
Teacher satisfaction – Develop a teacher poll in collaboration with participating schools to measure teachers’ feelings about value and impact of program.
School and Teacher Quality – Utilize LAUSD data as available for school- and teacher contributions to Academic Growth over Time.
Connectedness – Measure (1) participation in quarterly teacher/community ‘link and learn’ events, (2) student use of MOF blog to share ideas and (3) participation in year-end celebration event.
Community Impact – Track number of students who complete community projects, specific impact to the community of projects.
Persistence through high school – Use district data to follow students’ progression through high school. Increased number of at-risk students persisting through high school and graduating on time. 3,000 students dropped out of LAUSD schools in the year between the end of 8th grade and the end of 9th grade in 2012.
(1) Gallup Student Poll, Fall 2012. http://www.gallupstudentpoll.com/home.aspx
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Over time, Minds on Fire will build a corps of young leaders with the skills, confidence and commitment to effectively address challenges in their communities. They will enter high school prepared to graduate on time, with aspirations for college, career and civic life.
And while the mission of Minds on Fire is to decrease the dropout rate for Los Angeles’s most at-risk middle school students, this project will have additional benefits spanning student achievement, youth development, teacher quality and community-wide engagement.
Minds on Fire will start by working with 300 students across six schools. If that rate continues through 2050 (a conservative estimate), over 11,000 students will have participated.
Because Minds on Fire looks at the Early Warning Indicators to identify students most at risk of dropping out, we will help students who would otherwise have dropped out succeed in school. They will develop the skills necessary for a successful post-secondary experience and in the workforce, namely: time management, collaboration, creative thinking, research and the academic skills that form the basis for these projects.
28,000 students drop out of school in LA County each year. 12,500 dropped out of LAUSD schools in 2011(1). If only 1,000 more students made it to graduation, there would still be a significant impact on the economy: They would likely (2):
• Earn as much as $15 million in additional earnings in an average year;
• Spend an additional $900,000 each year purchasing vehicles
• Spend up to $45 million more on homes than they would likely spend without a diploma; and • Support as many as 130 new jobs in the region • Increase the gross regional product by up to $21 million, and pour as much as an additional $1.8 million annually into state and local coffers, all through their increased spending and investments.
Improving graduation rates has a positive impact on community life. That, combined with the specifically community-problem-solving focus of this initiative would lead to an improvement in Los Angeles residents’ life expectancy, health status, and voting rates while also reducing the crime rate and the associated costs to incarcerate criminals (3).
Young people across the country have already demonstrated their power to make change. Imagine if LA had thousands more young people exploring their own ideas for change – the potential is impossible to calculate, and a very real possibility.
(1) CA Dept. of Education DataQuest; 2009-2010 Dropouts by Cohort
(3) Source: http://www.measureofamerica.org/docs/APortraitOfCA.pdf
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
An education system that significantly enhances human development is one that provides all children with not only a path to college, but also with the knowledge, skills and experiences to build fulfilling lives, however the individual defines that term. And it is a system that inspires confidence in all families and teachers who are part of it, in which the zip code in which one lives has no bearing on the quality of education one has access to.
In this future, schools will have earned the public support they need to function at the highest possible level – so teachers, community members, parents and students together can foster an excitement for learning.