August 16, 2010

CSOS-led team wins $30 mill ‘innovation’ grant

Johns Hopkins’ Center for Social Organization of Schools and its partners in Diplomas Now, an innovative turnaround model for low-performing secondary schools, have won a $30 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation program.

The i3 program awarded shares of $650 million to 49 school districts, nonprofit education organizations and institutions of higher education as part of the $10 billion investment in school reform in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The grant is one of 15 in the “validation” category, which awards up to $30 million for growing programs with emerging evidence of success. The money will be used to expand Diplomas Now—a model developed by CSOS’s Talent Development programs and partners City Year and Communities In Schools—to 60 of the nation’s lowest-performing middle and high schools in 14 districts in cities including Detroit, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Diplomas Now will be in schools in 10 cities during the 2010–2011 school year.

MDRC, a nonpartisan social policy research organization, will conduct a randomized control trial evaluation study to figure out what combination of reforms is powerful enough to enable high schools currently graduating only 30 percent to 60 percent of their students to achieve graduation rates of 80 percent or more, and reduce by two-thirds the number of middle school students sent to high school off track and behind grade level.

Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Talent Development program and a research scientist at CSOS, said that the team sees the grant as a tremendous vote of confidence in its efforts to help the country’s most high-risk students.

“To solve the dropout crisis, we need a game-changing strategy, one that is strong enough and broad enough to turn around the most-challenged schools,” Balfanz said. “With its research base, the proven track records of our three organizations and the commitment of more adults to schools, Diplomas Now is such a strategy.”

Diplomas Now targets three early-warning signs that students are likely to drop out: low attendance, poor behavior and course failure in English or math as early as sixth grade. In partnership with school administrators and teachers, Diplomas Now works to eliminate these indicators through whole-school reform, integrated student support through Communities In Schools and deployment of national service members from AmeriCorps’ City Year program as full-time tutors, mentors and role models.

The winning applicants must secure a commitment for a 20 percent private sector match by Sept. 8; PepsiCo Foundation, a founding investor in Diplomas Now, is providing the funding for the Johns Hopkins team.

Also awarded a five-year i3 grant was the Success for All Foundation, whose co-founder and chairman is Robert Slavin, a professor in the School of Education. Success for All was awarded a $49 million “scale-up” grant for programs with a strong track record of success. With its grant, Success for All will expand to approximately 1,100 additional elementary schools, creating local coaching support centers in high-poverty districts and providing credits to qualifying schools to help them with first-year costs. The Success for All application was the highest-rated of all of the “scale-up” proposals.