On Tuesday in New Haven, Conn., a large collection of the city’s movers and shakers gathered for the release of a study from the RAND Corporation — Transforming an Urban School System — which studied the early progress of education reforms launched in 2010.
RAND’s community briefing — presented by Dr. Gabriella C. Gonzalez — focused on both the broad New Haven School Change initiative as well as the impact of New Haven Promise, which currently funds more than 400 college students across the state of Connecticut.
The district-wide findings showed modest gains. Average test scores showed improvement and college-going increased slightly. Dropout rates at the lowest-performing schools showed improvement, as did test scores at those same schools. And overall, RAND summarized, there was an increased college-going culture across the school district.
The results were perhaps exactly what one might expect in just three years of implementation as the work to change the course of an entire city’s school district is a long-term commitment.
But the assembled press gave nearly as much attention to a two-page infographic produced by New Haven Promise as it did the RAND findings.
Instead of focusing on the 22,800 students in the entire district, New Haven Promise focused on those who’d earned the scholarship and the numbers told a far more complete narrative of the power of the Promise. Among those findings:
• New Haven’s public schools suffered five straight years of declining enrollment before Promise was announced. Since the announcement there has been a 10-percent jump in city-wide public school enrollment.
• Eighty percent of the first cohort to earn and accept the Promise Scholarship went to college the fall following their high school graduation. By 2014, the fourth cohort, that matriculation rate jumped to 98 percent.
• Comparing its first two cohorts to its most recent two, New Haven Promise has seen the biggest jump in attainment from minority males. Black and Hispanic males receiving Promise funding has increased by 104 percent, compared to 40 percent for all other recipients.
• More than 40 percent of Promise Scholars are from families with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year. And that group’s current scholars have a higher median grade-point average than those from families with incomes higher than $30,000. (This despite critics calling Promise a “very middle-class approach” at its launch.)
• Fewer than one-third of Promise Scholars posted a semester GPA of 3.0 in the first three semesters of the initiative. In each of the last two semesters the percentage has reached 45 percent. If the usual “spring bump” happens this current semester, around half of the 400+ scholars will top 3.0.
• The combination of Promise and PELL has deeply impacted the entire city with 12 of the 30 wards receiving at least $200,000 for their students in four years. Each ward represents slightly more than 4,000 individuals.
The combination of funding, informing, networking, data collecting and analysis at the next level is the most sure-fire way to change the educational outcomes for a city. New Haven has discovered that.