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New Initiative To Examine Equity of College-access Programs

Following the release of a report that revealed just 35 percent of college-bound Boston public high schools graduates from the class of 2000 had earned a degree by spring 2007, Mayor Thomas Menino launched a citywide initiative challenging educators and community members to improve college completion rates for Boston Public Schools (BPS) graduates.

The initiative, Success Boston, is centered around three tenets: get ready, get in and get through.

A new Kresge Foundation-funded research effort launching this summer will better equip teachers and administrators at two Boston high schools in getting their students prepared for college. The project seeks to provide the mechanisms for school officials themselves to determine how to better align student academic achievement outcomes with supplemental college access programs.

The National College Access Network, an advocacy organization for college-access programs that devised the study and secured funding, has recruited the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California to bring to the high schools tools it has used at many colleges to close educational outcome gaps between students of various racial/ethnic groups.

Since 1999, CUE has helped colleges and universities across the nation close the equity gap in areas such as degree attainment, transfer success and science and technology participation. CUE researchers have equipped faculty and administrators from more than 40 institutions with techniques to improve academic outcomes for underserved students.

“We founded the center to address important problems not being addressed by diversity initiatives,” says Dr. Estela Bensimon, a professor of higher education at USC and founder of CUE. “Most diversity initiatives (focused on) how different ethnic groups could better understand each other. None of them were really looking at outcomes for the students who made diversity possible.”

Bensimon challenged institutions to consider such questions as: What proportion of first-time African-American students graduate in six years? Is that proportion equivalent to the average? How many African-Americans or Latinos are pursuing degrees in science and technology? Are minority students participating in honors programs and thriving?

To answer these questions on an institutional basis, CUE assembles teams of faculty and administrators to examine their institutional data disaggregated by race and to identify disparities in key areas using a tool known as the Equity Scorecard. The Equity Scorecard captures the improvement and equity goals agreed on by the team and provides criteria for evaluating institution effectiveness in closing educational gaps.

“One institution looked at the distribution of students in honors programs by race,” Bensimon says. “That was a real eye opener given the unequal distribution of students by race and ethnicity.”

Beginning this summer, CUE will lend its expertise to two public high schools in Boston.

With CUE’s mentorship and help from research partner NCAN, high school teachers, principals and administrators from East Boston High and the Community Academy of Science and Health will examine the success of their college-access programs to see if the schools are maximizing the programs’ potential and producing equitable outcomes. The school-based teams will be involved in the fall data collection and participate in an institute held in Boston to review their data in the equity-model framework.

“These two schools have a host of college-access and success programs such as Gear Up, TRIO and Upward Bound, but I think they need to understand how to better align the goals of the school with the goals of these programs,” said Marsha Inniss-Mitchell, director of college readiness initiatives for Boston Public Schools. “We don’t want a situation where schools are inundated with wonderful partnerships but not really achieving the intended goals for the students.”

East Boston is highly populated by Latino students, and the Community Academy has a large Haitian student population.

Both schools aim to improve state standardized test and SAT scores, increase AP and International Baccalaureate program participation and channel more students into college.

Success Boston followed a study released by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies that revealed just 16.9 percent of Black 2000 BPS high school graduates earned a college degree within seven years, and just 12 percent of Hispanics did.

The idea for CUE’s high school endeavor came from Dr. Tia McNair, assistant director for NCAN. After attending one of CUE’s Institutes for Equity and Critical Policy Analysis, which are funded by the Ford Foundation, McNair decided the tools she learned could apply to a high school setting.

The goal is to “ensure that the schools are using the programs effectively,” McNair says. “We are creating a social system by where practitioners can do the research themselves and find their own solutions on how to achieve equity effectively.”

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