As the new 2012-2013 school year begins, Diplomas Now is expanding to 21 additional schools and is launching partnerships with two new school districts in Columbus, Ohio, and San Antonio. In addition, seven school districts already partnering with Diplomas Now are adding schools in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
This brings the total number of Diplomas Now schools to 41, serving more than 40,000 students in 12 cities. Diplomas Now has come far since the 2008-2009 school year with a successful pilot project in Philadelphia.
Diplomas Now has consistently been able to cut in half or more the numbers of students with off-track indicators in attendance, behavior and course performance.
The new schools are:
More than 400 people attended the fourth annual 2012 Diplomas Now Summer Institute in July, with partners coming from as far away as Seattle and as nearby as Baltimore. They gathered for two days of workshops focused on building and sustaining the model and helping to prepare many more students for graduation, career and life.
Robert Balfanz, Diplomas Now executive team leader, highlighted Diplomas Now's early successes and stressed the need to continue making even greater strides on behalf of students across the nation, especially children of color and those from low-income families. "We need to rethink how to close the achievement gap," Balfanz said, as he encouraged the overflow audience to stay committed to the promise of Diplomas Now. "The fate of our republic is in the hands of our 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds. That's exciting and scary. There is no work in the 21st century without a high school diploma."
Balfanz said it is especially important to make sure children are coming to school, otherwise it doesn't matter what kind of programs are available.
"Other interventions have not taken into account how many kids are even there to receive the intervention," he said. "Chronic absenteeism is more pronounced than commonly recognized. Six to 8 million students are missing a month or more of school each year. It's like bacteria in a hospital. It creates havoc."
To read more about the Summer Institute and acknowledgements of new funders, click here. All the Summer Institute presentations are available on the password-protected part of the Diplomas Now website here (password is dipnow).
When Jacqueline L. Thomas, a Diplomas Now coordinator at Chicago Talent Development Charter High School, chooses student leaders for "Cohort Captains," an initiative aimed at improving behavior, she looks for students who have leadership potential but who tend to stay in the background.
"We didn't want to limit this to our model students," Thomas says. "We wanted to make sure it was students who have the leadership qualities but haven't yet blossomed."
The "Cohort Captains" program is designed to help improve behavior by giving students a role in helping to identify problems or issues– as expressed in school-based data on attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English (the ABCs of Diplomas Now) – and developing solutions.
"We wanted students to own the data more, to realize that they are the data changers," Thomas says. "Through the Cohort Captains program, students work in teams and brainstorm with the Diplomas Now team to identify areas of concern – in terms of data that relates to the ABCs – to identify where the cohort, or team, is most challenged and identify areas that are most repairable."
Thomas shared this strategy during this year's Diplomas Now Summer Institute session on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Click here to read more.
Looking for language to post on your school's website about Diplomas Now? Want to download some Diplomas Now posters for your school's walls? Need a parent flyer in English, Spanish or Chinese? How about a high-resolution logo or Diplomas Now letterhead? You can find everything from a Diplomas Now one-pager to guidelines for social media on the password-protected page of the Diplomas Now website (password is dipnow).
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Attendance Works are calling on school district superintendents to raise their voices and lead the effort to improve attendance starting in the early grades in their communities. So far, 31 superintendents have signed on to the call to action, meaning they want to make improved student attendance a broadly owned civic priority and plan to engage parents, civic and elected leaders, local businesses, clergy members and libraries, museums and service providers in developing or strengthening and implementing a plan of action. Another big part of the push is to get superintendents to use data to raise public awareness and to establish targets and goals on chronic absence, track progress and ensure accountability. Attendance Works frequently cites research on chronic absence by Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University, including the 2012 study that predicted as many as 7.5 million students are chronically absent from school each year.
A new commentary piece by City Year president Jim Balfanz in Education Week promotes national service as "an affordable and effective solution" that can play a vital role in filling the implementation gap in schools. The commentary highlights Diplomas Now and its three partners as an effective model that "brings together smart school design, the idealism of national service members and trained case managers to tap community resources." The commentary is tied to a new white paper by City Year.
PBS' Frontline recently highlighted Johns Hopkins University School of Education professor Robert Balfanz's research on middle school students' attendance, behavior and course performance – the ABCs, as Balfanz calls it – and the strong link to dropping out of high school. In high-poverty schools, if a sixth grader attends less than 80 percent of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75 percent chance that, without effective intervention, he or she will later drop out of high school.
The story explores how adults at a Bronx middle school analyze the ABC data weekly and work to keep each kid on track, a strategy behind the national Diplomas Now model. Balfanz argues that there aren't enough teachers to reach every struggling student so schools need to get creative and bring in a "second shift" of adults — national service corps members, volunteers, retired teachers — so that everyone in "that group of kids in the middle" has an adult, which is a big part of Diplomas Now.
Watch the Frontline story here.
KLCS TV recently featured Diplomas Now and its success in the Los Angeles Unified School District in an episode titled, "Reform the L.A. Way." Mónica García, board president of LAUSD, the nation's second-largest school district, praises the effectiveness of the Diplomas Now model in district schools. The episode also features a senior program manager, a teacher and the principal of Clinton Middle School discussing the positive impact of Diplomas Now at their school.
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