Report Released on Collaborative Project to Strengthen College Access at Boston High Schools

Sep 12, 2011, 14:54 ET from USC Rossier School of Education

ST. LOUIS, Mo., Sept. 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new report by researchers at the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at University of Southern California's (USC) Rossier School of Education and the National College Access Network (NCAN) details the results of a pilot project to model a viable strategy to strengthen the college-going culture at two Boston high schools with large populations of students that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. The full report, Using Data and Inquiry to Build Equity-Focused College Going Cultures, will be released at the NCAN Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 13, 2011, when a panel of researchers who led the project and administrators from the two schools will discuss the project and its impact in detail.

The Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project was designed to help teams of school-based practitioners heighten their awareness of inequities in the rates of college-preparedness and college-going among their students. CUE and NCAN researchers led teams of administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, and college access providers who were trained to collaborate on the analysis/use of data and action research methods to examine and change institutional policies and practices to more effectively promote college access for all students through the Equity Scorecard™ process.

With funding from the Kresge Foundation, the project represents the first attempt to apply CUE's equity-focused data, benchmarking and research tools in a high school setting. Previously, CUE's Equity Scorecard™ has been utilized in higher education to identify racial and ethnic inequities in educational outcomes at two- and four-year colleges around the country.

The effort was led by Co-Principal Investigators Estela Mara Bensimon, co-director of CUE and professor of higher education at the Rossier School, and Tia Brown McNair, formerly NCAN's assistant director and currently senior director for student success at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU).

"As a nation, we are still far from achieving the goal of closing the racial divides that so strongly characterize educational institutions and systems in the United States," Bensimon said. "We invite other educators, school leaders, and policy makers to adopt these recommended strategies to create equitable college-going cultures at the schools in their districts or states."

"The staff and college access partners who participated in this project have gone through a self-reflective experience that will change the way they collaborate and encourage them to see their students through a new lens -- the lens of equity," said Kim Cook, NCAN Executive Director. "We were pleased to partner with CUE and Boston Public Schools on this project to develop a set of tools that will help our members cultivate a college-going culture in communities across this country."

The project, which was piloted at Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH) and East Boston High School (EBHS), comes at a critical time for educators in Boston.

In response to a report finding just 35 percent of college-bound Boston Public Schools graduates from the class of 2000 earned a degree by spring 2007, the city launched Success Boston, an initiative challenging educators to improve college completion rates for its graduates.

Currently, 25 Massachusetts colleges and universities are participating in the Success Boston effort, which aims to double the number of local students who earn degrees. The project led by CUE and NCAN complements their efforts towards these goals, and has the potential for replication in other city high schools.

Findings from the study will be used to strengthen Success Boston's "Get Ready" strategies, said Marsha Inniss-Mitchell, director of college readiness initiative for Boston Public Schools.

"Implementation of the Student Success Toolkit has really supported BPS to build stronger alignment with college access and success partners, begin to strengthen the college-ready cultures in all district high schools, and think about ways to better incorporate the use data in our day-to-day work," said Inniss-Mitchell.

Among the themes revealed during the Demonstration Project was that students indeed had high aspirations to pursue a college degree, but lacked the requisite knowledge to access college and often received the information too late in the application process. Other themes included a lack of coordination between college access providers and school staff, and the need for more relevant outreach to students' families, and lack of teacher knowledge about the college application process.

As a result of the findings, the teams designed action plans which will be implemented during the 2011-12 academic year.  Among their goals are more directed college access efforts towards 9th graders, increased marketing of college fairs, communicating the importance of PSATs to Advanced Placement courses, and educating teachers on the postsecondary options available to students.

"This was the first time we had the time and tools to connect achievement data to our college access curriculum, and have our guidance counselors sit down and plan with our TRIO partners," said Catherine Carney of East Boston High School. "We were able to develop some discrete plans for improvement, and I look forward to implementing them."

Caroline Altman Smith, Program Officer from the Kresge Foundation remarked, "The Kresge Foundation believes that all students, regardless of background, deserve an equal opportunity to pursue a high-quality education beyond high school. It's heartening to see the impact that the Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project has made in two Boston schools and I'm excited about the potential it has to improve the way that staff and college access partners collaborate to create meaningful opportunities for students."

Read the report:

About the Center for Urban Education (CUE)
Established at USC in 1999, the Center for Urban Education (CUE) leads socially conscious research and develops data and inquiry tools for colleges and universities to produce equity in student outcomes. The USC Rossier School of Education is one of the world's premier centers for the study of urban education, preparing teachers and educational leaders who are committed to strengthening urban education locally, nationally, and globally.

About the National College Access Network (NCAN
Incorporated in 1995, NCAN's mission is to build, strengthen, and empower communities committed to college access and success so that all students, especially those underrepresented in postsecondary education, can achieve their educational dreams. With its members and partners, NCAN develops and supports programs and policy solutions that help more students aspire to, apply to, enter, and succeed in college or other postsecondary training. NCAN's hundreds of members span a broad range of the education, nonprofit, government, and civic sectors, including community-based nonprofit organizations, federally funded TRIO and GEAR UP programs, school districts, colleges and universities, foundations, and corporations.

About the Boston Public Schools (BPS)
Founded in 1647, Boston Public Schools (BPS) is the oldest public school district in the country.  With approximately 56,190 students from over 114 different countries, nearly 10,000 employees, including nearly 5,000 teachers, and an annual budget of $747 million, the BPS is the largest school district in Massachusetts.

SOURCE USC Rossier School of Education