Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Holidays from the EEC: Two Stories, a Brief Data Dive, and a Happy Ending

I was BLOWN-AWAY honored to have folks choose the Education Exchange Corps as their nonprofit for holiday donations!

You can join the cool club too by pressing this lovely yellow-orange button!

An international litigator making her argument to a skeptical
Federal Judge Charles Shaw.
With your help, we're able to run our Summer Leadership Academy in North St. Louis City so that it's free for families. That means a great group of kids K-12 learns how to run the world, high school students earn a summer paycheck and receive financial advice, and parents have a safe place for their kids to go during a time when there is not much accessible programming.

Basically, you're super awesome.

There are some folks out there who do not know what we do and why we do it, so that's why we post about all of it and the additional services we're exploring too!

A lot of people ask, "Why do you put so many things in your fanny pack, Batman? Sounds like you do a lot of things."
Batman says, "Because I need a lot of ways to go POW on a bad guy."

We started out 9 years ago focusing on education. Academic performance was low, and academic skills are taught in the classroom, so the problem must be in schools... EUREKA! Nine years later, that explanation doesn't come close to doing it.

The challenges in education are a comprehensive problem. And a comprehensive problem demands a comprehensive solution.

Allow me to tell you a story. (Actually, I would like to tell you two stories. The first one is frustrating, but I promise the second one will pick you right back up. So, go grab some hot chocolate, buckle up, and read along.)

I'm meeting with folks at a school, as I often do. We're sitting around a table, talking about the challenges a school is facing and ways the community can support it.
Half the room is used for storage, and some electronic thing in a back corner is constantly making noise. The other half of the room is our meeting space. After a while, you get used to the noise.

Within this meeting space, there's a bulletin board. Papers line the board. Papers with graphs all over them showing all sorts of data. Attendance. Performance on a standardized test. Performance on other tests. Different subjects. Different colors. All the things.

At some point, these graphs come up in discussion. This school, like so many others, needs to see academic performance increase. One of the graphs shows how many children are proficient in different subjects.
The numbers are in the high teens or low twenties.
One of the community members asks, "What's a comparable number? Is this normal?"
Staff: "Within a few points, yes. We're very close to what the other schools around us are doing, and so much can vary quickly because of the small class sizes."

The meeting moves on, the discussion going to strategic needs and community assemblies. But I'm just looking at those numbers. I've seen them before, but, for some reason, they're sticking pretty hard now.

Several minutes pass. "I don't think we should postpone any of the work we want to do," I say. "There's obviously something deeply wrong. These numbers mean that on a good day, 70-80% of kids are not proficient at reading."

The staff member nods her head, but in the way like a teacher does when she knows another mind is making the journey into the neighborhood she lives in.

"There's got to be more done than what this school and staff can do," the nodding continues. "So I want to know why are kids leaving this school so much. You said that only three kids in this school have been here for all grade levels, and they're doing better than most of the other students here. Why are folks moving so much? What do they need to stay?"

"They're leaving because they don't have a home to stay in. They're in transition," says the staff. "So that means they don't have money to afford staying here, or they're living with a relative, and they have to move. This neighborhood especially sees a lot of people moving in and out."

"What do they need? Short-term money?"

"There are organizations that already provide emergency funds and that are focusing on attendance and keeping kids in school. But it's not working. It's too big of a problem. It's economics."

It's economics in a lot of places in St. Louis City.

First, let me give you a comparison point: Clayton, a well-off municipality that borders the city.
Here's how Clayton compares to St. Louis City in standardized test scores:

In Clayton, the vast majority of kids are proficient. In the City, the opposite is true.

The individual school data shows an even deeper problem for the City. Clayton kids get better as they move up in grade level. Clayton's lowest score is 54.2% proficient in one subject at one elementary school. That's averaged out by way higher scores in higher grade levels.

In the City, 29 tests showed that at least 90% of kids taking the tests were not proficient in the subject material. Another 23 tests were inconclusive because not enough kids sat for the test in one school for it to count. Of those scoring below 10%, one of those tests was done at a high school and five were done at the middle school level. Unlike Clayton, low scores are present in upper grade levels too.

Overall, 77 scores were below 20%. 155 scores were below 50%. Only 38 were at or above 50%.

There are so many tests because each school in the system is subjected to four tests, but these numbers demonstrate the widespread academic performance problems in the City. There are a few schools in the City that are performing tremendously high. The drop-off from those in high-performing schools to the rest is huge.

But it's not just schools. Any district facing the challenges of educating kids who are moving from one school to another, often multiple times during an academic year, will have these same problems.

It's economics. It's a lack of jobs. It's a lack of wealth. It's a lack of resources.

"But, Batman, per pupil spending is higher in the City than the average in Missouri!"
That's true, but the City is also spending large amounts of money on transportation for a large number of kids and on building maintenance, including maintaining buildings that are no longer in use. A district once built to teach 80,000 kids now works with a bit over 20,000 kids. Just this week, the City chose to close two more schools. These are not the same challenges a school like Clayton faces, and Clayton still spends more per pupil than the City.

The challenges kids face - and that their teachers face as a result - are monstrously big. The problems are interconnected, and attacking one particular problem area while neglecting others does not and has not done the job.

That's why we're trying to put a bunch of tools in the tool belt. A comprehensive problem needs a comprehensive solution.

Last story for today.

One of the high school students who worked for us this past summer found himself in a bad spot this fall. He was suddenly homeless and with no place to turn. He was not attending school, and he had lost confidence in his ability to go back. The job search wasn't going well. And he'd been involved in violence and came very close to losing his life.

It wasn't always like this. He told me once that, when he was a little kid, his artwork was honored by the Mayor of St. Louis. He always loved art. He still wanted to be an artist someday, if that day ever came.

He's a young man who knows that he's had to endure a whole lot, and he knows firsthand how these challenges can derail academic performance. He was staying in the same neighborhood the school I was talking about before serves. I've written about all this kid had to go through.

I met this young man because we decided not just to be a traditional education program. We saw a problem with youth unemployment, so we hired kids to work for us in the summer. I met this young man because the EEC tried to be more comprehensive and deal with a need as we saw it.

Because we met, he was able to call me. He had a place to stay for a few weeks. He had time to figure things out. And he got into Job Corps, where he is receiving housing and training in a trade, along with an education.

I spoke with him just the other day. He said everything is going great! He's learning welding. And he's also decided that he wants to get a college degree. Eventually, he wants to get involved in the local arts scene, maybe one day manage or own a gallery. And he wants to go back to his neighborhood and work with kids, to pay what he got forward. Never has he had a clearer picture of where he wants to go.

These are the kinds of results we can get when we care. We can build a world where kids who today are so often left to fail don't, where 20 percent proficient is flipped upside down because a kid is encouraged not just to learn, but to find a passion. These are the kinds of results we can get when we work across disciplines and organizations and divisions to offer access to opportunity for every child.

These are results we're seeing thanks to folks like you.

Happy holidays to you and yours. And thank you for supporting a better future for all of us.


Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps


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