Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner

June 2016

Major National Study Validates Diplomas Now's Impact on Reducing Students' Early Warning Signs that Lead to Dropping Out 

Rigorous Study Shows Schools Can Reverse the Trajectory of Likely Dropouts and Put Them on Graduation Path 
Diplomas Now  increases the percentage of sixth- and ninth-graders with no early-warning signs in attendance, behavior and course performance, according to a major new study released today. 

This finding is important because prior research shows that sixth- and ninth-graders without early warning indicators graduate at rates two to three times higher than students with such issues -- as high as 75 percent compared to as low as 25 percent for sixth-graders with just one early warning sign. 

"One of the best moves high-poverty secondary schools can make to dramatically change their students' life trajectories is to help them get through school without any early warning signs by increasing their attendance, helping them stay out of trouble, and enabling them to do good coursework," said Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and co-founder of Diplomas Now. "It moves kids from a path of dropping out toward one of graduating from high school. T hese exciting findings show that even in the nation's toughest secondary schools, Diplomas Now was able to help schools do that." 

Read the Washington Post and Ed Week stories!

In 2010, Diplomas Now won a $30 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the model in 11 school districts and validate its effectiveness. The PepsiCo Foundation provided $11 million in private matching funds to support the implementation of Diplomas Now in the study schools in Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, Washington, D.C., East Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Antonio. MDRC , an independent research organization, is conducting the study, which, when completed in 2019, will be one of the largest and longest randomized studies of secondary school reform ever conducted. Diplomas Now is a partnership of Talent Development SecondaryCity Year and Communities In Schools.  

The ambitious study involved some 40,000 low-income students in 62 of the nation's most challenged middle and high schools. Thirty-two schools were randomly assigned to implement Diplomas Now, and 30 implemented other reforms, allowing researchers to compare the two groups of schools.  The findings released today look at Diplomas Now's impact on reducing early warning indicators after students experienced the first year of a multi-year intervention starting in the sixth and ninth grades.

" After two years, implementation of the Diplomas Now secondary school reform model produced a statistically significant, positive impact on the percentage of students with no early warning indicators," the MDRC report says. "The focus of the Diplomas Now model, particularly with its early warning system and tiered support, is to reduce the percentage of students with early warning indicators, and this finding suggests those efforts are starting to make a difference after two years. "

Statistically significant findings like these are rare - the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy found that fewer than 1 in 10 education randomized control trials included in the What Works Clearinghouse produced positive, meaningful impacts

"We are pleased that through the Department's signature i3 program, Diplomas Now has generated the highest level of evidence from a large, randomized trial demonstrating that chronic absenteeism can be reduced in the nation's high-poverty secondary schools through early warning and response systems," said Leslie Cornfeld, special advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. "The results underscore the impact of the Diplomas Now approach of using a multi-tiered model of combining early warning systems with additional student supports provided by teachers, school staff and other school-linked partners, such as AmeriCorps. These results further validate the potential impact of the My Brother's Keeper Success Mentor model being rolled out in 30 communities in collaboration with the White House, the Department of Education and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. That model relies on the very early warning and response system validated in today's report."

Read the full story and our briefs on early-warning systems, chronic absenteeism, and key study findings and an FAQ.
Diplomas Now Success Stories
Diplomas Now shares success stories of its positive impact on students, teachers and schools. These latest stories profile Burbank High School and Denny Middle School students who may not have been on track to graduation and high school without Diplomas Now. This year, 10 of the 13 high schools in the study are graduating their first classes of seniors this year and the other three graduated their first classes last year.

Diplomas Now Helps Burbank Student Struggling to Help Support Family 

When Noe Castro was 14, his parents split up, and he was floundering at Burbank High School in San Antonio. His mother's health was poor, so Noe worked at a gas station until 2 a. m. to help support his family. Then, his grandmother died, adding more stress. Noe rarely paid attention in class and was failing several courses. With help from Burbank faculty and the Diplomas Now team, however, he turned his performance around. Read more.

Diplomas Now Helps Student Thrive in New Middle School and Succeed in High School
As a freshman at Chief Sealth International High School, Angel Garcia-Castellanos earns As and Bs and attends school regularly. He plans to major in engineering in college and pursue a master's in computer science at the University of Oregon.

Angel's current path is markedly different from the one he was on when he transferred to  Denny International Middle School in Seattle in the 7th grade. Read his story .

Diplomas Now to Hold Annual Summer Institute Next Month in Orlando
Diplomas Now teams from across the country will gather at the Diplomas Now Summer Institute July 21 and 22 in Orlando. This annual conference is designed to promote dialogue, learning, and exploration of topics critical to schools, teams, and individuals dedicated to ensuring success at all Diplomas Now sites. The agenda will include plenaries, school team time, breakout sessions, celebrations and awards. 
Each session will be designed to share knowledge, skills, strategies and best practices to continue growing the learning community among Diplomas Now colleagues. Session will be offered around the following strands:
  • Teaching and Learning/Academic Interventions
  • Grade-Level Supports & Tracking of the ABCs (Especially High Schools)
  • Whole-School Collaboration & Integration
  • Diplomas Now Implementation 2.0
    • Best Practices/Good to Great/Improving Existing Models
  • Effective Use of Incentives
  • Social & Emotional Needs of Students