Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner

March 2017

Diplomas Now Helps Frankford High Freshman Find Motivation To Succeed in School
Nasiyah with Communities In Schools Site Coordinator Todd Milhollen (left) and her City Year mentor "Mr. Jackie" (right)
When school leaders at Frankford first 
met ninth-grader Nasiyah Stepp, she was struggling to make it to school on time - if at all - each day, and having trouble finding the motivation to do well in her classes. Nasiyah's mom, a single mother, does her best to care for Nasiyah and her two siblings, but long, inconvenient hours as a Wal-Mart manager keep her away from home much of the day. That's put a number of responsibilities on Nasiyah, who is still adjusting to the new challenges of high school.

Nasiyah is in charge of keeping the house clean and in order, and making sure that her 11-year-old sister gets enough to eat. Until recently, Nasiyah also had to ensure that her sister made it to her elementary school-where the opening bell rings later than Frankford's. "Doing all of that makes me feel tired and rushed," the 16-year-old said. On top of those challenges, Nasiyah faces an additional obstacle to getting to school: In the School District of Philadelphia, to qualify for a student transportation pass, which allows students to use public transit for free, a student must live at least 1.5 miles from their school. Nasiyah lives about 1.44 miles from Frankford - so she's been denied a pass.

Principal Michael Calderone and his team at Frankford, where the graduation rate hovers around 60 percent, recently chose to partner with Diplomas Now largely because they wanted to identify students who, with a little bit of extra support in the key transition year of ninth grade, might have a greater shot at graduating college- and career-ready. Nasiyah is one of those students, and already she can feel a difference-and her Diplomas Now mentors agree.

To read the rest of the story, click here

New Report Analyzes the Findings from the First Decade of Diplomas Now and Beyond

Last month, Diplomas Now released a new report analyzing its successes and lessons learned over the past decade. The report notes, for example, that after partnering with Diplomas Now for three or more years, 80 percent of the highly-challenged partner schools have made meaningful improvements on state and district accountability measures. This progress is significantly greater than in other school improvement efforts funded through U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants.

The report also recaps recent key findings from the Diplomas Now randomized controlled study:
  • Diplomas Now has a positive, statistically significant impact on increasing the percentage of sixth and ninth graders exhibiting no early warning indicators (i.e. low attendance, sustained poor behavior, or failing math or English) and is succeeding in reducing the number of students at the greatest risk of dropping out across entire schools.
  • Diplomas Now had a statistically significant impact on reducing chronic absenteeism in the middle grades.
"Due to the collaborative efforts of administrators, teachers, Diplomas Now staff and AmeriCorps members, progress is being made in these challenged schools, which in some cases, had not made significant improvement in a decade or more," the report says.

Among other victories, the report also notes impressive improvement in high school graduation rates:
  • Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, DC, has increased its graduation rate by 17 percentage points, from 42 percent to 59.2 percent, the second largest gain of any school in the district.
  • Gage Park High School in Chicago has increased its graduation rate by 23 percentage points, from 39.4 percent to 62.6 percent, outpacing the overall district graduation rate growth (15.8 percentage points).
  • Newtown High School in New York City has increased its graduation rate by 8.5 percentage points, from 62 percent to 70.5 percent.
To read the full report, click here.
Diplomas Now Featured at Capitol Hill Briefing
Diplomas Now was proud to be a part of "Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act: How Flexibility and Use of Evidence Can Improve Outcomes," a briefing on Capitol Hill hosted last month by Results for America. Diplomas Now co-founder Robert Balfanz, who was recently named to Results for America's Inaugural Nonprofit Fellowship Program, was featured on the panel at the briefing.

Balfanz discussed Diplomas Now's successes and the lessons from partnering with schools to implement the model's evidence-based approach to increase student achievement in schools across the country. The briefing was particularly timely as states are hard at work on their plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which requires the use of evidence-based approaches, such as the one employed by Diplomas Now, to improve student outcomes in struggling schools. 
Clinton Middle in Tulsa Wins January Innovation Contest

Webster High School's logo
Launched this school year, the Diplomas Now Implementation Innovation Challenge aims to encourage cutting-edge thinking and practices among school teams. Each month that a challenge is held, an award of $1,000 is given to the school team the Challenge Committee deems most successful in implementing a particular approach. 
Clinton Middle School  in Tulsa has won the January challenge, which focused on the high-school application process for middle schools and graduation support for high schools.

The Clinton Diplomas Now team collaborated with Webster High School (where most Clinton students feed into) to organize a walking field trip for 8th grade students. Leveraging the short two-block distance between the schools, the team implemented the project to expose soon-to-be high schoolers to career-track options, increase awareness of the importance of high school attendance and performance, and build excitement about moving up.
The trip, which takes place in March, will include a panel of current students who will share their perspectives on the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade. Students will also be given the opportunity to take home Webster attire in an effort to get give students a head start on building school spirit. Recognizing that not every student will attend Webster, the Communities in School site coordinator and Clinton's school counselor also partnered to target students applying to other schools and assistant them in the process.

Congratulations to the Clinton team for winning the January challenge, and for developing a project that is sure to motivate 8th graders at Clinton to finish middle school on a positive note!