Sunday, August 06, 2017

Information-Based Progress, for Our Young People and Our Future

Amidst the daily and tiresome clamor about fake news, the opportunity to see people make a real difference, using solid information to turn the tide on significant social issues, can inspire and energize those who witness it.

I had such an opportunity at the July meeting of the Generation Next Leadership Council. (Full disclosure: I sit on the Leadership Council and Executive Committee of Generation Next.) Sondra Samuels of Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) and Muneer Karcher-Ramos of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) educated us on the progress they have accomplished and the course they have set for themselves – based on creative use of data to inform their program development.

Northside Achievement Zone: Dissecting the Numbers

At NAZ, since 2012, nearly 1,700 families and 3,400 young scholars have participated in their programs which foster long-term academic success through effective partnering among schools, families, and community organizations. NAZ seeks to have every family resolutely take the lead in educating its children, while taking advantage of all resources available to assist in accomplishing that task. During the past five years, reading and math proficiency have increased on average. Kindergarten readiness has increased. Families have shown some signs of stabilizing their housing, employment, and health.

Creative and effective use of information requires more than just looking at overall totals and averages, however. It requires dissecting those numbers to discover what causes improvement, learn who does not improve, and determine whether a program can do anything additional in order to produce even better results. NAZ has taken those steps. For example, they documented the positive impacts of out-of-school programming; they showed how positive outcomes increased in schools where NAZ and other services have optimal alignment. With this type of knowledge they continually refine their strategy.

Sondra explained how NAZ achieved many goals over the years; she also mentioned things they have tried that have not worked. By learning from, and building on, both success and failure, Sondra’s staff and board members demonstrate the entrepreneurial talent that they infuse in the Northside Achievement Zone. As the NAZ brochure states boldly: “Every piece of data is a valuable opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, so we can adjust our practice in real time.”

Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood: Expanding Reach

Muneer showed how the breadth of SPPN has expanded over the past five years, with almost 2,000 young and elementary aged children involved in 2016. The program has shown positive impacts on reading proficiency. Evidence seems to suggest that SPPN can prevent summer learning loss. In particular, the culturally based literacy interventions delivered in summer of 2016 seemed to maintain or increase the literacy skills of almost all of the young people who participated.

In an attempt to plan beyond only those being served, and move to a community-level ambit, SPPN has developed models and charts to indicate the numbers of additional young people they would need to reach in order to raise the academic performance of everyone in need in the neighborhood. That makes the task tangible and practical.

For the Future

Will both of these models succeed in the long term? Can they sustain themselves? Can others adopt these models in other locales? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s certainly hope so. They have established themselves upon a solid, data-driven foundation. This foundation offers the two programs the chance to build cumulatively on success; it enables others to view the ingredients for success and determine whether other programs can incorporate those ingredients. They increase the hope that good information will contribute to a strong future for our communities.