personalized pathways

What happens when you pay students to get ready for college? One state is about to find out, with help from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC, speaks during the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 on September 6, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has a new tactic for helping more students get ready for college: paying them money as they take small steps in that direction.

CZI is helping Rhode Island try out the strategy, aimed at high-scoring students from low-income families in the state. It’s the latest foray into education giving for CZI, the organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, which has donated over $300 million to education causes since 2016. (CZI is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

The program, called Rhode2College and announced earlier this week, will work like this: Starting in 11th grade, students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and who scored well on the 10th-grade PSAT will be able to earn money by completing certain tasks. Those include creating a list of potential colleges, scoring higher on the SAT than the PSAT, submitting a federal financial aid form, and submitting college applications, according to the program’s website.

The program will allow students to earn up to $2,000 total — $500 that is immediately accessible and $1,500 that is put in a saving account that students can tap into once they start college.

It’s a small but significant incentive in a state where tuition is about $14,000 a year for state residents at the University of Rhode Island.

“Together, we will provide Rhode Island students with resources and personalized learning, while also modeling a different approach to financial aid linked to college readiness,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

The Rhode Island initiative is in some ways consistent with CZI’s past approaches and in other ways novel. Though it’s not clear exactly how much the program will cost, a spokesperson for CZI said it is part of a nearly $14 million grant to the College Board, which administers the SAT. One task that can earn students money is studying for the SAT through Khan Academy, the online learning and test-prep platform that was part of CZI’s partnership with the College Board. (CZI also has a prior relationship with Rhode Island, granting $1.5 million to support its statewide push for personalized learning.)

Megan Geoghegan, a spokesperson for Rhode Island’s department of education, said no public funds have been spent on the program, for which 1,200 students will be eligible this year. “The first two cohorts will be funded by CZI, and if the program is successful, the state will continue funding the program in future years,” she said.

The program targets low-income students, who may have less access to college-prep resources. But because it determines eligibility based on students’ test scores, it will likely disportionately benefit low-income students who are white, given the racial disparities that show up on standardized tests even controlling for family income.

Research on this kind of incentive-based program for high school students is mixed, and the question of why certain programs seem to work and others don’t remains vexing. Some studies have suggested that paying students for doing specific things — or “inputs” — produces better results than paying students for outcomes, like test scores. Giving awards immediately may be preferable to doing so with a delay.

The Rhode Island approach includes all four tactics: short and longer-term payments, some based on completing discrete tasks and at least one based on a specific outcome (scoring better on the SAT than the PSAT).

Geoghegan said the initiative draws on research showing “that programs that provide individualized assistance and even low-cost incentives like the ones we’ve set forth can have comparable results to large-scale scholarship programs.”

She pointed to a study showing that offering low-income parents help completing financial aid forms boosted college attendance; two other studies, one of universities in Chile and another of K-12 schools in the U.S., found that providing more information to students about school performance can steer them toward better schools. (Some of this research was conducted by Brown University’s Justine Hastings, who the press release notes is helping to design and evaluate the new Rhode Island program.)

Meanwhile, the idea of encouraging high school students to do better in schools by promising to help pay for college isn’t new. Most prominently, LeBron James has promised to pay tuition at the University of Akron for students at the school he recently opened in that city. A number of places, most prominently Kalamazoo, Michigan, have created similar district-wide initiatives over the years. (The amount dedicated per student in these programs is usually significantly more than Rhode Island’s $2,000 ceiling.)

Research on such “promise” programs has generally been positive, particularly for black students, suggesting that in many cases they can boost students’ performance in high school as well as their chances of attending college.

But one study released last week by the Brookings Institution, came to less rosy conclusion: Students in some Milwaukee public schools were randomly assigned the opportunity to receive up $12,000 to pay for tuition at a public or private college if they met requirements for high school grades and attendance. The program appeared to have no effect on high school or college outcomes.

big plans

Four things you should know about the new Memphis plan to expand district support to all schools

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Shelby County Schools board members heard an ambitious plan Tuesday to expand district support for students across all its nearly 150 schools.

The proposal would expand the district’s flagship turnaround program, the Innovation Zone; test all first-graders for gifted education; give hand-held electronic devices to more high school students; and offer more advanced courses. The recommendations are the first from the district’s new chief academic officer, Antonio Burt, who was appointed in September.

“We’re really focused on system-wide equity,” he said. “We can really switch the conversation from equity to really focusing on equity in action.”

In recent years, Memphis has become a model in Tennessee’s school turnaround efforts. But district officials believe Shelby County Schools has not effectively scaled those lessons up to impact more students more quickly. Burt said his plan will fill in those gaps.

Burt did not break down how much these initiatives would cost, but incoming interim superintendent Joris Ray said the proposals would anchor the district’s budget priorities for the 2019-20 school year.

Here is what you need to know:

All first-grade students would be tested to see if they are eligible for CLUE, the district’s gifted education program.

Currently, teachers pick students to be tested for admittance into a program that promotes higher-level grade work for students from preschool to high school.

Burt said the way students are chosen has led to wide disparities in the racial makeup of the program. Though white students make up 7 percent of the district’s population, they make up 38 percent of the students in CLUE. Black students make up 77 percent of the district’s enrollment, but 45 percent of students in the program.

Nationally, black students are far less likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers, and especially if their teacher is white, according to a 2016 study at Vanderbilt University.

For the first time, all Memphis schools identified by the state as low performing will get additional money.

Eleven schools will be added to the district’s Innovation Zone, known for improving test scores.

The iZone pumps about $600,000 per school for teacher bonuses, for more resources to combat the effects of poverty, and for principals to have more say over which teachers they hire.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Antonio Burt became assistant superintendent in 2017 over the Innovation Zone and other struggling schools within Shelby County Schools. He is now the district’s academic chief.

Some of the schools Burt wants to add have been languishing on the state’s list since it was first created in 2012, but have not received substantial support.

As some schools are being added to the iZone, others have improved their performance, and are no longer eligible for additional state funding. Shelby County Schools, which has covered the reduction in funding, for the first time plans to gradually wean 13 schools off that extra support. Burt vowed to monitor those schools to make sure they don’t slip again.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story to see which schools will be affected.

Burt’s plan also would combine Hamilton Elementary and Hamilton Middle into a K-8 school next year, and separate Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High into two schools again after a charter operator moved out the neighborhood. The Hamilton school proposal is also part of outgoing Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s recommendation to consolidate some schools.

Every student in nine high schools would get a hand-held device or laptop this fall, with a goal to expand to every school by the 2024-25 school year.

The district hasn’t decided whether it would be laptops, tablets, or some other device, but officials say students should have more access to technology.

“I think about children in the municipalities and across the nation… they have a device in their hand,” said Ray. “All their textbooks, they’re loaded to one device. So we need to in Shelby County Schools increase technology and give our students the opportunity to compete worldwide.”

But board members cautioned the district should have a robust learning plan for those devices.

“It’s more than just putting a device in hand,” said board member Miska Clay Bibbs.

Every high school will have two Advanced Placement courses for college credit by school year 2020-21.

Students from poor families are more likely to attend a high school with fewer advanced courses, according to a 2018 district report. Burt wants to change that.

The plan calls for more teachers in every high school to be trained to lead an honors, Advanced Placement, or pre-Advanced Placement class.

Below are the schools that would be added to and removed from the iZone. Read the district’s full presentation below.

The schools that would be added to the iZone are:

  • LaRose Elementary
  • Dunbar Elementary
  • Getwell Elementary
  • Hawkins Mill Elementary
  • Woodstock Middle
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Craigmont Middle
  • Wooddale High
  • Sheffield High
  • Oakhaven High
  • Manassas High

These schools would be cycled out of the iZone:

  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Treadwell Elementary
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Ford Road Elementary
  • Westhaven Elementary
  • Douglass K-8
  • Chickasaw Middle
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Hamilton Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Mitchell High
  • Melrose High

text skills

‘My reminders are not spam!’: Teachers and parents protest Verizon over new texting fees

Hell hath no fury like teachers who are told that their direct line to students and parents might soon be cut off.

That’s what Verizon is learning after a text-messaging service used by teachers and parents to share updates about homework assignments and snow days announced that the company would soon make messaging prohibitively expensive.

The service, Remind, emailed users late Monday to tell them that Verizon had decided to treat their messages as spam — a move that would make it impossible to continue distributing messages for free. The change would affect 7 million of the service’s 31 million users, a spokesperson said.

“The Verizon fee will increase our costs of providing text messaging by 11X—pushing our annual costs into the millions of dollars,” the company said in the letter. “This isn’t financially feasible for us to support, and it’s forcing us to end Remind text messaging for everyone who has a wireless plan with Verizon.”

The letter urged teachers and families to download Remind’s app instead — and to lobby Verizon to change its policy.

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s the power of communication,” Remind’s website read. “If Remind’s made a positive impact on how you teach or learn, please call Verizon and ask them to #ReverseTheFee.”

Overnight and into Tuesday, countless educators and parents followed Remind’s lead, posting on Twitter and calling Verizon to explain why free text messaging is essential to their work. Two million educators use the service monthly, and the company says it is used in about 80 percent of U.S. schools.

“My reminders to students and their parents are #NotSpam!!,” wrote Phillip Cantor, a high school teacher in Chicago.  “My district allows ONLY @remind101 to communicate with students via text because it’s safe and free.”

“I bet you didn’t know that 29% of the students that attend the school I teach at rely on the translation tool built into @RemindHQ,” tweeted Beth Small. “Please don’t silence parent/teacher communication!”

“The Remind service is invaluable with my students,” wrote David Bell. “As a high school counselor it helps me build a rapport with my students that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

Remind officials said the company had been trying to negotiate with Verizon since last summer, when the company first announced the rate increase. (They also said they are locked in a similar conflict with a telecommunications company in Canada.)

Those negotiations are complicated. According to a Verizon spokesperson, Remind contracts with another messaging company, Twilio, that contracts with a firm that has a contract with Verizon, and Remind is not the only service to be caught in a dragnet meant to reduce the number of spam messages that cell phone users receive.

Several of those companies met throughout the day Tuesday with the goal of preserving free text-messaging for teachers and schools. But the night ended without a resolution, and with the social media protest continuing to take aim at the phone company.

“As a student, I use Remind daily and by charging teachers for using its features, that experience will be cut off for me,” tweeted Keegan Ator. “What’s more important, future generations of hard-working students or a few extra pennies in the bank?”