The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing. Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty. Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.
While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication. When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.
The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students. Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder. However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.
The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade. This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight. Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.
This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.
In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:
- Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
- Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
- Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.
The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:
The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.
With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.