Diplomas Now Awarded $2.5 Million

Diplomas Now, a proven approach to helping the most challenged middle and high schools in America’s largest cities graduate students ready for college and career, has received a $2.5 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The grant will enable Diplomas Now, a partnership of Johns Hopkins’ Talent Development Secondary model, City Year and Communities In Schools, to complete the second phase of a rigorous study into the partnership’s effectiveness.

“Our goal is to gather sufficient evidence to establish an effective means of providing high-poverty students and secondary schools with the supports and direction they need to succeed,” said Robert Balfanz, director of Talent Development Secondary, a founder of Diplomas Now and researcher in the School of Education’s Center for Social Organization of Schools. “We also want to be able to influence the policy conditions that will enable the model to be scaled widely to the places that need it.”

Diplomas Now aims to improve a school’s teaching and learning, establishes an early-warning indicator system that identifies students who are struggling with attendance, behavior and course performance, and enhances student support so that teachers aren’t overwhelmed by the level of student need. City Year, an AmeriCorps program, provides schools with teams of 10 to 12 young adults to mentor, tutor and coach students. Communities In Schools provides case-managed support to the highest-need students with major life challenges. Talent Development Secondary provides curriculum and instructional support, professional development for teachers and administrators, and the early-warning system.

The grant will document the power of the Diplomas Now approach and validate the impact of combining evidence-based whole school reform with enhanced student support. This grant supports the second phase of the study, which began during the 2014-15 school year and runs until 2016-17. It will involve 11 major school districts, 58 schools and more than 40,000 students. It will follow two cohorts of high school students to graduation and middle-schoolers through ninth grade.

“We want to continue to support these students and follow the middle-grade students through their first year in high school, and the high school students all the way through to graduation,” said Douglas MacIver, co-director of Diplomas Now and a developmental psychologist who has led numerous large-scale studies of educational innovations and improvements.

One in five students does not graduate from high school in an era when there is little work for high school dropouts. High school graduation rates are low in low-income neighborhoods, putting entire communities at risk for being cut off from full economic and civic participation in society.

Research also shows that high dropout rates are expensive for society, resulting in higher health care costs, lower tax revenues and less civic participation. For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control has identified high school dropout rates as a public health crisis. The Department of Health and Human Services has made increasing the graduation rate a key goal for improving public health.

Approximately 1,200 high schools in the United States have graduation rates below 67 percent, while the average graduation rate nationally is above 81 percent. The high schools, as well as the middle schools that feed the challenged high schools, represent less than 15 percent of all secondary schools nationally, yet close to half of the nation’s dropouts attend them.

“Our research is aimed at establishing a solution for the nation’s high-school dropout crisis,” said Balfanz.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation works to address the nation’s most pressing challenges in criminal justice, education, policy and innovation, research integrity, and science and technology using evidence-based, multidisciplinary approaches.