Diplomas Now was a public-private partnership that combined three major nonprofits, local school districts and funders, and was a secondary school model focused on meeting the holistic needs of all students in grades six through twelve.

It was designed to be robust and intense enough to transform high-need middle grade and high schools attended by many students who fall off the path to high school graduation. Diplomas Now was based on research showing that half of all eventual dropouts can be identified by the end of sixth grade, and close to 75 percent by the start of high school. Studies found that middle-school students who fail their courses, have poor attendance, and poor behavior seldom graduate. Diplomas Now identified those students early and worked to eliminate their problems.

Diplomas Now was the only secondary school reform program to have won a prestigious Investing in Innovations (i3) federal grant in 2010. This $30 million grant, plus a matching grant from The PepsiCo Foundation, allowed Diplomas Now to expand and undergo a rigorous evaluation of its effectiveness. In 2014, it received an additional i3 grant to extend the evaluation. The i3 Fund was administered by the federal Department of Education and was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

MDRC, an independent research organization, conducted the study, which included 62 secondary schools (middle and high) located in 11 school districts across the country. In 2019, when completed, it was one of the largest and longest randomized studies of secondary school reform ever conducted.

The Approach

Diplomas Now combined 65 years of experience from three national nonprofits:

  • City Year’s in-school, “near peer” AmeriCorps members who support students
  • Communities In Schools’ in-school trained case managers for the neediest students
  • Talent Development Secondary, a school reform model that improves instruction and performance

How It Worked

Diplomas Now partnered with the school community so every student had the support of caring adults and those adults had the tools to improve student success. Working with administrators and teachers, a Diplomas Now team organized and supported schools to strengthen achievement and engagement. Diplomas Now provided curriculum, teacher coaching, and student support. An early warning system identified struggling students, and the team worked to get each student back on track.

Young adults worked full-time in the school, welcomed students, called them if they didn’t show up, provided tutoring, and celebrated positive behavior. After school, they helped with homework and involved students in service and enrichment programs. For the neediest students, Diplomas Now provided case management and connected them with community resources, such as counseling, health care, housing, food, and clothing.

Where It Operated

Diplomas Now operated in schools in Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Denver, Detroit, East Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Seattle, Tulsa, and Washington, D.C.

Learn More about Diplomas Now


Robert Balfanz, PhD

Co-Director, CSOS

“We will need to become much better at integrating the funds and efforts currently housed in other city, state, and federal social service and justice agencies, usually disconnected from the schools, into a set of preventative, therapeutic, and wrap-around supports provided in the schools in our most challenged neighborhoods.”

Robert Balfanz professional headshot

In 2013, Robert Balfanz was honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in Educational Excellence for African Americans.


Diplomas Now: Findings from the First Decade and What’s Next
February 2017
How an evidence-based, collaborative, whole-school improvement model, leveraging AmeriCorps members and early warning systems, can accelerate student and school success in the highest-need schools.

Addressing Early Warning Indicators
Interim Impact Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Evaluation of Diplomas Now
June 2016
William Corrin, Susan Sepanik, Rachel Rosen, Andrea Shane
The Diplomas Now whole-school reform model, including targeted interventions for students at risk of dropping out, had an impact on the percentage of students with no early warning indicators related to attendance, behavior, or course performance, and had more encouraging results in middle schools than high schools.

Moving Down the Track
Changing School Practices During the Second Year of Diplomas Now
May 2015
Susan Sepanik, William Corrin, David Roy, Aracelis Gray, Felix Fernandez, Ashley Briggs, Kathleen K. Wang
Diplomas Now, a partnership of three national organizations, aims to increase graduation rates in high-risk schools, targeting support to students who need it most. This second report finds that Diplomas Now schools are differentiating themselves from comparable schools in their implementation of structural and instructional reforms.

Laying Tracks to Graduation
The First Year of Implementing Diplomas Now
August 2014
William Corrin, Susan Sepanik, Aracelis Gray, Felix Fernandez, Ashley Briggs, Kathleen K. Wang
Three national organizations formed Diplomas Now in an effort to transform urban secondary schools so fewer students drop out. This report introduces Diplomas Now and the associated evaluation, shares first-year implementation fidelity findings, and discusses collaboration among the Diplomas Now partners and between those partners and schools.

Reforming Underperforming High Schools
March 2013
Urban high schools are in trouble — high dropout rates, low student achievement, and graduates who are unprepared for the world of work are just some of the disappointing indicators. However, this policy memo, part of our “Looking Forward” series, explains how recent research has uncovered a number of approaches to improving student outcomes and reforming underperforming schools.