The Power of Nonprofits: Solving the U.S. Achievement Gap

This week, I am featuring an insightful and impressive guest blog by Marissa Zych.  

an advocate for global literacy and accessible education, it’s difficult for me
to swallow the United States education pill that is the achievement gap.
Directly related to both the learning and opportunity gaps, the achievement gap
commonly refers to the “significant and persistent disparity in academic
performance or educational attainment between groups of students.” The roots of
this disparity run deep.
to the National Education Association, the student groups that commonly
experience achievement gaps (as indicated by test performance, access to key
opportunities, and attainments such as diplomas, advanced degrees, and future
employment) include racial and ethnic minorities, English language learners,
students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. Inner-city
schools, which some researchers call “dropout factories,” are often at the
heart of this issue, due in part to their high numbers of minority and
impoverished students.
U.S. government’s No Child Left Behind law of 2002 was overrun with issues and
failed to make notable improvements. And while a number of city schools
nationwide have taken the issue into their own hands, working to improve the
quality of their teachers and their graduation rates with some success over the
last decade and a half, experts agree that gradual change over time will not
cut it. As recently as 2012, African American and Hispanic students trailed
their peers by an average of 20 or more test points, according to the National
Assessment of Educational Progress.
In general, the
students experiencing achievement gaps have a higher chance of dropping out of
school. These dropouts face significant trials in acquiring employment and
attaining economic stability. Female dropouts are at a unique economic
uncertainty. As compared to male peers, girls who fail to earn their diploma have
higher rates of unemployment; make notably lesser wages; and are more inclined to
depend on help from public programs to accommodate for their families.
Nonprofit Solution
important to note that many of these inadequate strategies have been centered on
making changes within regular school hours — changes that take time to
implement. How can we make a more immediate impact on our schools, outside of
studies have shown that superior after-school programs lead to positive
academic outcomes, including improved test scores, grades, attendance, dropout
rates, and increased interest in learning. Evidence also suggests that they
lead to a decrease in juvenile crime rates and notable boosts in self-esteem
and confidence.
many city school districts that need these programs the most lack the policy
and/or budgetary support, making education-based nonprofits a crucial part
of the solution
growing number of reports on the performance of education-based nonprofits
prove that their after-school and/or summer programs have a positive impact on
students and their families. They provide disadvantaged youth with a safe and
engaging environment, extended time spent on diverse subject matter,
mentorship, and psychosocial and intellectual enrichment in exciting contexts
and settings that aren’t available in school.
So, What Does a Superior
Program Look Like?
  •  MOST: While it’s no longer active, The Wallace Foundation’s Making the Most Out-of-School-Time (MOST) fundraising initiative partnered with other
    like-minded organizations in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle from 1993-1999 to
    increase the awareness and availability of after-school programs. The MOST
    contributed to the foundation of evidence that now proves how necessary these
    kinds of programs are to bridging the achievement gap.
  •  Girls Do Hack: Giving youth an opportunity to learn
    something that they wouldn’t normally learn inside the classroom is important,
    specifically young women. Young women are not always considered for roles in science,
    technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries. With the help of Misha
    association with the Adler Planetarium, Girls Do
    gives young
    women a safe space to discover and be encouraged to learn and find their skills
    in these fields.
  •  826 National: A personal favorite, 826 National is a nationwide organization. It tackles the literacy and
    learning issues of students (ages 6-18) through programs centered around
    creative writing and is currently run by Gerald Richards. Their centers offer free programs including after-school
    tutoring, field trips, creative workshops (cartooning, anyone?), and their
    young authors’ book project. According to Arbor Consulting Partners, “students
    [at 826 National] develop ‘habits of mind’ that support the achievement of
    positive academic outcomes.”
There are a number of factors that affect a student’s chance at
successfully navigating their way to graduation. That’s where these education-based
non-profits really fill the gap in the education system. It isn’t possible for
every teacher, principal, school sentry and janitor to solve every potential
problem students have. Their plates are already loaded with getting students to
pass standardized testing, dealing with administrative issues and keeping
schools safe and clean. It’s the non-profits that have the opportunity to see a
problem and analyze it, to come up with a creative solution without the same
restrictions our school systems and administrators face, and to engage children
and their parents in a manner that is more likely to work within those
parameters. It certainly isn’t easy to create a successful non-profit. It takes
heart, great support, and engaged stakeholders. These are some non-profits out
there that have stood out and have done a wonderful job.
Thank you Marissa for writing this blog and sharing your insight!
Marissa Zych is a twenty year old student at RIT. She is interested in the education and political landscape and is from Albany, New York.  She loves getting involved in her community and seeing positive change through giving back. She likes to volunteer her time at after school programs, nursing homes, and animal shelters where she rescued her cocker spaniel puppy Bowie!

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go,  

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