Reflections on the APPAM Spring Conference

Our names are Mike McCarthy, Trevor Mattos, and Jason Wright, and we are graduate research assistants at the Public Policy Center (PPC). The PPC graciously funded our trip to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) spring conference entitled “How policymakers use APPAM member research.” The overarching theme of the conference was creating a dialogue among policymakers, practitioners, and researchers, in essence connecting those who make, implement, and study policy. Such a dialogue has the potential to enrich policy debates and the policy process in general by infusing them with empirical knowledge.

One of the main challenges surrounding such an effort is that these actors tend to remain isolated within their respective fields. Researchers, for instance, may not have experience in translating their findings to a large audience or marketing their research within policy circles. The concurrent sessions were designed to highlight examples of when cross-fertilization was successful and strategies and tools for facilitating such interaction.

We attended a session that examined the impact of research, and specifically evaluation of state policy innovation, surrounding the 1996 welfare reform. The session focused on how research on welfare programs contributed to the final reforms and the ways in which this research reached the reform’s architects. One of the main points was that confidence in a research team’s ability and integrity built trust on the part of managers, thus reputation matters greatly. Unfortunately, these individuals do not necessarily have the time or resources to devote to learning about advanced statistical methods, meaning that trust is crucial in ensuring that research findings make their way into the decision making process. To this point, panelists closed the session by discussing how scholars can best market their research to policymakers. A major takeaway for us was that connections between researches and government are often strongest at the local level, mostly through the presence of university centers that provide a service to their communities in the form of objective research.

Another session examined recent developments in federal research clearinghouses. These websites feature research related to federally funded programs. The “What Works Clearinghouse” is particularly well developed. It includes practice guides for educators, intervention reports, and reviews of single studies and research efforts at large. Perhaps the best aspect of these resources is that they are in the public domain, increasing access to individual practitioners and their institutions regardless of available resources.

We also attended a session entitled “Simple isn’t Stupid” that focused on disseminating research findings in the digital age. Doing so involves an active effort and multiple platforms, formats, and instances of release are key to success. Comparisons were drawn with the timeline of a movie release. First, we hear news that a project has started and learn who the major actors are. Next, a trailer is seen, which is comparable to a project update, research brief, or infographic highlighting preliminary findings. Then, there are reviews that offer a synopsis of the film, which parallels the executive summary. Finally, it was suggested that the release of the final report should have a number of well-timed publicity pushes, like we would expect to see from a major film release. Having a thoughtful dissemination plan for research ensures that all potentially interested parties have an opportunity to come into contact with some aspect of the project.

Over lunch, we heard from a congressional staffer. This talk was eye opening because it showed how little members of Congress are briefed on the important issues before them. The staffer mentioned that they often had only a two to three minute train ride from the office complex to the capitol during which they could brief their boss. Thus, a translatable summary of research findings is critical!

Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the city around the conference events. The capital is a bustling city made even more so by the cherry blossom festival that was still ongoing that weekend. The trees were beautiful, and the National Mall is a great tribute to civic virtues. We also had some great food and toured Georgetown. We were able to learn a lot, meet great people, and see great sights thanks to the support of the PPC.

Below is a picture of us near the White House

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Trevor, Mike, and Jason

UMass Dartmouth, Durfee High students to present collaborative photo project on 5/16

Press Release

Fall River Portraits – Creative Initiative Project

Over the past several months, students from B.M.C. Durfee High and UMass Dartmouth have taken their cameras into the Fall River’s various neighborhoods and photographed the people and places they encountered. The result is a wonderfully varied and fresh look at life in various corners of the city. This collaborative portrait features many of the city’s small businesses – barber shops, bakeries, grocery stores, tattoo parlors, clothing stores – as well as neighborhood scenes, moments of everyday life, and often unnoticed but fascinating detail. Their outstanding work of over 200 images will be shown at The Narrows Center for the Arts in an exhibit entitled, “Fall River Portraits: People, Neighborhood, Community.”

The project was designed to create meaningful collaborations between high school and college students and to encourage all of the students to explore and better understand the people and communities that make up Fall River. UMass Dartmouth students gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the city that is just down the road from their campus, and high school students were encouraged to explore and reflect upon their own communities. Both sets of students found ways to creatively document the city’s diverse cultures and communities.

One of the results of this project is a celebration of Fall River’s family-owned businesses.   Students visited over forty small businesses in the Flint/Pleasant Street and South Main/Columbia Street areas, talked extensively to store owners, and documented the people and interactions in these establishments. Stories about some of these businesses will be featured in the show. Local businesses were also selected to print the images, host the show, and provide the refreshments for the exhibition opening. Participating merchants will also receive personal invitations to the exhibition as well as copies of students’ photographs in thanks for making the students feel welcome in their establishments.

The project is sponsored by a University of Massachusetts Creative Economy grant and organized by Mark Carvalho, photography instructor at B.M.C. Durfee High School, and Andrea Klimt, anthropology professor at UMass Dartmouth.

An Artists’ Reception will take place on Saturday, May 10th from 1:00 – 3:00, at the Narrows Center for the Arts, 16 Anawan Street in Fall River.   Admission is free. The public is cordially invited. The show will be open from May 10th until May 31st, Wednesday thru Saturday, 12-5.

For more information see http://www.narrowscenter.org or contact Andrea Klimt at aklimt@umassd.edu, 508-999-8331. Exhibition posters and gallery cards are available upon request.

 

Charter Approval and Student Success

Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

According to Commissioner Mitchell Chester, The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) prides itself on holding charter schools to a very high standard of excellence and selecting only the highly qualified applicants. Last year, only three out of twenty two applications to open new charters were approved, and this year, only two out of ten received a favorable recommendation. As a result of this stringency, Commissioner Chester noted in this press release that Massachusetts has some of the strongest performing charters schools in the nation. 

In Fall River, several charter school proposals have been denied over the past few years. Last year, Argosy College Charter School did not receive approval from BESE, and the Innovation Academy was denied approval by the School Committee. This year, Innovation Academy reapplied under a new name, New Heights Charter School. It was still denied approval by BESE. Argosy, however, renewed its charter school application, incorporating the feedback from last year. BESE noted that the founders significantly enhanced their leadership capacity and strengthened their overall application. On February 25th, Argosy was recommended for approval. The new charter school will serve 644 students in grades 6-12, starting with 100 6th-graders next school year. As stated on their website, Argosy’s aim is to provide a high quality, small school environment with a seamless transition from middle to high school, focusing on college and career readiness.

The Commissioner also recommended adding 583 new seats to Atlantis Charter School, which currently serves 795 students in grades K-8 in Fall River. This is a unique time for Fall River, where for the first time students will have an alternative choice to Durfee High School. Atlantis will add 106 ninth-grade seats, which will be offered to the school’s current eighth-graders. The recommendation to allow Atlantis Charter School to add seats allows the school to implement its original proposal of a K-12 grade span. In the press release, BESE noted that Atlantis achieved an accountability status of Level 1 in the last two years and exceeded proficiency gap narrowing targets in the low-income and in the high needs student subgroups.

Last year, BESE approved an application from City on a Hill to open a new charter in New Bedford in 2014. City on a Hill has also held Level 1 status and exceeded proficiency gap-narrowing targets in all of its subgroups. According to an article by the Boston Globe, in the last five years, the charter school has had significantly higher ELA, math, and science MCAS results than New Bedford, Boston, and even Massachusetts overall. The original City on a Hill charter was one of the first charter schools approved in Massachusetts and currently has 900 applicants for 90 available seats. Since the very first graduating class of 1998, 100% of City on a Hill graduates have been accepted to college.  Out of its graduates in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available), 83.7% are still enrolled in college, as compared to 62.8% of New Bedford High School 2011 graduates. 

As part of its strategy for achieving success, City on a Hill described in its application that it utilizes the “No Excuses” model widely described in research of effective urban schools, which aims to narrow racial and economic achievement gaps. According to research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a defining feature of Massachusetts’ successful urban charter schools is their adherence to the “No Excuses” pedagogy, meaning, “emphasizing discipline and comportment, traditional reading and math skills, extended instruction time, and selective teacher hiring.” This model is often criticized for resulting in high retention and attrition rates. City on a Hill has certainly been at the receiving end of this criticism. In his op-ed article, Thomas Davis states that their graduation rates have dropped from 66 percent in 2013 to 53 percent in 2013. In response, James Stevens points out that their 5-year graduation rate is 80.9 percent, and that the school’s success lies in the quality of their graduates rather than the amount of time in which they graduate.

The question we have to then ask ourselves is: ultimately, what are the right indicators of student success? Is it student achievement and college-readiness, or receiving a high school diploma? In a case of a student that is behind academically, is it more important to ensure the student graduates from high school on time, or that he or she graduates college-ready? In Current Issues and Trends in Education, Aldridge and Goldman have found that social promotion is a widespread practice that is problematic for students, teachers, and parents. “Even though this practice is not in the best interest of students, schools, businesses, colleges, or the community, school officials are struggling with how best to eliminate social promotion and at the same time provide manageable, cost-effective programs that promote positive student achievement (p. 137).” In an article by the Boston Globe, the author points out that among other states, Massachusetts is behind on establishing strict policies on social promotion.

On their website, MA Department of Education states that there is a rigorous application process in place to identify charter schools that will lead students to a pathway of success after high school. However, many disagree about what success looks like for students. It is important to consider that at this time, earning a college degree is becoming more and more essential for obtaining employment. Hence, we may need to reexamine what it means for the public education system to prepare its students for success. 

Newly Released Graduation Rates

By Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On January 27th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released graduation and dropout rates for all school districts for the 2012-2013 school year. The state’s four-year graduation rate increased for the seventh consecutive year, with 85 percent of the entire cohort of students who entered 9th grade in 2009 graduating on time four years later (accounting for students who transfer out of or into the district during that time).

For New Bedford and Fall River, graduation rates have been well below the state average and declined the previous school year. This time around, however, the four-year graduation rate in Fall River increased by 5.8 percent and in New Bedford, by 7.2 percent.* This marks a significantly higher percent change than other comparable Gateway Cities such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Brockton. These cities experienced a 1.2, 2.7, and -0.9 percent changes, respectively. According to a post by MassINC, school districts in the state’s Gateway Cities posted an average graduation rate of 75.3 percent, 9.7 percent below the state average.

Improving graduation rates for subgroups has been a priority for the state and specifically Gateway Cities. Over the years, English Language Learners (ELLs), students of color, and low-income students have been graduating at a much lower rate than the rest of the students. In New Bedford, ELLs, whose graduation rate has been on the decline in the last four years, was the most improved of all groups – a 24 percent increase in one year. The graduation rate for Hispanic students increased by 13 percent and the rate for low-income students grew by 5.7 percent.

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In Fall River, the group that has seen the biggest decline in the past 4 years has realized the biggest increase this year. The percent change for ELLs is even more significant that in New Bedford – a whopping 54 percent. Graduation rates for Hispanic students increased by 9.2 percent and for low-income students, by 7.6 percent.

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The state has recognized the persistent achievement gaps in the Gateway Cities that disproportionately affect low-income students, ELLs, students of color, and students with disabilities. The FY13 state budget included $3.5 million in new funding to support the implementation of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda, proposed by Governor Deval Patrick. The agenda focused especially on supporting ELLs and increasing career readiness for high school students. 

According to this press release, New Bedford benefited by receiving $40,000 to launch the New Bedford Academy of Engineering within New Bedford High School that will focus on advanced manufacturing, clean energy, health care, and the STEM fields. Fall River received $45,000 to better prepare students for the growing job opportunities in the STEM fields through the creation of the Science, Engineering, and Math Career Academy. Fall River also received $235,000 to create a five-week intensive summer program centered on English language instruction, literacy workshops, and college awareness to help bridge the transition that ELLs face from middle school to high school.  

Governor Patrick proposed an additional investment in education as well to expand access to high quality educational opportunities, totaling approximately $550 million in its first year and increasing to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years. The proposal includes an additional $20 million to implement all components of the Gateway Cities Education Agenda and increase comprehensive supports to students and their families in Gateway Cities.

In partnership with Gateway City mayors, city managers, and school officials, MassINC recently released The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems. A culmination of a year-long series of planning sessions, this vision highlights effective new models to equip students with the necessary skills required by the changing economy. The Vision will guide a multi-year effort to use data and public education to help Massachusetts make the right investments in Gateway City learning systems.

It is exciting to see all the newly developed strategies and funding that New Bedford and Fall River can take advantage of to improve the public school system. The momentum to boost education in Gateway Cities is building, and more and more key stakeholders are taking part. Join the Urban Initiative for the Opportunity in the Gateway Cities Summit hosted by Teach for America in Lawrence on April 12 to contribute to the conversation. 

* Percent change was calculated by dividing the percentage difference between the two numbers by the first number and multiplying by 100.

Charter Schools Debate in New Bedford and Fall River

Katya Starostina, Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On Decemeber 18th, the class of LeadershipSouthCoast met with Meg Mayo Brown, Superintendent of Fall River School District, as well as several staff of Doran Elementary School, and Dr. Steve Furtado, the Executive Director, and a few other staff of the Global Leadership Public Charter School in New Bedford. Some of the content below was discussed on that day.

The debate about the success of charter schools and their impact on traditional public schools has persisted for quite some time. Charter schools originated as innovative centers of learning that explored best practices in order to help the neediest students and serve as models for other public schools. Now, some argue that this is no longer the case. Because of the lottery opt-in enrollment, which requires parents to fill out an application, and stricter policies on academic achievement, the anti-charter movement blames charter schools for selective bias and eliminating the most challenged population as a means to achieving success.

However, charter schools are known for raising the standard and achieving significantly better results than traditional public schools, which may mean refusing to practice social promotion and holding students responsible for their academic performance. According to a 2013 study on charter school performance in Massachusetts by the Center of Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), on average students in charter schools make larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics than those in traditional schools. In addition, students in Boston charter schools have significantly larger learning gains in both reading and mathematics, having the largest average growth rate in math and reading CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far.

Most of all, this debate has produced a sizable conflict between tradition and charter school districts. On one side, traditional schools claim that charter schools take away funds from the already tight budgets – money that is needed to administer a district even when those students are not there. However, traditional schools get refunded the full amount for first year and 25 percent for the next five years. Charter schools also receive a smaller tuition amount per pupil and are not allowed to dip into state grants for their facilities. The school choice movement argues that introducing charter schools creates competition that would cause low-performing districts to improve their performance.

Nonetheless, an article by EducationNext has found that while in the past, most traditional school districts have responded with indifference or even hostility, now there is a broadening of responses and even partnerships forming with school choice providers. In Fall River, for example, Principal Maria Pontes flew to NYC to learn best practices from a Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools, which she implemented at the Doran Elementary School. Subsequently, under Maria’s leadership, the school progressed from Level 4 to Level 2.

On the national level, the Obama administration has put pressure to relax limits on charter school expansion. In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that “States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund.” Soon after, Governor Patrick introduced the Readiness legislation (H. 4163), which rose the state’s charter cap from 9 percent to 18 percent in the lowest 10 percent of districts, as measured by combined Composite Performance Index scores on the English and math MCAS exams. Charter cap refers to the maximum percentage that the charter tuition can comprise of the net school spending (NSS) of a school district, thereby limiting the number of students that charter schools can enroll. According to an article by MassInc, the new legislation expands the charter cap in 23 districts, including most of the Gateway Cities, which serve 25 percent of all Massachusetts public school students and the neediest student populations of the state.

Below is a comparison of seven major Gateway Cities in FY10, when the charter cap was nine percent, with FY14, after charter cap was raised. The bar graph shows the growth of charter tuition as a percentage of net school spending in these cities. It can be seen that Fall River and New Bedford have been lagging behind the rest of the cities in establishing charter schools.

charter schools blog

(Click the graph to enlarge)

City Administration of New Bedford has been critical of charter schools, as the previous and current Mayor have advised against approval of charter school proposals submitted to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Global Learning Charter Pubic School of New Bedford has had a significant decrease in enrollment in high school grades. Executive Director Steve Furtado explains that their students are not allowed to participate in New Bedford High athletic program and some choose to attend there instead. A social worker from Global Learning stated that while their students should have access to play sports at New Bedford High, the high school has not agreed to allow that to happen. Still, the school is currently at capacity of 500 students and has had to turn away already-enrolled students from continuing on to the high school. Hence, it is seeking to lift their enrollment cap to be able to expand. With a new charter school City on a Hill opening in FY15, New Bedford will increase its charter tuition but will still be under nine percent of NSS, far from the new 18 percent cap.

In Fall River, Superintendent Meg Mayo Brown supports charter schools but says she is a minority among her colleagues. She stated that teachers from Durfee High have pressured school committee to shut down proposals for a second high school. As such, numerous proposals have been rejected. One of the examples is Argosy Collegiate Charter School, which submitted another proposal for FY15. Argosy, along with New Heights Charter School, which also submitted a proposal to open in FY15, is waiting for the decision on the proposal to come in February. Atlantis Charter School, the only charter school in Fall River, is seeking an expansion of their enrollment from 795 to 1,400.

Nationally and across the state, there has been a movement to plant more charter schools in the lowest performing cities as a way to offer additional school choice to low-income and minority students and present alternative education models in troubled school districts. However, it seems that in New Bedford and Fall River, two chronically underperforming districts, opposition to charter schools is quite high. Both cities have limited options for parent who are seeking an alternative to traditional public schools for their children. A parent of a student enrolled in the Atlantis Charter School commented that the acceptance rate of the school in 2007 was lower than that of Harvard University that year. This example demonstrates how limiting those options truly are for parents and children in Fall River, and likely in New Bedford.

Educator Evaluations Released Statewide

Katya Starostina, Graduate Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

On November 21st, for the first time, teacher evaluation ratings were released for more than 200 school districts in MA for the 2012-2013 school year. This was prompted by the requirement for all Race to the Top districts (which are under a federal grant) to implement the new education evaluation framework. Previously, schools simply noted whether educators did or did not meet expectations, if educators were rated at all.

Data was reported by school and district for teachers and just district-wide for administrators. Ratings for each educator were not reported. Superintendents were given the responsibility for evaluation and then designated the individual evaluators. While the evaluation system is aimed at providing useful feedback to struggling educators, eliminating the worst educators, and raising the overall performance of all educators, the overwhelming majority of districts across the state rated their educators very high.

For Fall River and New Bedford, data showed interesting results. When compared against school performance data that was recently compiled for UI’s SouthCoast Indicators Project, there seems to be hardly any correlation between how educators were rated by the district and how schools were evaluated by the state. Two schools stand out from the rest with the best educator ratings that are also very similar to the state average. Durfee High, a Level 3 school, received an overall performance score of 9 out of 100, relative to other schools that serve similar grades, and Mary Fonseca Elementary, also a Level 3 school, received a 2 out of 100 overall performance score. These schools’ performance is drastically lower than the state average, but their educator ratings are about the same.

The chart below presents the ratings for Fall River educators. Blue denotes all the educators rated in the ‘unsatisfactory’ category, red in the ‘needs improvement,’ yellow in the ‘proficient,’ and green in the ‘exemplary’ category. There is a great variability among the rating across all schools. These educator evaluations were based primarily on observations and items like student work and lesson plans. In the next few years, student achievement data such as standardized test scores will be incorporated.

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For New Bedford, the ratings look drastically different, with a lot fewer ‘unsatisfactory’ educators, a lot more ‘exemplary’ educators, and a lot less variability than Fall River. Yet, it is still interesting to compare the data to school performance evaluations. The two lowest-performing Level 4 schools – New Bedford High and Hayden/McFadden Elementary – with overall performance scores of 3 and 1 on a 100 point scale received educator ratings comparable to the state average.

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James Vaznis noted in his Boston Globe article that “other education specialists said the decision by state and federal policymakers to make the data public ultimately could undermine efforts to help teachers and administrators grow professionally.” He quoted Kim Marshall, a former Boston school principal who now advises districts on evaluation practices, who said that “The public release will lead to tremendous grade inflation” in the ratings. She added, “What you are taking away from is more authentic coaching of teachers.”

Will releasing the results to the public keep school districts more accountable or in fact undermine the process of improving educator performance? With time we hope to learn whether these speculations are true or not and whether the public release was a smart move on the part of federal and state policymakers. It will be curious to see what impact incorporating student achievement data into evaluation will have on educator ratings. However, in interpreting the current results, we need to know how objective the evaluation process really is, and if this rating system is a good tool for comparing various schools and school districts across the state. With such a difference in educator evaluations between Fall River and New Bedford, can we make any substantive conclusions?

Fall River and New Bedford MCAS results, side by side

Mike McCarthy, Research Assistant, Urban Initiative

 

MCAS scores were released last week, and when I wanted to compare the results from schools in the SouthCoast’s two cities, New Bedford and Fall River, I visited the “2013 SouthCoast MCAS Scores by District” on The Standard Times website. I was perplexed to find that neither the Fall River public school district or the city’s Atlantis Charter School were included the paper’s breakdown of test scores for SouthCoast communities. Although, they do list Fall River’s vocational technical high school. Turning to the article “Latest MCAS results a mixed bag for Greater Fall River schools,” in the Fall River Herald, I found New Bedford had been omitted entirely.

New Bedford and Fall River are the largest population centers in the region. Demographically, these cities have no equal in the SouthCoast outside of each other. You could compare the MCAS scores of Fairhaven’s 1,980 public school student population to New Bedford’s 12,616 enrolled, but it does little when you are trying to inform the conversation around educational policy-making in the SouthCoast’s largest urban areas. The elements that produce high test scores in a town might not be possible to implement in a neighboring city with 6 times the test takers. This is why it is essential when talking about MCAS achievements, and when searching for best practices in education policy in general, for the conversation to be between all the communities in the SouthCoast, and not just limited to a New Bedford-centric, or a Fall River-centric analysis.

To allow for easy comparisons, Fall River and New Bedford’s public schools, greater regional vocational technical high schools, and charter schools are displayed in the graphs below with each city side by side and state-wide results overlaid. You can scroll over the bar to reveal each data point’s Composite Performance Index (CPI). The CPI uses a 100-point index as a means of interpreting the MCAS Proficiency Index, for evaluating student performance on the standard MCAS exam, and the MCAS-Alt Index, used for the MCAS Alternative Assessment. The numbers are calculated separately, by student, for each subject and grade level by the Massachusetts Department of Education and make for easy comparisons between cities and the state-wide average.

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Looking at the data, we can see, for instance, that high school students in Fall River are outscoring their New Bedford counterparts. New Bedford High School was recently designated a “Level 4” school by the state, a move which gives new superintendent Pia Durkin the power to quickly make changes to the underperforming school. When looking for new approaches, it may be worthwhile, in this case, to see if what’s being done right in Fall River can fix what’s wrong in New Bedford.

September project update

New developments this month include a new graduate assistant, new (and renewed) collaborations with UMass Dartmouth faculty and their students, and even a new project to announce. Read on:

1) SouthCoast health planning dashboard

If you haven’t noticed, 2013 is the year of public health for the Urban Initiative. This is an exciting direction for us, and not only because health is so closely connected to every other urban issue we study, particularly in cities like New Bedford and Fall River. We’re also excited to have the opportunity to work with group of individuals and organizations that collaborate genuinely and effectively to promote better health outcomes for SouthCoast residents. And as we know, collaboration matters!

Our newest health-related project will be to work with a great team of regional health organizations (headed up by the indefatigable Dave Weed of Partners for a Healthier Community) to develop an information-sharing tool that will build the capacity of our region when it comes to understanding and acting upon health needs and opportunities. The main feature of the site will be a tool that allows partner organizations to share local health data and resources in a timely and interactive way, serving as a “dashboard” to guide decision-making. Stay tuned for more updates and let us know if you’re interested in learning more about joining this project!

2) Taunton HOPE VI evaluation

This month has us drafting our first annual report on the progress of the Taunton Housing Authority’s HOPE VI project, which will include data related to the city, the neighborhood, and the original residents of the former Fairfax Gardens housing development.

3) LifeWork evaluation

The Women’s Fund has just enrolled the first cohort of participants in its pilot program, LifeWork. Over the next few months, the Urban Initiative will work with LifeWork program staff to collect baseline data on participants so that we can establish a baseline against which to measure individual and collective progress toward the program’s goals of advancing educational attainment, improving employment status and earnings, and helping women on a path to financial self-sufficiency.

4) College access

We’re currently working with our team of high school interns to finalize their report on findings related to college access in the SouthCoast, and we’ll soon be announcing a report release event.

5) SouthCoast Hospitals Community Needs Assessment

We’ve been working with our colleagues of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis to develop the community needs assessment for the SouthCoast Hospitals system. The assessment includes data on health status and social determinants of health for the region spanning Swansea to Wareham.

6) NB Line

We’re currently working on reporting our findings from the second year of evaluating the NB Line, a shuttle system being piloted in downtown New Bedford by the city’s National Park.

7) Faculty/student collaborations

This semester, we’ve been asked to identify community-based research projects for students in Professor Sarah Cosgrove’s Urban Economics course as well as students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s Sociology course. We got a lot of great ideas from our community partners for projects that will build students’ skills, help them apply their coursework, and develop a better understanding of needs and opportunities in Fall River and New Bedford. We look forward to updating you on the projects these students have chosen to take on!

Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13, reflects on college access research experience

Note: The Urban Initiative often looks for opportunities to work with classes or students on projects that do three things: support the mission of the UI, address a need in the community, and, most importantly, capture the interest of the student. During the Spring 2013 semester, we worked with Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13, on a project related to college access in urban SouthCoast for his capstone course, Applied Policy Research. We asked him to reflect on his project and experience by answering the questions posed below. All responses are Masi’s.

(Professor Chad McGuire & Masi Faroqui, MPP ’13. Photo credit: UMass Dartmouth MPP Program Facebook page.)

1.     Why did the topic of college access appeal to you?

College access is defined as “a field dedicated to the idea of all students graduating from high school and able to attain a college degree.”[1] However, being a first generation American minority, I struggled with the transition from high school to college and had very little insight into what these barriers actually were.  Therefore, I choose to select the topic of college access so that hopefully my policy findings can help identify, innovate, and promote better tools/ methods for improving college access for underserved minorities.

2.     What was the purpose of mapping assets?

The purpose of Asset Mapping is to appeal to neighborhood stakeholders creating collaborative opportunities that can help sustain and further assist the South Coast community. The ultimate goal was to develop a regional asset map that appealed to  parents, college access program directors, and school administrators, by mapping organizations programs and services that currently exist to support college access. Most importantly, this research will hopefully help assist the New Bedford and Fall River communities in achieving prosperous economic and educational attainment by highlighting what is going on inside and outside area high schools.

3.     How did this project challenge you?

This project challenged me in various ways such as overcoming bureaucratic blockages, survey design problems, and limited research on college access best practices involving parent/families.

4.     How did this project help build your skill set?

This research project on college access allowed me to take the different elements of my developed public policy framework and incorporate it all into one. This framework is comprised of identifying theoretical concepts and policy principles, analyzing these policy issues through learned research tools and methods, and making practical policy based solutions

5.     How did this project influence your thinking about education?

This project allowed me to delve into education policy using my expansive public policy framework which increased my thinking and problem solving effectiveness.  I was able to take theoretical concepts developed through my own personal experiences in education which helped me strengthen the understanding of learned policy principles. Additionally, I was able to use research method  to recognize problematic gaps to eventually suggest grounded policy based solutions.

 6.     In one sentence, what is the takeaway of your research?

 A paradigm shift is occurring in America and the minority is becoming the majority; for this purpose re-modeling college access best practices to be more parent/family focused is necessary in order to adequately and equitably meet the economic and academic demands of the 21st century.

 7.     What should the Urban Initiative do next when it comes to college access?

The Urban Initiative should utilize the community contacts established by this research to continue Asset Mapping college access programs in Fall River and New Bedford. Also, Urban Initiative should expand upon this research by using it as a base line for supporting the re-modeling of college access best practice models to be more parent/family centered by looking into other states for support. The hope is that vital community based organizations such as the Urban Initiative can use some piece of the college access research done to improve to the overall economic and academic well-being of the Fall River and New Bedford communities.


[1]Root Cause 2010

Women’s Fund hiring LifeWork coordinator

In our monthly project updates we’ve written about the Women Fund of Southeastern MA’s LifeWork program, an innovative model designed to enhance education, financial, and career outcomes for New Bedford women. The Urban Initiative is supporting LifeWork by designing and coordinating evaluation activities to ensure that key benchmarks are met and that participants are on track to reach program goals. And you can have the unique opportunity to support LifeWork too: the Women’s Fund is currently seeking a Program Coordinator! Here’s the full job description:

LifeWork Project Coordinator for three year pilot program

The LifeWork Project (LWP) is an innovative three-year pilot program initiated by the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts to be carried out by a community collaborative of service providers managed by the LifeWork Project Coordinator. Designed to assist up to 130 women to reach their goals of education, career mobility, and economic independence, the program combines participant-driven supportive services and coaching, mentoring, and cash incentives to lead families to obtaining self-sufficient wages and assets.

The Coordinator provides support to LWP participants in their journey toward self-sufficiency. Coordinator activities include, but are not limited to: outreach and recruitment; assisting with goal setting; coaching in self-sufficiency skills; referral to community partners; maintaining community partnership; data management and reporting; and the delivery of services consistent with program objectives and standards.

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Master’s degree in a human-services related field preferred and two years of full-time, or equivalent part-time, professional experience in social services and/or project management, or some other equivalent combination of education and work experience.

HOURS AND PAY SCALE a. 24 Hours per week to start with possibility of increase in year two; b. Pay range is $20 $24 per hour

TO APPLY: Email to: Kfentress@ womensfundsema.org Or mail to: Kate Fentress, ED Women’s Fund, 63 Union Street, New Bedford, MA 02740