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My First Semester as a CIS Project Manager

Alfi Thazhathel is a new Project Manager serving in Crowley ISD.

I joined Communities In Schools in fall of 2013 as a Project Manager, eager to begin my career in Social Work, especially working with students at a school.

The training sessions were intense–it seemed like there was so much information to absorb! My fellow co-workers encouraged me along the way, reassuring me and empowering me as I moved toward my first day working inside the school.

On my first day at North Crowley 9th Grade Campus, I was introduced to the school staff, a friendly group who welcomed me with open arms. I truly enjoy working with each and every staff member. They make me feel as if I am making a difference and a vital part of the school’s team. Similarly, the students at the school are very respectful and understand that I am there to help them succeed. In just a short time, we have developed strong relationships–they view me as someone who is always there for them.

Even in a short time, there have been many successes to celebrate.  I have coordinated school-wide events, class field trips, and other activities for the students. I have provided effective individual services and case management, with many students showing improvements in grades, attendance, and behavior. Low self-esteem and anger are prevalent at my school, and group sessions with students who struggle in these areas are already proving very successful at addressing the issues.

As with any job, there are some challenges, mainly paperwork! It can be difficult to keep up with intense documentation as time flies by each day. However, a critical part of the CIS model is accountability and tracking the effective and performance outcomes of our program. Student data allows us to analyze our practices, improve where needed, and monitor students’ progress throughout the year. Another challenge is finding adequate time to meet with the students, to provide them with the in-depth support we desire for them. We are constantly trying to strike a balance between providing them with the support they need for individual or group sessions without interrupting classroom time.

Despite the challenges, I truly enjoy going to work every day. I can see the difference I am making. Seeing students come in to my office with a frown and leaving with a smile truly makes my day. The dream I had of making a difference in the lives of young people is slowly coming true. I am thankful to be a part of the CIS team.

Alfi J. Thazhathel, LMSW

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Nonprofits Need Unbiased Assessment

We recently came across a blog that discusses the importance of charities being evaluated by an independent source rather than conducting self-evaluations. Communities In Schools is proud to be an organization that regularly undergoes outside evaluation. Our data is verified every school year by third parties, including the official records of each school and the Texas Education Agency. We rely on this data validation to confirm that our programs are effective, and that we are having a positive impact on students.

We have included the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two” below. To access the full article, click the link at the bottom of this blog post.

Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two

 So what should happen if no one has properly evaluated an idea yet? If it’s important, an independent and suitably skilled researcher should evaluate it in enough detail and in enough contexts for other charities and donors to rely on the findings. The leading medical journal The Lancet cites a tenet of good clinical research: “Ask an important question, and answer it reliably.

A countercultural implication follows from this. It’s often said that the evaluation of a grant should be proportionate to the size of the grant. It’s also often said that evaluations should be proportionate to the size of the charities. We can see now that both views are wrong. The aim of an evaluation is to provide a reliable answer to an important question. From there, the amount worth spending on an evaluation is proportionate to the size of the knowledge gap and the scale of the programs that might use the answer.

To illustrate, suppose a small company has developed a new drug for breast cancer. The “first-in-(wo)man studies,” as they’re called, involve only a few people, for obvious safety reasons. Relative to the cost of dispensing the drug to those few women, how much should the company spend on evaluating the effect on them? The answer is “a lot,” because the answer is important for many people. So the cost of the “pilot” is irrelevant. So too is the size of the company running the “pilot.” Often, the cost of robustly evaluating a program will exceed the cost of delivering that program—which is fine, if the results are useful to a wide audience.

Conflicted out

So not only are most charities unskilled at evaluations—and we wouldn’t want them to be—but also we wouldn’t want most charities to evaluate their own work even if they could. Despite their deep understanding of their work, charities are the worst people imaginable to evaluate it because they’re the protagonists. They’re selling. They’re conflicted. Hence, it’s hardly surprising that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation study found “some, though relatively few, instances of outcomes being reported with little or no evidence to back this up.”

I’m not saying that charities are corrupt or evil. It’s just unreasonable—possibly foolish—to expect that people can be impartial about their own work, salaries, or reputations. As a charity CEO, I’ve seen how “impact assessment” and fundraising are co-mingled: Charities are encouraged to parade their self-generated impact data in fundraising applications. No prizes for guessing what happens to self-generated impact data that isn’t flattering.

To my knowledge, nobody’s ever examined the effect of this self-reporting among charities. But they have in medicine, where independent studies produce strikingly different results to those produced by the protagonists. Published studies funded by pharmaceutical companies are four times more likely to give results favorable to the company than are independent studies. It’s thought that around half of all clinical trial results are unpublished, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which half that might be.

Who should do evaluations?

Skilled and independent researchers, such as academics, should normally take on evaluation of ideas. They should be funded independently and as a public good, such that charities, donors, and others can access them to decide which ideas to use.

For the full blog visit http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/most_charities_shouldnt_evaluate_their_work1  


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Poverty as a Childhood Disease

The devastating growth and developmental effects poverty can have on a child has become so apparent that there was recently a call for pediatricians to begin addressing childhood poverty as a national problem rather than dealing with it on a case by case basis. The following article discusses not only how the decrease in social mobility is forcing children who were born into poverty to remain there, but also how the stunts in developmental growth caused by poverty can even affect a child’s genes. Do you think we need to begin viewing child poverty as a national problem?

“Poverty is an exam room familiar. From Bellevue Hospital in New York to the neighborhood health center in Boston where I used to work, poverty has filtered through many of my interactions with parents and their children.

Me, I’m one generation out. My mother will tell you about her Depression childhood, the social worker who checked the family’s pots to see whether they were secretly able to afford meat, the landlord who put the furniture out on the street. It wasn’t character-building or noble, she says. It was soul-destroying, grinding and cruel.

And it’s even crueller, now that social mobility has decreased and children who grow up poor are more likely to stay poor.

At the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies last week, there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case by case in the exam room.

Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains. We’ve seen articles about the language deficit in poorer homes and the gaps in school achievement. These remind us that — more so than in my mother’s generation — poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the idea of toxic stress, in which a young child’s body and brain may be damaged by too much exposure to so-called stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine. When this level of stress is experienced at an early age, and without sufficient protection, it may actually reset the neurological and hormonal systems, permanently affecting children’s brains and even, we are learning, their genes.

Toxic stress is the heavy hand of early poverty, scripting a child’s life not in the Horatio Alger scenario of determination and drive, but in the patterns of disappointment and deprivation that shape a life of limitations.

At the meeting, my colleague Dr. Benard P. Dreyer, professor of pediatrics at New York University and a past president of the Academic Pediatric Association, called on pediatricians to take on poverty as a serious underlying threat to children’s health. He was prompted, he told me later, by the widening disparities between rich and poor, and the gathering weight of evidence about the importance of early childhood, and the ways that deprivation and stress in the early years of life can reduce the chances of educational and life success.

“After the first three, four, five years of life, if you have neglected that child’s brain development, you can’t go back,” he said. In the middle of the 20th century, our society made a decision to take care of the elderly, once the poorest demographic group in the United States. Now, with Medicare and Social Security, only 9 percent of older people live in poverty. Children are now our poorest group, with almost 25 percent of children under 5 living below the federal poverty level.

When Tony Blair became prime minister of Britain, amid growing socioeconomic disparities, he made it a national goal to cut child poverty in half in 10 years. It took a coalition of political support and a combination of measures that increased income, especially in families with young children (minimum wage, paid maternity and paternity leaves, tax credits), and better services — especially universal preschool programs. By 2010, reducing child poverty had become a goal across the British political spectrum, and child poverty had fallen to 10.6 percent of children below the absolute poverty line (similar to the measure used in the United States), down from 26.1 percent in 1999.

“Poor families who benefited from the reform were able to spend more money on items for children: books and toys, children’s clothing and footwear, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia who has studied the British war on childhood poverty.

Dr. Dreyer said: “Income matters. You get people above the poverty level, and they actually are better parents. It’s critical to get people out of poverty, but in addition our focus has to be on also giving families supports for other aspects of their lives — parenting, interventions in primary care, universal preschool.”

At the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, the most unexpected speaker — to a room full of pediatricians — was Robert H. Dugger, managing partner of Hanover Investment Group, who made the economic case for investing in young children. “History shows that productivity increases when people are able to access their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Dugger told me. “There is no economic recovery strategy stronger than committing to early childhood and K-through-12 investment.”

Think for a moment of poverty as a disease, thwarting growth and development, robbing children of the healthy, happy futures they might otherwise expect. In the exam room, we try to mitigate the pain and suffering that are its pernicious symptoms. But our patients’ well-being depends on more, on public health measures and prevention that lift the darkness so all children can grow toward the light.”

Klass, Perri. “Poverty as a Childhood Disease.” New York Times 13 May 2013. Web. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/poverty-as-a-childhood-disease/


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No Rich Child Left Behind

At Communities In Schools, we are all too familiar with poverty’s effects on youth and their education. We found the following article interesting, as it dispels some rumors about the correlation of family income and education and uncovers some shocking truths. Do you find the statistics shocking?

We have included a portion of the article, “No Rich Child Left Behind” by Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon below.

“Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

In a more recent study, my graduate students and I found that 15 percent of high-income students from the high school class of 2004 enrolled in a highly selective college or university, while fewer than 5 percent of middle-income and 2 percent of low-income students did.

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?”Image

To continue reading about the effects on poverty and education and possible solutions, read the full article at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/no-rich-child-left-behind/


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Public Education in the 2014-2015 budget

Here is a post we thought was worth sharing discussing the future public education budget!

Repost from http://www.alicetx.com/opinion/article_9866063b-f629-5a46-8696-ff1ce9c48aa3.html

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed SB 1, the 2014-2015 Appropriations Bill, by a vote of 135 to 12. The House Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 1 appropriated just under $194 billion over two years for all funding sources. This funding level represents an increase in 2.1 percent over the 2012-2013 appropriations level for the biennium.

Earlier this session, I spoke about Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ announcement that the state would have $101.4 billion to spend in 2014, which represented an increase of 12.4 percent over 2011 levels. This approved budget for the next biennium would appropriate roughly $194 billion in total spending in the 2014-2015, which encompasses the general revenue funds total of approximately $99 billion. While there are many budget items that deserve comment, I want to focus on how this budget affects public education funding in our state.

The strong economy in our state has enabled us to provide an additional $2.5 billion for public education, a much needed boost to our education system. More specifically, the Foundation School Program (FSP) is appropriated $32.8 billion in General Revenue Funds and General Revenue — Dedicated Funds, a $2.5 billion increase. Apart from the FSP, General Revenue Funds are increased by $192.3 million.

Increases to specific programs include a $230.6 million increase for Instructional Materials Allotment, a $12.6 million increase for Communities in Schools, $8 million increase for the Windham School District, $5 million for Adult Basic Education, $5 million for Texas Advanced Placement Incentives, and an increase of $4 million for Teach for America. These general revenue increases are offset by a decrease of $73.4 million for the funding of state assessments, which could result from the passage of House Bill 5, which reformed the state testing system.

While the 2014-2015 budget does help restore some of the cuts made to public education in our state, more work needs to be done to ensure that resources are in place that effectively promote the educational advancement of our children.


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An Equal Shot at Success

repost from http://www.communitiesinschools.org/blog/

The Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission released a report detailing a five-pronged approach to helping students living in poverty and eliminating the achievement gap.

The report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” is designed to guide states and the federal government towards creating an education system that gives all children an equal shot at success. Some of the report’s five recommendations include expanding high-quality early education, better compensating teachers and improving course curricula.

What struck us the most from the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report was the emphasis on mitigating poverty. “States, in partnership with the federal government, should adopt dropout-prevention programs and other alternative-education opportunities for at-risk students,” the report recommends.

Communities In Schools in Tarrant County is on the front lines of the fight against poverty in classrooms. During the 2011-2012 school year, 93 percent of the case-managed students we served were identified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. We work to level the playing field and make sure that students get what they need to succeed, including food, clothing health and dental care, school supplies, and other services such as counseling and academic assistance.


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What Can Be Done?

In December, the nation reeled in horror at the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered inside an elementary school.

 People’s minds are flooded with questions as to how and why such a tragedy could occur. What demons possess a young man’s mind that would lead him to destroy innocent lives? Why wasn’t the storm brewing inside Adam Lanza detected earlier and addressed before it escalated into disaster?

 Now we are witnesses to a national mental health conversation and questions about whether there is adequate mental health support for young people available at the school level. Have enough resources been allocated to the early identification of the root causes of such destructive behavior?

 Indeed, many school psychologists and counselors report they are already overburdened…So what more can be done?

 Communities In Schools recognizes the critical need for more social workers inside local schools. Tell us what you think.