This is a question we get a lot from prospective funders, and even current ones, and also media types who want to boil a lot of what we do to an easy factoid to bring back to their bosses. Unfortunately, it’s too simplistic to ask this question or to analyze what we do according to this statistic.
What needs to be known first is: What does it mean to be one of our students?
If we take a student to get eyeglasses or tutor them for at least 4 hours in a 2 month period, then we consider them a student of RICH, following their progress and helping them as much as we can get to the high school finish line and beyond, if necessary. If we tutor a kid but for less than four hours or assist a student’s class but don’t meaningfully interact with the student, then we do not count the student as one of ours.
There are approximately 100 truant students each year we try to get to come back to school. Most of them have already made up their mind to stay at home and not come back, for various reasons like they have children of their own or their reading levels are so low they are too discouraged. We don’t count these as “our” students unless they start coming back and receive tutoring or mentoring services.
When you add up the number of unique students we work with every year, it exceeds 300, such as kids we have in our math enrichment program known as “MATHletes”, kids who are in Cesar Chavez’s Saturday Academy, and all the kids we are helping keep up in their classes, like our ”Endangered Theses” program. The vast majority of these students, more than 90%, say they are going to college.
However, perhaps 1/3 of our students, particularly the graduates at Anacostia High School, intend to go to college but have reading and math skills at the middle school level. Unless they continue to receive tutoring support, they will not succeed in college. Financial obstacles can get in the way as well. Paul Tough, in his brilliant recent book, “How Children Succeed,” outline yet other obstacles, the non-cognitive skills that students need in order to succeed.
Even our more proficient students at Anacostia High will say that we need to do less cheerleading for college than to give them the skills to succeed. The last time anyone measured a cohort of Anacostia freshmen, Teach for America measured the entering class of 2000, that is the college class of 2008, and found that only 3% of those students have finished college. The first graduating class of KIPP, perhaps the most successful high school network in the country for low-income students, in 2003, did about twice as well as the national average, with 21% students finishing college. Considering that academic skills are not an issue for anyone graduating from KIPP, that statistic is alarmingly low.
So can we be proud that 90% of our students are going off to college? Not really. We need to continue with the basics of teaching reading, writing, and the math skills students need, as well as the non-cognitive skills students need as outlined by Paul Tough, and we need to work toward putting each of our students on a path to a livable wage, whether it is college or through a worthwhile job training program, like Year Up or the So Others Might Eat Center for Employment Training. Ask us in one or two years how many students RICH has rescued from the college scrap heap and pointed toward a career beyond minimum wage jobs.