Some progress is better than no progress for school districts with abysmal graduation rates.
Say Yes to Education officials may not have achieved all the successes it wanted in Syracuse, but there is no doubt that the nonprofit has been a positive factor for students, parents, educators and the community.
This attitude of hope has spread to the City of Buffalo, where Say Yes has targeted its latest efforts. It is a start of a turnaround that is desperately needed here.
But as News staff reporter Mary Pasciak’s two-part series this week showed, there are no overnight remedies to the problems that have been in place for years in Syracuse and Buffalo schools. Graduating more students from high schools will take time and lots of effort.
Say Yes, starting with generous founder George Weiss 25 years ago, has gone from offering the dream of a college education to dozens of students to thousands, adding its own $10 million to the equation in Syracuse. The positive reviews from Syracuse school officials and others have been well-earned. The remarkable collaboration by unions, school administration and city and county officials toward one goal – giving students a better chance at success – has been laudable.
Still, even the most ardent admirers of Say Yes would be remiss if they ignored some exaggerations of progress, perhaps the result of an eagerness to please critical private donors. The number of Syracuse graduates going to college from the Class of 2011 amounted to a 53 percent increase over the previous year, rather than the touted 60 percent to 70 percent increase. And while most were attending community colleges, not four-year institutions, the key is that they were attending college in the first place.
There are other claims of positive results that may or may not be attributable to Say Yes – a drop in foster care and increased numbers of suburbanites relocating to the city, for example. The nonprofit arrived in Syracuse only in 2008, and it’s difficult to measure changes over such a short period. By all accounts, there has been a positive change and a culture of expectation that perhaps did not exist to the extent it does today.
It’s a culture that assumes all children will attend college, if they choose. Syracuse Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras, working in collaboration with Say Yes, and teachers energize to achieve that goal. To get there, they know they have to get their students scoring 3s and 4s on state tests, which are scored on a scale of 1 to 4.
This is where educators must be careful not to fall into the trap of primarily “teaching to the test,” but instead offering an enriching educational experience to achieve high marks.
The wraparound services for students and families – ranging from legal clinics, financial aid nights, mental health clinics and after-school and summer programs – should allay any concerns over the pressure of testing and, more important, get to the bottom of the everyday issues impoverished families face.
Say Yes to Education is not a quick fix and never promised to be. The services it provides and the collaboration it pushes across all stakeholder groups have had a positive impact in Syracuse, even if a bit short of some claims. Transferring even that amount of success to Buffalo will have an enormous impact on the city’s children.