To and Through College

We at Schoolzilla love This American Life (TAL), especially their education coverage.  The recent episode “Three Miles” is a great example. It tells the story of three kids from a school in a poor NYC neighborhood who were part of a program that took them to visit a very fancy private school nearby. The three students the story focuses on are all amazing people – incredibly bright and thoughtful. If anyone could make it, if anyone could graduate from college, you’d think these three could. And yet, at the end of the story, only one of them has.

This American Life education coverageIf you work in public education, stories like this are hard to hear. It is dismally depressing to think that- if the statistics hold true- even your miracle students, the exceptional ones who are reading above grade level and dreaming of college- probably won’t graduate. And yet those are the odds. Just 11 percent of low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college will have a college degree within six years of enrolling in school. The hard truth is, the progress that public schools have made towards closing the achievement gap in the last few decades has not translated to getting kids to and through college. This raises a question educators face all the time: How do you face the brutal facts about the obstacles your students face while still believing that, together, you can overcome those obstacles?

At Schoolzilla, we believe that part of the answer is data. You start by making sure you have enough data points to see the whole picture – not just high school graduation, but college matriculation and graduation. Then you look for the bright spots, like Raquel in the TAL story, and use data to learn more about what they have in common. What was it that protected them from pessimism? Was it good grades? Was it the amazing English teacher they all had junior year? Was it the after-school intervention program that taught goal-setting and time management? Then you test your hypothesis by making sure more of your students get whatever it was that you think made a difference for your success stories. Finally, you look at the data to see if it worked. And if it doesn’t? You go back to your “data drawing board” and form a new hypothesis.

We know from experience that collecting and visualizing the data you need to do that is a ton of work. Understanding even one data point can take dozens of hours in Excel, and seeing the many data points you need to get the big picture can be impossible. That’s why we created Schoolzilla – it’s a toolkit that empowers schools to use data in the agile, creative ways that people need when they’re solving really hard problems. Schoolzilla is a platform for data-driven change.

We’re incredibly proud of the work that Schoolzilla community members are doing to get kids to and through college, like:

  • Aspire Public Schools, where they use the Schoolzilla toolkit to analyze National Clearinghouse Data on college success.

  • KIPP NYC, which leverages Schoolzilla to help them pioneer “Character Report Cards” to help students develop the traits they need to succeed in college.

We love that thought leaders are using our platform and our community to share data analysis best practices that help other schools try the same strategies. And we can’t wait to see what the next schools to join the community are doing to close the college graduation gap.