The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools

This post is by Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools.

In jopp equst over a month my book – our book — hits the bookstores and I’m going to be hitting the road.  The Opportunity Equation is part personal story, large part Citizen Schools story, and most of all a call to action to citizens across the country to get active in addressing our nation’s growing opportunity and achievement gaps.

The book is already getting pre-publication reviews and they are encouraging. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a call to action for citizens and educators so that the achievement gap can be closed as rapidly as possible.”  And Publisher’s Weekly said, “Combining data-rich statistics with frequently funny and animated accounts of his work with Citizen Schools, including a bracing candor about mistakes and learning on the fly, Schwarz offers…a constructive blueprint for boosting achievement without abandoning public education.”

It is my hope that this book will provoke new thinking about education, build understanding, influence policy, and mobilize citizens to do their part in lifting up opportunity for all children. Stories like that of Alan Su, a whiz kid engineer at Google who taught a computer programming apprenticeship five times at the Clarence Edwards Middle School, and of Margie Tkacik, who allowed me to the be first Citizen Teacher in our program when I taught a journalism apprenticeship in her classroom, will help readers see themselves as key participants in the change that needs to happen.

I want to use the book and a planned 20-city book tour in September to advance the ideals of Citizen Schools and advance understanding of the opportunity gap that exists—and is growing—for low-income youth. The conversation needs to shift from blaming convenient scapegoats like teachers unions and poverty to lifting up solutions and finding practical ways to empower everyday citizens to improve our schools. This message can only truly take root if we mobilize thousands of citizens like you to promote the ideas of the book and the values that Citizen Schools represents. We’ll be in touch before the September 2nd launch date with more ways you can be a part of this movement, but for now want to share a few ways to help us build momentum:

  1. The book is now available for pre-order, so if you’d like to be one of the first to read it, click here to learn about ordering options.
  2. Learn more about the book and share the site via social media to spread the word!
  3. Read excerpts from the book and start a dialogue with others in your network.
  4. Plan on coming to one of the book tour events in September (30+ events in 20+ cities) and commit to promoting the book and the events in your network via social media and personally inviting your friends.
  5. Share your own Citizen Schools story. We want all elements of this book tour to celebrate the impact that Citizen Schools has on the students, Citizen Teachers, AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, and more, and we need your help. Submit your story to our blog!

I look forward to reflecting back on these upcoming months and seeing that they truly galvanized those inside and outside of the Citizen Schools community to elevate our conversation about education and lift up opportunity for all children.  Thanks in advance for your interest and commitment.

North Carolina Students WOW the Crowds

A Neal Middle School student shows offs his golf swing

A Neal Middle School student shows offs his golf swing

What happens when middle school students present to a group of adults on topics like the physics behind a golf swing, how to invest  in the stock market, or how to launch a rocket? Chances are, they won’t just be impressed, but they will say “WOW!” From top executives of major companies to parents and teachers, the adults that fill the room at the culminating WOW! events are consistently blown away by what students have learned with volunteer “Citizen Teachers” over the course of a semester in Citizen Schools.

This spring things were no different at three schools in North Carolina…

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Expanded Learning Time Panel Discusses How Community Partners Can Make an Impact for Students

“Extended learning may be the only reason some young people come to school.” – Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education.

On May 19, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a panel, All Hands on Deck: How Expanded Learning Time Schools and Community Partnerships Work Together to Improve Outcomes for Students, to discuss how expanded learning time (ELT) and community partnerships can create a positive impact for students and schools.

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Cognizant Volunteer is a Force of Good in Newark

For Shivani Mehta volunteering isn’t just a weekend activity, it runs through every aspect of her life. Throughout high school and college she gave her time to make an impact in the lives of children. When she started working at Cognizant in New Jersey, Shivani was able to participate in a new volunteer opportunity, teaching an “apprenticeship” class with Citizen Schools.

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Summers Announces Rothstein as CEO of Citizen Schools

Left to right: Larry Summer, Citizen Schools' national Board Chair, Emily McCann, President of Citizen Schools, Steven Rothstein, appointed CEO of Citizen Schools, and Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools

Left to right: Larry Summers, Citizen Schools’ national Board Chair, Emily McCann, President of Citizen Schools, Steven Rothstein, appointed CEO of Citizen Schools, and Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools’ national Board Chair Lawrence H. Summers announced that the board has unanimously selected Steven Maze Rothstein as the organization’s next CEO. Rothstein will join Citizen Schools on August 1, 2014 as CEO-elect and will assume the CEO role on September 1, 2014, succeeding Co-Founder and CEO, Eric Schwarz. This story was featured in the Boston Business Journal this morning.

“At a time of growing inequality of opportunity, Citizen Schools has proven that expanded learning time significantly boosts academic proficiency,” said Summers. “Steven Rothstein is uniquely suited to continue the great work of Eric Schwarz. The board, the staff, and I are excited to work with Steven as we provide opportunities for academic success to all students.”

Rothstein recently stepped down as President of The Perkins School for the Blind, where he served as President for 11 years. At Perkins, the nation’s first school for the blind, which counts Helen Keller among its alums, Rothstein grew in-person and online educational services from 40,000 to 850,000 students, parents, and teachers; completed a $136 million capital campaign, the largest in the school’s history; and grew annual operating revenue from $40 million to $72 million. Rothstein previously served as Co-Founder and General Manager of Citizens Energy Corporation, the world’s first nonprofit social mission oil company, increasing gross annual sales for Citizens and related companies to more than $2 billion. Citizens, which was Co-Founded and is now led by former Congressman Joe Kennedy, has provided free home heating oil to an estimated half a million elderly individuals and low-income families. Rothstein also served as Assistant Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation from 1987 to 1990.

The national board’s appointment of Rothstein came at the unanimous recommendation of an eight member search committee chaired by Sherif Nada, a former Citizen Schools board chair, and including five board members, a major funder, and two members of the national staff. Search firm Isaacson Miller supported the search.

“I am honored and humbled to join the Citizen Schools team,” said Rothstein. “The opportunity to work with smart people, volunteers, donors, supporters, and public officials to positively impact urban education is incredibly exhilarating. I am excited to continue the momentum that Eric and the team have built to impact thousands of students nationwide.”

“Steven Rothstein is an innovative, experienced, and compassionate leader,” said Schwarz. “I look forward to supporting him and our excellent team during this transition. Citizen Schools has invented a new approach to education — an approach that offers low-income children the extra academic practice, mentoring support, hands-on projects, and strong social networks needed to fully close opportunity and achievement gaps. Our results are strong, but now the challenge is scale. We need to make Citizen Schools the new normal in urban education.”

Founded in Boston in 1995, Citizen Schools partners with underserved public middle schools across 14 school districts in seven states to dramatically expand the learning day by 400 hours each academic year. The organization mobilizes a team of AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows and volunteer “Citizen Teachers” who provide academic coaching and skill-building apprenticeships. Rigorous external evaluations indicate that Citizen Schools’ Expanded Learning Time (ELT) initiative significantly boosts academic proficiency, helps schools provide a well-rounded education, and more than doubles interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through apprenticeships like robotics and video game design. A study of Citizen Schools students in Boston, MA and Charlotte, NC indicated that Citizen Schools helps students fully close high school completion and college access gaps with their middle income peers while also narrowing the college completion gap.

Citizen Schools addresses a growing opportunity gap that is fueling growing inequality between lower and higher-income children in everything from test score proficiency to college graduation rates to lifelong earnings. A study by The Afterschool Corporation found that by the time children from low-income households reach 6th grade, their middle and upper-income peers spend 6,000 more hours engaged in formal and informal learning. Another study by educational economist Richard Murnane indicated that upper-income families have tripled their investment in their children’s education in a generation, while lower-income children have counted on resources from public schools.

Rothstein is moving to Somerville with his wife, Susan Maze Rothstein, a professor of law at Northeastern University. The couple has two sons. One is a doctor and the other is a student at Williams College. Rothstein was selected as a student member of the Massachusetts board of education while still in high school and later, as a parent in the Brookline public schools, served as chair of the Brookline Extended Day Program. Rothstein graduated with honors from Williams College and received a Master of Business Administration degree from Northeastern University through the school’s evening program.