Education and the Economy: A Conversation with Lawrence H. Summers

On March 6, Citizen Schools’ national board chair, Lawrence Summers, President Emeritus at Harvard University and former Treasury Secretary of the United States, told New York City business and finance leaders about the key reasons why Citizen Schools is poised to solve serious issues in public education.  

Addressing the growing opportunity gap, Mr. Summers stated, “By the time they turn 12, a child from an affluent family will, on average, have received 6,000 more hours of enrichment activity of some kind than a child from a less affluent family, and that gap has more than doubled since 1970. That is not good enough, and that is not characteristic of a system that is going to be sustainable…We have to do better on equal opportunity. It is, I would suggest, central to the legitimacy of [the American] system, that everybody have a chance to succeed no matter where they start.” Mr. Summers believes that Citizen Schools is a logical solution to addressing this gap for the following three reasons:

1. An evidence-based model creating proficiency gains and long-term return on investment

“What impressed me when I first talked with Eric [Co-founder and CEO, Citizen Schools] was that he understood that it didn't really matter if Citizen Schools made the citizens who participated in the after-school programs feel good, if it was fun for the kids, and if there were stories that touched people's hearts. Those things, ultimately, weren't that important if the program didn't actually change kids' achievement. Citizen Schools has rigorous and objective evaluation.

It wouldn't be an ambitious calculation that four or five months' more educational achievement raised your wage by 3% and the evidence is increasingly coming in that productive educational achievements do lead you to increase achievement when you look at what shows up as in subsequent incomes. That return is enormously high.”

2. Scalable partnerships with traditional public middle schools


“Citizen Schools is as or more effective in terms of generating incremental educational achievement as charter schools, and it is vastly more scalable. We're not going to see the day when half the kids in any major city are going to a charter school. So, if we're going to solve this problem, we've got to find some interventions that work alongside the public schools. Citizen Schools is an approach that works with the grain of the system.

I talked to the vice principal of a school I visited. He said, ‘We can't do all the things we want to do for kids. Our day ends at 1:30. The students need to be occupied productively after 1:30, and that's why it's so wonderful to have this program in this school to help make it work for the kids.’ Citizen Schools is an approach to supporting education reform that is real reform, that is real change, but it is not fighting an unproductive war where children are caught in the crossfire.”

3. An innovative expanded learning time model providing equality of opportunity

“If we are going to succeed in addressing the injuries of class, it is not all going to happen by changing the six hours in a conventional school day on the conventional schedule. It's going to occur by doing smarter things with kids. And it's going to come after 1:30 in the afternoon. It stands to reason that this should work and it does work.”

Citizen Schools shares Mr. Summers’ passion and belief that our model presents a solution to the opportunity and achievement gaps in public schools, and he is in a unique position to help guide and support us as we prove our impact and grow to scale. In closing, Mr. Summers stated, "I believe the battle for America's future, and its legitimacy, will be won or lost in its public schools, and the approach being pioneered and driven by Citizen Schools is a remarkably effective approach, a remarkably scalable approach, and an approach consistent with the broad value of American society - that Americans are people who pitch in with a sense of community to solve problems."