education reform

6 Ways the Next President Can Improve Education

Economic opportunity is the leading domestic issue of our time—and a key to reinvigorating our economy is providing quality education and training opportunities for the about 5.5 million young Americans who are neither in school nor working. Yet the topic of education and how it affects our economic opportunity as a nation was notably absent from all of the presidential debates, which lacked a rigorous exchange of ideas on how to strengthen the country by ensuring equal opportunity for all.

Citizen Schools Calls on Presidential Candidates to Reduce Opportunity Gap

National Non-Profit Organizes 11 National Groups Asking Candidates to Commit to Improving Middle School Education FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Boston, MA—February 29, 2016— National non-profit Citizen Schools, as part of its participation in the Expanded Learning Middle School Initiative, is calling on all candidates for President of the United States to adopt a policy platform which helps reduce the opportunity gap that exists in low-income, urban schools where students receive 6,000 fewer instructional hours than their more affluent counterparts.

“Upper-income families have tripled their investment in their children’s education in a generation—amounting to a gap of 6,000 hours of extra learning by 6th grade. Lower-income children count on public schools, even though most students only spend 20 percent of their waking hours in the classroom. We want to expand learning opportunities for low-income students, with a special focus on the critical, but often neglected, middle school years,” said Emily McCann, CEO of Citizen Schools.

A letter (click here to download) on behalf of the organizations which comprise the Expanded Learning Middle School Initiative has been sent to each presidential candidate focusing on four major policy strategies:

  1. Leverage human capital: Hiring teachers costs money that many districts simply don’t have. This is why school systems need to examine designs which utilize community partnerships with non-profits like Citizen Schools, businesses, and national service programs like AmeriCorps and VISTA, which offer expanded learning opportunities at minimal cost to the district.
  2. Focus on middle school: These are critical years for a child and a time when they need to be more fully engaged and shown a path to success in high school and beyond.
  3. Encourage public-private partnerships to grow high-quality expanded learning and mentorship opportunities, with a particular focus in the STEM fields.
  4. Support investing in what works: Commit to continuous improvement programs to ensure that the money which is invested in education can provide for the greatest outcomes for all children.

The letter is endorsed by eleven regional and national non-profit organizations that serve hundreds of thousands of middle school students across the nation. These organizations have come together to ensure these important education issues are part of the public policy debate.

Media Contact: Matt Ellis, Ellis Strategies, Inc. | 617-777-3776

About Citizen Schools Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities. Citizen Schools mobilizes a team of AmeriCorps educators and volunteer “Citizen Teachers” to teach real-world learning projects and provide academic support in order to help all students discover and achieve their dreams. For more information, please visit


Great Strides by U.S. Senate to Improve Education

holly_may_capitol Today the U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), a bipartisan overhaul of the long-expired No Child Left Behind education law, by a vote of 81-17. Citizen Schools commends the Senate for their leadership in producing legislation that preserves federal programs critical to expanded learning, and provides enough flexibility to support high-quality expanded learning time!

Following today’s vote in the Senate, both chambers of Congress are expected to form a conference committee to develop a bicameral agreement to send to the President. The Senate and House will have to find common ground among their two bills to ultimately ensure every child in every school receives an excellent education.

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.

The event featured remarks from Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President of Policy at CAP, and Jonathan Brice, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, US Department of Education. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder and President of the National Center of Time and Learning, and included Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, Megan Bird, Managing Director of Program for Citizen Schools Massachusetts, Chris Caruso, ExpandED Schools Senior Vice President, and Kerri Ayn Seow,  Third Grade Teacher, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School.

The panelists discussed how community organizations, such as Citizen Schools, have partnered closely with schools and their administration to make an impact for students, teachers, and the community at large with an expanded day. The additional hours allow for more time for academics, more enriching activities, and more time for teacher collaboration and planning.

"ELT gives me the chance to teach what I wasn't able to during class and the extra activities enrich my lessons," Kerri Ayn Seow.

Read more about the event here.



Sprinters & Marathoners Needed to Transform Education

Pat Kirby is the Executive Director of Citizen Schools Massachusetts. He delivered this speech to graduating second year Teaching Fellows at this year's graduation ceremony. 

As young leaders beginning your careers, you have officially been initiated!

Over the past 2 years, you have lived and muscled through the belly of the education reform beast … you have played a central role in one of the two big issues of our generation – saving our schools and saving our planet.

As you have time to reflect about your experience here at Citizen Schools, I hope you will remember how much you have already navigated through:

  • the learning curve of being a new teacher
  • students who challenged you beyond what you thought was possible
  • a truly imperfect school system
  • schools pushed to the brink of their capacity
  • a first job experience in a still evolving organization trying to accomplish extremely difficult things… and not always getting it right

That’s a hell of a lot to navigate through.  And it shows a level of courage, resilience and grit that true leaders need to learn and model.

Author Steven Brill’s latest book, “Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools”, is a great read about the rise of the education reform movement. What I find interesting is that Brill ultimately comes to grips with the fact that to get this right over the next generation, we need both the sprinters and the marathon runners.

The sprinters who build innovative new models and scale them fast; and the marathoners in the mainstream system who are ready to partner with the sprinters more and more to change the system as a whole.

At Citizen Schools, you have been part of the sprint – an intense burst of energy channeled as best we could through a still imperfect, but increasingly effective model.

Some of you will move on from Citizen Schools and continue to sprint – at TFA, Charter Schools or other similar types of educational organizations.

Some of you will follow a different path …

I hope, however, that all of you will stay engaged in the larger marathon.

And I hope if you have learned nothing else, you continue to learn how to pace yourself for that longer run … to “rest while running” as my college soccer coach used to tell us in the 88th minute of a game.

I hope years from now you will be able to tell your grandchildren that YOU were part of the generation that fixed our educational inequities. We’re far from that day, but doesn't it feel good to imagine what that would feel like?  And when they ask you what you personally did way back then, I hope you can answer them proudly:  I did a lot.  More than most.  I was part of the small group of committed leaders that got this country’s educational system back on track. 

At 41 years old, I find I am getting increasingly reflective this time of year. Each year seems to matter more and more to me.  And I’m impatient and want us to get better… and get better faster.  So I find I have to force myself to pay more attention to the big picture to continue to find the stamina to stay engaged in the marathon of leading social change and bringing about a reimagined learning day.

And because of this practice I’m also able to see – perhaps more clearly than you – how important our work is. Not just for the kids we serve, but also as a proof point for the imperfect system within which we work and for the space we create that allows you as emerging leaders to try and fail and pick yourself up again and hopefully go on, with fire in your belly, to continue to push the system to change…long after you leave Citizen Schools.

How the Teaching Fellowship Led Me to My Passion

Lindy Smalt is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Garfield Middle School in Revere, MA. Following completion of the Fellowship, she will be joining the Teach For America Corps. The Teaching Fellow application deadline has been extended to May 18th.  Two years ago, I was a Wheaton College senior. I was undoubtedly one of the coolest kids on campus. I was a Theatre major, automatically mysterious and deep. Lindy was my name, and self-assurance was my game.

And yet there was that constant, dreadful feeling in the back of my mind—what was I going to do after May? What if the rest of the world wasn’t caught up on how cool I was? What was I going to do without my immense sense of purpose and popularity?

I got very, very lucky—I stumbled upon a job in education.

Now, let me be clear: When I faxed back the signed offer letter to Citizen Schools, I thought the Teaching Fellowship was going to be a two-year break for me to figure out what my “real job” would be.

That couldn’t have been less true. I might have been a rock star at Wheaton, but nothing, not even my 25-credit semester, could have prepared me for the incredibly demanding work of teaching in one of our nation’s low-income communities.

Once obsessed with political philosophizing, I was shocked to find that teaching in a public school was the first time I wasn’t just ranting about politics—I was living them. A single forty-minute lesson at Garfield Middle School reflected so many of our nation’s struggles, from the prison system, to immigration, to the drug war. In two years, I taught an Iraqi refugee, the daughter of a murderer, a boy who saw his parents murdered, a boy who got expelled for drug possession, a girl who spoke an unheard of African dialect—and these people were eleven. Through their lives, their absent parents, their complete apathy towards school, I saw—for the first time—the necessity of my work and of my life, and the true depth of our nation’s struggles.

“When we are very old,” said one of my student’s mothers to me this year, in half-Arabic and broken English, as she placed her hand on mine, “we will always think of Ms. Smalt. We will say, ‘Ms. Smalt is the one who changed everything. She was the start of a new life.”’ She and her son, Abdellah, do not have a computer or a car; they walk to the local library to use the internet. Yet with her support, Abdellah’s unparalleled perseverance, and my resources in the community, we were able to secure a spot for her son in the high-performing charter school in the next town, as well as garner a $2500 grant for him to attend summer camp for the first time.

Students like Abdellah have all of the skills to succeed in college and beyond, but often there is no one to show them the way. He is small and gets swallowed in large classes of screaming, sassy pre-teens. But he is diligent, positive, and extremely kind, and he deserves a chance. And there are millions more like him.

Consider Abdellah. Consider being that transformative teacher in his community. Consider a career in education.

The Teaching Fellow application deadline has been extended to May 18th. Apply today!

Ask any question you have about the Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship in the comments below!

Continuing to Impact Students - Despite School Closure

Sylvia Monreal is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the MLK Jr. Community Campus in Newark, NJ Last month, the superintendent of Newark Public Schools announced her plans to close seven schools in the district. One of those schools happened to be our site, Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Campus. It seems like just yesterday that I wrote on this blog the challenges we would face in the Kingdom (as we’ve come to call the school) as the first Expanded Learning Time site in all of Citizen Schools New Jersey. It would be tempting to write up Superintendent Anderson’s announcement as an end of our mission but that would be far from the truth.

Marian Wright Edelman, the president and founder of Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

There is no doubt that Superintendent Anderson’s announcement will bring great change to the lives of our students, but, hopefully, so will the daily work that we continue to do as a part of Citizen Schools.

Last week, our campus held its fourth Apprenticeship Fair - an event where volunteers enter the classroom and pitch students on the ten-week courses they're going to teach - and it was a stunning success. A new batch of new Citizen Teachers joined some inspiring veteran volunteers to dazzle our students with the promise of upcoming Apprenticeships. There was no sign of resignation to be found in the building, only excitement about future learning. I remember poking my head into a room to see a group of sixth grade boys that you normally couldn’t pay to sit quietly silently investigating their “fossil” samples for clues, guided by the Earth Science volunteer teachers. In a different room, a group of students with special needs crowded around to study a lemon circuit in the BEAM (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) Robotics presentation.

Just last Monday, during our Explore! Time, the Team Leaders and the students set aside their worries to practice a different sort of learning. Together, they worked on constructing racecars from recyclable materials, sculpted office supplies out of clay, and dabbled in pop art. Some 8th grade students even took a break from their game and helped a younger boy with his homework so he could join in with the fun.

I believe that these are the daily moments that Edelman called for in order to change a nation, even in the face of sometimes sudden and drastic political changes. Anderson’s announcement looms overhead, but our campus remains committed to our everyday work and our students until the very end.

Where have you seen small differences that will add up, overtime, to make big differences?

A Politician with a Passion for Education

Otto Katt is a Second Year Teaching Fellow at the Irving Middle School in Roslindale, MA.

Recently, Boston Councillor John R. Connolly gave an inspiring talk at a Citizen Schools staff meeting. Councillor Connolly is the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Councillor Connolly was himself an educator, having taught at the Nativity Mission School in New York City and the Boston Renaissance Charter School. Councillor Connolly is passionate about working to close the achievement gap and is intimately familiar with the challenges facing schools in urban areas like Boston.

Mr. Connolly spoke about his first interaction with Citizen Schools, when current Managing Director & Chief Mobilization Officer, John Werner, was recruiting students at the Boston Renaissance Charter School for Citizen Schools apprenticeships. Connolly highlighted the passion with which parents of students at the Irving Middle School in Roslindale, MA, fought for keeping Citizen Schools as a school partner during a period of great transition. He also shared his support of the funding secured for the Irving and Dever-McCormack school in Dorchester for expanded learning time (ELT).

Councillor Connolly spoke about several issues facing Boston schools and education reform in general.

  • More time: Boston schools have one of the shortest schools days. This fact, among others, is part of the reason so many of Boston’s students are not prepared for life after graduation.
  • Education Budget:  As municipalities across the country face tightening budgets, the effective use of resources will continue to be of paramount importance.
  • Contract Negotiations: the need for teacher evaluations, the need to reform and improve vocational education, and to ensure that Boston has a successful K-college pipeline that benefits all of its students.

Citizen Schools is thankful for all the work Councillor Connolly has done for the students and families of Boston, and looks forward to continuing to work together to make a difference in lives and of communities of those students and their families.

Watch a clip from Councillor Connolly’s talk:

Where else should we focus, as citizens, to ensure that Boston Public Schools students are getting the education they deserve?

Education News Weekly Roundup

The Education News Weekly Roundup is brought to you by Holly Trippett, the Public Relations Intern at Citizen Schools and a senior at Emerson College studying Marketing Communications.

Citizen Schools News:

  •  First Giving - 12/15/11 - Dave Mantus Rickshaw Rally Donation Page  Dave Mantus has been a Citizen Teacher for many years as well as serving on the Massachusetts Boards of Advisors. This past holiday season Mantus traveled to India to partake in a rickshaw rally and was able to raise over $5,000 for Citizen Schools.
  • BadgeStack Project - 12/26/11 - DML Stage 1 Winner: Citizen Schools  - Citizen Schools has won the first stage in the Digital Media and Learning (DML) Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition. We have won for our "Digital Badges for Apprenticeship Learning in Middle School" application.
  •  Norwood News - 12/28/11 - Bronx Bodega Owner Honored for Healthier Fare - Article looks at a bodega owner who was honored for changing his store to feature healthier drinks and snacks at eye level. The change was prompted by MS 331's Citizen Schools program "to develop a special healthy lunch menu for students and teachers and to expand the number of healthy snacks he sells."

Noteworthy Education News:

Education Should Imitate Sports

Mohan Sivaloganathan is the Director of Development and Civic Engagement for Citizen Schools New Jersey

My wife and I are huge Lakers fans. I know, that causes an interesting situation when you work for an organization that’s headquartered in Boston. But that’s another discussion – let’s talk about how the Lakers (and sports) connect to education in America. Even with their success over the past few years, the Lakers frustrate us far too often. For example, our emotions in response to Metta World Peace’s three-point shooting have gone from disappointment to annoyance to amusement by virtue of disbelief. As of January 11th, his shooting percentage on 3s is 8.7%. The NBA average is ~33%. If I rolled up ten pieces of paper and threw them over my head toward a trash can, I’d probably make just as many shots as Metta does from 3 point land. 

Even my favorite player, The Lord of the Rings (aka Kobe Bryant), can drive me crazy. This season, Kobe is shooting 52.2% on shots from 10-15 feet. The Lakers win when he plays the midrange game. They lose when he fires up threes and unnecessarily dribbles all over the place. Now let’s switch to football. You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Tebow-mania. The guy knows how to win, and I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen winning. I’m talking about playoff winning. How? He’s not a Drew Brees-type who will air it out 40+ times a game. That’s not what works. He’ll call the option, run his RBs, and hit his WRs for a couple of deep plays per game. That’s a formula for success. They use it and it works. See where I’m going?

Something I love about sports is that you won’t find a clearer example of absolute achievement. The team that scores more points is the better team. Champions are the ones who maximize the use of their strengths and minimize the impact of their weaknesses. Notice that it’s not about the quantity of strengths and weaknesses – it’s about capitalizing on what you know will work. That’s where our national debate in education is falling short.

The airwaves are constantly flooded with theories and nice-to-haves. A certain individual or group might adopt an idea and just run with it, irrespective of the data, the evidence, or anything else that might help them to make a well-informed decision. Politicians aren’t the only guilty parties here (yup, I’m sure they’re the ones who jumped to the top of your mind). It happens in education all of the time. As a result, not only do we lose sight of what’s truly effective to win, but we also lose sight of who we’re playing for: the kids.

The kids aren’t interested in your pet beliefs. They’re not interested in your untested theories. They want something that works, and they want it right now. I’m sure you can relate. Here’s something for the Boston-ites. If you’re a Patriots fan, do you want Tom Brady to hand it off 30 times a game? If you’re a Celtics fan, do you want Rajon Rondo to shoot five 3s a game? (As a Lakers fan, I’d love that.)

The fact is we know what works in education. We have the data. Here’s just a sample of what’s proven to drive results:

  • High quality teachers with high expectations and demonstrated leadership experience.
  • Principal control. Allow them to own and manage hiring, goals, culture, and accountability.
  • Data-driven instruction and accompanying professional development for educators.
  • More school time for students.
  • 21st century curriculum standards, with a particular focus on math & science education.

Let’s spend our time discussing how to do even more of what works. It’s about championships, people.

Working Together for Education Reform: Reflections on a Michelle Rhee Lecture

Greg Beach is a First Year Teaching Fellow at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, MA

In the vast education reform brainstorm, it is difficult to determine the solutions from the snake oil. Politicians capitalize on the “education crisis”, politicizing a public good that should be free from partisan bickering. Corporate interests, labor interests, special interests all have their say while the voices of students, parents, and educators are often muted in the crowd. The conversation can quickly become a confusing cacophony to the concerned citizen.

In the absence of clarity, one may turn to preconceived notions to guide their thinking. All too often, I have fallen into this category of thought. However, I mustn’t be so closed minded. I am informed by my experiences yet there is still so much more to know. The more you know, the more you know how much you do not know. Becoming a Teaching Fellow and a Masters student has pushed me to expand my thinking and to not impulsively draw conclusions, especially in the complex realm of education policy. If I truly believe that education policy must be depoliticized, I should start with by expanding my own thinking on the matter.

In pursuit of a broader mindset, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a recent lecture given by Michelle Rhee at Boston’s Symphony Hall. A fellow Teaching Fellow at the Edwards Middle School, and Rhee supporter, was gracious enough to offer me a ticket to the lecture. Though I am no Rhee fan, I knew that this would be a valuable experience and gladly attended.

Rhee began her speech by commenting that when you push for great change, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. She conceded that her biggest failing during her tenure as DC schools chancellor was her inability to communicate and connect to the communities that were being affected by her reforms. This is something that I’ve felt about Rhee, who once infamously commented that “that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.” Her ambitious and disruptive policies, which included closing 15% of DC public schools during her tenure, appear authoritarian. Although these changes were ostensibly implemented for the long-term greater good, her lack of communication branded her a dictator with little regard to those affected by the reform.

It was refreshing to hear Rhee admit her mistakes. However, following the lecture, I was no convert to the Rhee doctrine. I still view her as a policymaker who is too unilateral in her approach, too headstrong in her excessive pace of reform without fully considering the implications of her system. However, despite my continued disagreement with Rhee, I’ve grown to appreciate her as a figure in education reform. I cannot view her as the enemy, as an appendage of the corporate-state. This demonization does not advance the conversation that must be centered on expanding academic opportunity and achievement.

Her admission that better communication is needed should serve as a model for us all. As we push forward in our collective effort to build a high quality, 21st century education system, we must understand the importance of open, inclusive discussion. As Rhee stated in her lecture, there is no silver bullet or magic solution to fix the system. We must be open-minded and respectful of those who bring their passion and dedication to this important debate. If we become mired in divisive conflict, we will fail and in our failure, the students are the ones who will suffer the most.

Share your thoughts on the education reform debate and how we can best serve students in the comments section.