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A Strategy to Transform Urban Education & Revitalize Our Cities


Why Say Yes? The nation has unsuccessfully sought to improve urban schools and ensure that a generation of urban youth can succeed in postsecondary education and careers. Current strategies have done little to expand the proportion of low-income students who graduate from high school and college, especially as budget crises are forcing cash-strapped cities to cut services and programs. They also don’t go far enough to effectively engage communities as partners and tackle fundamental challenges students face. Cities and schools can no longer afford to address these problems with piecemeal programs that overlap without addressing all of the needs underserved children face. Say Yes to Education, Inc. (Say Yes) is a national, non-profit education foundation committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nation’s urban youth through a unique city-wide transformation strategy that brings together private philanthropy and existing community stakeholders. Offering the promise of scholarships for all students, Say Yes provides financial assistance for college, as well as the academic, health, social, and legal supports students need to graduate from high school and succeed in further learning. Say Yes also coordinates the efforts of a broad range of government agencies and community

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organizations to provide comprehensive services and revamps academic programs to better serve students, families, and taxpayers. It’s a comprehensive solution that helps improve educational attainment, reduce social services costs, and build a stronger tax base by giving people reason to stay in cities—and others to move into them. The Say Yes city-wide turnaround strategy brings best practices from the organization’s quarter-century of work with underserved students in cities across the East Coast, including Cambridge, Mass., Harlem, Hartford, and Philadelphia. Say Yes launched its city-wide approach to services for Syracuse’s 20,000 students in 2008 and extended its reach to Buffalo’s 38,000 students in 2012.


A New Way Forward The Say Yes strategy provides a new approach to addressing the needs of communities and cities facing educational and economic challenges. It offers: l A focus on sustainability. Partnerships and new delivery models forged among local schools, governments, higher education institutions, and community groups are designed to be selfsupporting and sustaining over time. l A roadmap for district transformation that addresses the academic, social, financial, and health needs of every child.

lA  systematic approach to improvement that can be scaled up city by city.

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l A coherent urban action agenda focused on building a strong workforce, combating poverty, and investing in people as a means of advancing residents’ social and economic progress.

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l A unique public-private partnership that includes higher education institutions to leverage needed resources and make college possible.

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l A catalytic approach to educational and economic success that promotes transparent fiscal accountability, transforms the way government agencies work together, eliminates costly duplication of efforts and ineffective service delivery, and mobilizes every community sector to help students succeed.

l A framework to strengthen the learning program and instruction to bolster college and career readiness for every student.

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The Say Yes Story The inspiration for Say Yes to Education came when Hartford money manager George Weiss was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and his fraternity hosted a Christmas party for 12 inner-city youth. Weiss struck up a friendship with the 12-year-olds, playing basketball and pool with them and listening to stories about their hardscrabble lives. Moved by their courage and resilience, Mr. Weiss stayed in touch with all of them and urged them regularly to work hard and finish school. When he returned to Penn seven years later for homecoming, he finally had enough money to take them out to lunch. At the restaurant, he learned that all 12 had graduated from high school. One of the young men told him, “We could not have dropped out and looked you straight in the eye.” Inspired by these words, Mr. Weiss promised to help make a difference in the lives of children facing overwhelming obstacles.

at a school in one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods that he would pay for their college educations if they made it through high school. Over the next two decades, Say Yes to Education developed chapters in other communities. In 2008, he recognized that too many students were still underserved and took on the challenge of working with entire cities, beginning in New York State. The work in New York State has captured the attention of statelevel leaders, resulting in the appointment of Say Yes president, Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, to a statewide Education Commission established by Governor Andrew Cuomo and chaired by business leader Richard Parsons.

In 1987, Mr. Weiss established the first Say Yes to Education chapter, promising 112 sixth graders

HISTORY Hartford money manager George Weiss founded Say Yes to Education in 1987.

Say Yes to Education, Inc. founded at a Philadelphia school.

1987

1990

Cambridge Chapter founded.

Harlem Chapter founded.

1991

2004

Hartford Chapter founded. First Philadelphia Chapter launched.

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2000 Bryant Chapter founded (Philadelphia).

Say Yes Buffalo founded.

2008 Say Yes Syracuse founded.

2011


Delivering on the Promise A 25-Year Track Record of Success l More than 75 percent of all participating students in Say Yes chapters have graduated from high school. Additionally, over 50 percent of all participating students achieved a postsecondary degree. l In Cambridge, where the program began with students in 3rd grade, almost 90 percent of participating students completed high school, over 72 percent of the cohort completed a postsecondary degree program, and fully half received a four-year bachelors (BA or BS) degree. l In Philadelphia, Say Yes 9th graders who began with the program in kindergarten all finished their freshman year in a district where nearly one in five 9th graders drop out. l Say Yes students have attended over 140 different higher education institutions across the nation, including Brown, Colgate, Cornell, Fordham University, Morgan State, NYU, SUNY Albany, and University of Pennsylvania.

Building a Say Yes City: Early Results from Syracuse l S ay Yes Syracuse has raised or leveraged more than $43 million for scholarships and

services. It has given out or leveraged more than $11 million in Say Yes scholarships helping nearly 2,000 students enroll in twoand four-year colleges (public and private) since the fall of 2009. l The number of Syracuse students leaving after 9th grade decreased by 44 percent from 2009 to 2010. Thirty-one percent more 9th grade students have passed algebra Regents exams than in 2009. Additionally, 20 percent more students are transitioning to postsecondary programs since the program began in 2008. l At a time when most school districts are cutting budgets, Syracuse offers comprehensive services for all students. The school district reduced the ratio of students to social workers from 500:1 to 200:1 in all elementary and K-8 schools and will have one mental health clinic in every school by 2013. l The benefits extend beyond schools and students. Syracuse home values have risen 3.5 percent since 2009 and crime is down by 7 percent. Additionally, foster home placements and mandated reports of neglect and abuse also are down to historically low levels.

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Why It Works: Lessons from Say Yes Implementation Say Yes has learned significant lessons about local policies and practices that work to make city-wide change possible. 1. S  ustainable improvement cannot be imposed but must build on and strengthen local capacity. City-wide change requires a clear and solid framework of non-negotiable actions that are flexible enough to enable schools, districts and local partners to codevelop the specific strategies to ensure buyin, implementation fidelity, and relevance to individual school conditions and needs. 2. A  ddressing social, emotional, and health needs of children and adolescents through in-school delivery in cooperation with public agencies and service providers is critical. These needs are major barriers to academic success but traditionally receive limited attention from districts and schools. 3. Extended-day and summer programs for all students provide important opportunities to remove academic, social, emotional, and health barriers through remediation, enrichment, recreation, cultural experiences, mentoring, and preparation for careers and higher education.

4. Scholarships help students believe they can go to college, but the quality of instruction and the learning program is the crucial factor in determining whether they will be successful. 5. Collaboration, transparency, and communications among all major partners must be continuous, inclusive, and central to decisionmaking. Full participation by the teachers’ union and school board is critical to the collaboration process and to ensuring full buy-in from educators. 6. Sustainability of the program requires a commitment to fiscal transparency, committed leadership, and accountability to strong community-wide governance. Dealing with change, resource constraints and unexpected challenges requires visionary leadership that steadfastly keeps its commitments, makes transparency a priority, and provides stability and continuity. 7. Change takes time. The problems affecting low-performing schools and declining neighborhoods won’t immediately disappear after early interventions are introduced. Leaders must work to produce demonstrable results but be careful to manage community expectations for progress and success. 8. City-wide change requires sophisticated use of data, assessment, and planning. Curriculum, instruction, and supports for students must be part of an integrated data-driven strategy. Say Yes monitors individual student and school performance, interventions, and other student information to address gaps and priority needs and ensure accountability.

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We Need Your Help Efforts like Say Yes to Education need support from policymakers, civic leaders, and funders to help serve more cities and significantly more students who need help. You can help by: l Funding scholarship endowments for Say Yes students. l Advocating for or advancing incentives to support comprehensive, cross-sector, citywide strategies that break down traditional institutional silos in your community. l Encouraging reallocation of existing resources and greater intergovernmental cooperation among states, counties, and cities. l Establishing new funding approaches for education and local government that address

crucial national goals, including increasing high-school graduation and college attainment rates and reduce costs of college and remedial education. l Supporting school improvement/student achievement efforts that have broad-based community involvement and leverage resources to make college possible. l Breaking down federal funding silos that make it difficult for states and communities to coordinate health and educational services.

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320 Park Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10022 Phone: 212-415-4590 info@sayyestoeducation.org www.SayYestoEducation.org

Say Yes to Education, Inc.  

Say Yes to Education, Inc. is a national nonprofit committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nat...

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