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City Year: A breakthrough innovation in education

Understanding the education gap

In the United States, we have largely used the same approach to education for the past 100 years, even as our economy and society have radically changed. Success in today’s marketplace means that all young Americans must earn, at minimum, a high school diploma and graduate prepared for postsecondary and career success. Yet, despite encouraging gains in high school graduation rates in recent years, stubborn and unacceptable gaps persist that threaten our nation’s future prosperity. In 2015, low-income students, who now make up about half of the public school population, graduated at rates nearly 14 percentage points below their middle- and upper-income peers.

Closing this pernicious high school graduation gap will help to ensure that more of our students are ready for today’s competitive workforce, including earning postsecondary credentials and college degrees. Likewise, U.S. employers will receive a steady supply of skilled workers and our communities will have talented civic and business leaders – outcomes that benefit all of us.

We need new approaches and creative solutions to achieve this goal. That is why Deloitte Consulting LLP has provided support to City Year, an education organization fueled by national service, that is dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. Deloitte believes that City Year has the potential to be the most powerful and impactful innovator in American education.

For more than a decade, Deloitte has helped City Year to assess the financial and strategic viability of its services to students nationwide, and to strengthen its capacity and impact. As City Year seeks to strategically expand to more urban schools with the lowest graduation rates, it is grappling with both opportunities and constraints that can offer insights to other nonprofits that are also seeking to continuously improve as they scale their services.

National service enhances equitable learning opportunities

This year, 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members are serving 327 public schools in 28 U.S. cities as full-time tutors, mentors and role models, reaching nearly a quarter million students every day. Working in partnership with teachers and principals, these AmeriCorps members deliver research-based supports that have been shown to help students stay on track to graduation and thrive, prepared for college and career success.

We know City Year’s approach works. A 2015 study found that schools that partner with City Year were up to two-to-three times more likely to improve on English and math tests, compared to similar schools without City Year. Such results strongly suggest that City Year provides a systematic, sustainable, repeatable, targetable, flexible – and valuable – solution for high-need public schools.

Since 2007, City Year has added 11 U.S. cities and has more than doubled the number of schools it serves. For all its growth, however, there remains significant unfulfilled need: for every low graduation-rate “network” of schools – a high school with low graduation rates and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it – served by City Year, there are many more networks that are not.

A question now faces City Year as it evolves: To what extent can the organization significantly grow in size and impact without compromising its results? Deloitte set out to explore whether City Year’s success is replicable, and how constraints might affect the integrity and effectiveness of the model.

What Deloitte found was that there is a very clear dollar savings to schools that partner with City Year. Schools simply cannot replicate the holistic services that City Year provides—one-on-one tutoring, small group instruction, afterschool and extended learning programs, mentoring and more—by hiring lots of different vendors and organizations that provide single point solutions. We found that City Year is 78 percent more cost effective than contracting with individual providers of similar services. Even more exciting than that, when you compare students in City Year schools with students in similar non-City Year schools, the students served by City Year are improving their academic outcomes, their readiness for college and their success rates.

Deloitte analyzed City Year against a research-based framework on what it takes for organizations to achieve transformative innovation. In the analysis of City Year’s return on investment and ability to scale its services, Deloitte discovered that City Year has the right:

  • Consistency across sites to ensure that those elements of the organization’s model that drive results are preserved no matter where the model is deployed.
  • Customizability to adapt to each location’s circumstances and requirements.
  • Continuity to ensure that learning and continuous improvement are possible.
  • Cost structure in order to be affordable to those served.

Our goal: increase the national graduation rate

The desired outcome City Year and its partners are working toward is critical: higher high school graduations rates and workforce readiness for all students. It is clear to us that City Year is creating systemic change in the schools where their AmeriCorps members serve, and they are able to adapt their supports across a variety of circumstances and school contexts.

At the center of this change are City Year AmeriCorps members. The true magic of the model is found in the developmental relationships that City Year’s near-peer tutors, mentors and role models forge with the students they serve every day. City Year recruits talented and idealistic young adults, trains them, inspires them, gives them confidence and teaches them to be a leader. We see this in every City Year AmeriCorps member we’ve ever worked with, including City Year alumni we hire at Deloitte.

The City Year model intentionally recruits and cultivates diverse young adults after they graduate from high school or college and helps transform them into incredibly impactful teams. City Year AmeriCorps members can take struggling students and convince them that they can do better. They work with those students in a very focused and intensive way to get them confident enough to boost student achievement. This is something that City Year does in a systemic way with well defined, evidence-based approaches that can be adapted to different school environments.

City Year has demonstrated that it is able to deliver impressive results, establish continuity and run on a low-cost structure. The organization has been able to more than double its size while actually improving its results for students. It has become increasingly sophisticated about how it uses data and analytics to support student success and strategically plan for the future. City Year has also become expert in partnering with schools, researchers and philanthropies, bringing in millions of additional dollars to under-resourced schools. Every year, City Year invests heavily in all of these areas, and that’s why we believe City Year is the most powerful potential disruptive innovator we will see in education in the United States.

Solving America’s dropout crisis will not be easy or swift.  It will require fortitude, persistence, and – perhaps above all – innovation:  the ability to do ever more for ever less. City Year and its partners appear to have all of this and offer valuable lessons to other organizations with ambitious goals that want to scale without compromising results.

Article by ; Bill Copeland, Vice Chairman, Deloitte LLP & Michael E. Raynor, Managing Director, Monitor Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. For a deeper exploration of the four C’s and their implications for City Year and other nonprofits, read Deloitte’s white paper.

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