Friends of Education Excellence: Helping Students Succeed Boy writing with young male volunteer.

The Need

smiling children in a primary classroomThe purpose of Friends of Educational Excellence (FREE) Partnerships is to support partnerships between community organizations and Rochester city public schools to help students succeed in school.  Rochester has an urban school system that has a critical need for community support to improve educational system outcomes, and also is a city with a rich history of community involvement in public schools.

The Rochester City School District (RCSD) provides an education for more than 32,000 students in pre-K through grade 12.  The academic results of Rochester public schools are poor.  In 2012, only 22% of elementary school children passed the State English Language Arts (ELA) exam;  7,100 children did not pass (performed below their grade level).  These children will struggle in school until they have adequate literacy skills. 

Most Rochester elementary schools do not achieve acceptable results.  In 2012, only 1 out of the 38 elementary schools had more than 50% of students pass the ELA exam.  (See chart below)

Percent of RCSD elementary students who passed
the 2012 ELA exam
70 – 100%: 0 schools
50 – 69%: 1 school
40 – 49%: 2 schools
30 — 39% 4 schools
Less than 30%: 31 schools

In 2011, the Rochester City High Schools reported a graduation rate of 49%.  In order to increase future graduation rates, the 7,100 elementary school students that did not pass the 2012 State ELS exam must improve their literacy skills.

Educated citizens get better paying jobs and support their local communities.  Rochester high school dropouts generally will struggle financially, are more likely to live in poverty, may participate in illegal activities, and may end up in jail and be unavailable to support their families.  Improving students’ success in school is fundamental to improving Rochester family life and enhancing our local community.  Better public education outcomes can transform the Rochester community.

There are three critical factors to student success in school:

The student has the academic skills to succeed  --> the student's school provides the environment and Support to Succeed  --> the student has the desire to succeed

Community partners that provide volunteer support can help teachers to ensure students have the academic skills to succeed.  A McKinsey study of the best schools in the world found that the best schools do three things: 

Get the best teachers, Provide great training and support for teachers, & Step in when Students sart to tlag behind.  Free Partnerships plays a key role here
FREE Partnerships support teachers to promote student success in school

(The Economist magazine, October 2007)

The learning process for our children is complex.  A young person has three primary “schools” in their lives:  1) home, 2) community, and 3) the public school system.  In Rochester, poverty, low adult literacy, and family and community norms and expectations place a greater challenge on the public school system to get the desired outcomes that we want to achieve.  So the public schools must be even stronger to get good results.

Teachers have four things in their toolkit to promote learning by their students:    

  1. time
  2. teaching techniques
  3. resources, and
  4. a strong curriculum to guide them. 

Resources include books, pencils, paper, computers, and other people to help them.  Most schools already provide paid specialists to help children with learning disabilities.  However, most average children that are just a little behind usually don’t get one-to-one support to help them get to grade level. FREE Partnerships supports Rochester city school teachers by providing volunteer resources to assist their students succeed in school.  When a teacher embraces these additional “FREE” human resources, they become an important part of the learning environment for the teacher’s students.  With declining school budgets, the strategy of using FREE community resources will become an essential component of a teacher’s toolkit to help their students succeed in school.  

The Big Picture: Our Education System is the foundation of our Economy and our Democracy

Objective: Improve System Yield from 51% to 100%

schematic diagram showing inputs and outputs of school system, as mediated by production operations
FREE Partnerships support teachers to promote student success in school

** RCSD student profile:

  • 64% African American/Black
  • 22% Hispanic
  • 11% White
  • 3% Asian/Native American/East Indian/Other
Student Characteristics
  • 88% eligible for free/reduced-price lunch
  • 18% with special needs
  • 10% with limited English proficiency
  • 72 different language groups
  • 22% of schools at 90% poverty or higher
  • Highest poverty rate among NYS Big 5 districts

Volunteer academic support can be effective in assisting students to perform better.  The Campbell Collaboration Systematic Review (May 2006) found that volunteer programs can positively influence student language and reading. FREE Partnerships will assist community-school partnerships to provide academic support for students that need another helping hand to succeed.