Amidst school closures on a massive scale, families are schools’ and systems’ greatest allies and assets. Districts must work with them and through them, or else the achievement gap will continue to grow with every passing day. Springboard Collaborative and Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) have teamed up to help families and teachers support learning at home in innovative ways. 

A vision for systemic capacity building

In 2018, partnering with Springboard, Baltimore City Public Schools embarked on its ambitious Blueprint For Success. Together, Springboard and City Schools set out to build capacity in four ways:

Help kids become stronger readers. Springboard’s 5-week Summer and 10-week Afterschool programs average a 4-month reading gain, closing the gap to grade-level performance by more than half.

Equip parents to teach at home. Weekly family workshops average 91% attendance. Parents learn to be effective one-on-one literacy coaches at home, and they build habits that outlive programming.

Develop teachers’ instructional practice. Teachers from within each school participate in Professional Learning Communities on differentiating instruction and engaging parents. They also receive coaching toward a professional growth goal of their choosing.

Deepen the school leadership bench. At each school, a teacher-leader is hired from within to be the Site Leader, and Springboard coaches them through the management experience.

In service of the Blueprint, Springboard and City Schools planned to support a cohort of ~20 schools with Springboard Flagship (Springboard’s highest-touch program model) over a three-year period. This would make it possible to gradually release responsibility such that by Year 4, schools could sustain programming more independently and affordably through Springboard Affiliate (Springboard’s lighter-touch, train-the-trainer model).

The partnership between Springboard and City Schools has demonstrated some of Springboard’s strongest results nationally. During the first summer of partnership in 2018, City Schools students replaced the typical 3-month summer reading loss with an incredible 4.3-month reading gain. (Note that all data presented here is based on pre- and post-program assessments administered by district teachers. Data was then summarized by Springboard staff and measured against growth benchmarks set by DIBELS.) Soon thereafter, word spread and additional school communities joined the next round of programming during the academic year. Students who participated in the 2019 Afterschool program averaged an astonishing 4.1-month reading gain in just 10 weeks. 

In Summer 2019, the number of participating schools grew to 17. Springboard and City Schools and we were thrilled to learn that the majority of seasonal program staff (leaders and teachers) were returning to their posts. Results in the Summer of 2019 echo the same trends as previous programs, with more than 1,000 K-4 students replacing summer reading loss with a 3.9 month reading gain. Furthermore, participating K-2 students caught up to grade-level expectations—on average—in just 5 weeks. 

Summer 2019 Results

 

Taken together, those students who attended both the 2019 Afterschool and Summer Springboard programs experienced the greatest gains with an average total reading gain of 7.8 months.

Results for students participating in both Afterschool and Summer 2019 programs

The multi-year partnership between Springboard and City Schools has enabled teachers to strengthen their practice around family engagement and differentiated literacy instruction. This has woven parent-teacher collaboration into the fabric of the school system.

And then COVID brought schools to a grinding halt…

The 2020 round of Springboard Afterschool was to be the largest implementation yet, with 23 schools participating. After months of planning and training, the program was set to launch on March 16, the same day that Governor Larry Hogan announced that City Schools would begin its closure. Though programming could not proceed as planned, Springboard and City Schools recognized that at-home learning was as pressing a need as ever.

In order to support school communities in Baltimore—and across the country—Springboard reflected on how best to equip parents and teachers to support learning at home. They analyzed what made their existing programs successful (in Baltimore and nationally), and the result was the Family-Educator Learning Accelerator (FELA) methodology, a framework that can be implemented in-person, virtually, or whatever the circumstances may be.

FELAs are 5-10-week cycles during which teachers and parents share a game plan to help children reach learning goals.

The process measurably improves academic outcomes while strengthening family-educator relationships.

Over the past decade of carrying out this work in cities like Baltimore, Springboard has identified some key lessons.

Any shorter than five weeks isn’t long enough to build a habit; any longer than ten weeks, and the immediacy and urgency required for teachers and parents to try something new together is lost. There needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel for parents and teachers to walk through it.

Relationships are foundational. The key to achieving 90%+ parent turnout at weekly family workshops is building relationships between teachers and families through [virtual or in-person] home visits at the outset.

During that initial meeting, teachers also measure the student’s baseline and set a growth goal. Goals are the glue that hold everything together; they make the FELA winnable.

During the 5-10 weeks, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. Kids practice with their teachers, kids practice with their families, and the teachers + families must practice all together. Springboard has learned that parents and teachers must practice together at least four times through workshops—virtual or in-person—to create skill-sharing, teamwork, and mutual accountability.

Finally, the cycle concludes by measuring progress and celebrating; it is neither amorphous nor interminable. Small wins lead to big wins, helping schools to crystallize new habits between teachers and families.

FELA is a method, not a program. It is designed to be a pandemic-proof playbook for parent engagement in learning at home. Short goal-setting cycles are more akin to interval training than marathon running; this makes distance learning an approachable, winnable, and sustainable experience for parents and teachers alike.

Springboard open-sourced a toolkit with an overview of Family-Educator Learning Accelerators and templates to get started. They also developed and launched a new program model, Springboard Learning Accelerator, which can serve as the starter kit for implementing FELAs, remotely or in-person, summer or school year.

This summer, Springboard and City Schools will continue their partnership by implementing Learning Accelerators with 14 school communities in Baltimore (and many other districts across the country). If there’s a silver lining in the way that the pandemic brought schools to a grinding halt, it’s that America has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent school. In partnership with Springboard, City Schools teachers and families are leading the way.

The upcoming school year can play out in many different scenarios; all of them, however, require schools to capture educational value from the time children spend at home. The only way to prevent COVID-19 from deepening inequality for an entire generation of children is to equip families to support learning at home.