Say Yes to Education

Since 2008, AIR has been a pro bono investment partner with Say Yes to Education (SYTE), a national nonprofit organization committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nation’s inner-city youth. SYTE’s unique approach seeks to change the trajectory of students’ lives and the communities in which they live. Building and leveraging collaboration and accountability between public and private partners, SYTE provides a range of services, including, but not limited to, college scholarships, tutoring, extended learning time, family legal services, mental health counseling and other nonacademic support services, college counseling and preparation, and individualized student engagement with targeted interventions.

As SYTE’s partner, AIR provides a range of research, evaluation, and implementation technical assistance supports. Some of AIR’s activities have included a longitudinal (six-year) study of SYTE outcomes, annual studies of implementation to inform on-the-ground strategies, school and district data reviews designed to influence annual school improvement planning, and the design of a Student Monitoring and Intervention System to understand individual student need and services.

Project Summary

Since 2008, American Institutes for Research has been a pro bono investment partner with Say Yes to Education, a national nonprofit organization committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nation’s inner-city youth.

Results

AIR produced three papers that looked at districtwide education reform through the lens of the Say Yes Syracuse initiative:

Community Collaboration on Education Reform explores the nature and quality of collaboration between Say Yes Syracuse and its local partners by evaluating each of the initiative’s core principles. Also included is a media analysis of public opinion on education in Syracuse. Say Yes Syracuse brought an unprecedented level of communication and collaboration among community leaders previously working in silos. Thought partners faced a number of challenges, such as ambiguously defined roles and strategy disagreement; they addressed these initial setbacks to improve collaboration over the first four years of the initiative. A list of lessons learned is provided to benefit other communities considering similar reform initiatives.

Foundation Investment in Education Reform examines the experiences of Say Yes Syracuse and compares them with those of five other philanthropies also using a high-engagement approach. The paper asks three questions:

  1. What is high-engagement—or venture—philanthropy?
  2. How does the Say Yes to Education approach in Syracuse fit with the venture philanthropy approach?
  3. What are some of the lessons learned from Say Yes Syracuse and selected organizations about venture philanthropy?

Uses of Data in the Community-Based Reform Initiative looks at which research-based conditions, critical to successful data use, were implemented by Say Yes Syracuse. From the initiative’s start, many conditions were not in place. But during the next three years, Say Yes Syracuse addressed many information system challenges and designed ways to work around limitations. The authors note that the lessons learned from the effort can help district leaders make strategic decisions to meet the needs of districts and schools, and to improve student learning.