In May 1988, two rich guys promised 59 fifth-graders a college education. (Note to my little brother: one was Abe Pollin, former owner of the Washington Wizards. Note to everyone else: that team was origin of the phrase "it ain't over til the fat lady sings.")
Suddenly, the 11-year-olds were part of an ambitious social experiment being tried across the country, one that brought together rich benefactors and needy kids in a largely untested but intimate style of philanthropy aimed at lifting entire families out of poverty....What would become of William Smith, Darone Robinson and the rest of the Seat Pleasant 59?
The intervention included: promising college tuition, as well as well as this:
Tracy Proctor had been hired by the philanthropists to work with the children every day as the project coordinator, but the role demanded much more. At 25, he was a surrogate father, social worker, fixer, tutor, bouncer, parole officer and chauffeur. Proctor was mentoring 59 Dreamers, and trying to ensure their success was daunting. Pollin and Cohen had invested $325,000 in the class and would end up spending far more than that on transportation, tutors, field trips and camps.
Predict, of 59 kids:
What percentage would graduate from high school?
What percentage would graduate from college?
In a drawer in his home office, Tracy Proctor keeps a sheet of paper titled “Class of 1995 Final Stats,” a list he once presented to Pollin and Cohen that laid out what he knew about each student they’d adopted at Seat Pleasant.
Among its findings: at least 11 of the 59 graduated from four-year colleges; at least three of those 11 attained advanced degrees; at least 12 students completed trade school; six dropped out of high school; what happened to six more remains unknown.
Proctor understands that those numbers are vital to any assessment of the program. He knows that the Dreamers’ high school graduation rate of 83 percent* far surpassed Prince George’s overall rate in 1995. He also knows that the vast majority did not finish college, a fact that is true of many Dreamers nationally, according to a summary of several studies by the “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
*MG technical note: Elsewhere in the article the reporter writes that the 83% includes students with GEDs, the test one takes for a "general equivalence diploma. " Generally, state reports on high school completion count GEDs as dropouts, not as high school graduates. I'd be curious about the high school completion rate.
The passages come from a terrific series in the Washington Post. They call it:
A three-part series on the fate of 59 fifth-graders who were given an extraordinary gift: the promise of a college education paid for by two wealthy businessmen.
It's free but you may need to register with Washington Post. I think you can bypass that if you click below:
Part 1: The Promise: Two wealthy men set out to transform the lives of 59 fifth-graders
Part 2: The Reality: Daunting difficulties for the children promised college scholarships
Part 3: The Legacy: For those promised college scholarships, the gift inspired pride and pain
My insurance agent, a born-again Christian and a cousin of President Bush, once told me he'd done the same thing in the 1980s -- adopted a class of inner-city students and promised college scholarships. I recall him saying it was popular thing among his crowd, and the experience was quite similar: little success.
The Office did a parody a couple years ago: Scott's Totts.
KIPP, YES Prep, Noble Street, MATCH and other charters are among the first schools and school networks to aggressively track the college graduation rates of our students. There's lots to learn here; some (I think) is counter-intuitive.
I'll be blogging more next year on Alumni Case Studies (How do they fare in college?) created by Bob Hill, our alumni counselor, and about the implications for schoolteachers.