Harley School's public-private partnership to close achievement gap

Spring 2011

In considering how to share its considerable resources, The Harley School (New York) took on a community leadership role, working with the Rochester public school system and regional institutions of private education, to broaden the implementation of programs that help close the achievement gap that exists between low-income children and their more advantaged peers.

“The summer slide in academic performance among low-income children is the single clearest contributor to growth in the achievement gap over a child’s elementary school years,” notes Edward Zigler, the founder of Head Start.

Since 1995, The Harley School has been an affiliate of Horizons, a program launched at New Canaan Country School (Connecticut) in 1964. Like many analogous summer programs at independent schools across the county, the Horizons program has been helping students overcome summer learning loss by offering children an independent school’s greatest asset — education.

The challenge is one of scale — Horizons at Harley serves approximately 130 students per year in a city with more than 18,000 students who qualify for the program, and where the graduation rate hovers around 40 percent. To expand opportunities, Harley looked beyond the Horizons format to engage the broader private education community in summer enrichment opportunities with a goal of serving 1,000 students annually.

For the past three years, the school has worked to form a close relationship with the Rochester City School District. Recognizing the complexity of challenges facing the district leadership, Harley intentionally positioned this effort as one of service to the district. The school also invited leaders from the local independent school community, as well as from local two- and four-year colleges and universities, to evaluate the Horizons program and enter into a discussion about closing the achievement gap.

In 2010, as part of an “Investment in Innovation” proposal, a regional consortium of private education institutions was formed to further the implementation of summer enrichment programs. Subsequent to this, Harley and the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester hosted the region’s first public forum, “The Achievement Gap and Summer Learning Loss — A Crisis in Rochester.” Regional political, education, and business leaders attended a panel discussion that included the Rochester City School District superintendent, Harley’s head of school, the dean of the Warner School of Education, and the vice president of policy at the National Summer Learning Association.

The momentum gained through the proposal process has catalyzed the implementation of pilot programs and further work toward developing a sustainable business model for summer learning partnerships. In 2010, the Warner School successfully piloted its first year of a Horizons program using facilities at Harley. In 2011, the University of Rochester will move the program to its campus and become a full Horizons affiliate. This represents the first time that the Horizons model has been implemented by an institution of higher education. In 2011, two additional pilot programs are expected to launch, working toward the goal of creating eight analogous summer enrichment programs.

Schools interested in working to develop collaborative models in support of summer enrichment initiatives for the student demographic in question can contact Tim Cottrell, head of The Harley School, at tcottrell@harleyschool.org.