Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Measuring Outcomes

In the struggle to find operating dollars to sustain a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program the issue of impact and outcomes is raised over and over.

Between 1975 and 1992 when I was leading the Montgomery Ward Cabrini Green Tutoring Program, people would ask, "how many of your kids have graduated from college?" "How many are now volunteering with you?"

The kids we were working with were in 2nd through 6th grade. We did not have a 7th to 12th grade component. Just keeping the "little" kids coming each week and matched with volunteers was a huge job, since our program was led by volunteers with full time jobs.

Thus what we focused on was participation and retention. Our logic was that there was an benefit to each youth who had an expanded network of adult support that was made possible by the connections we provided between youth and adult volunteers.

Furthermore, since kids came to the Wards building for tutoring at 5pm, after they had already gone home from school, they were volunteers, just like the adults. Thus, our ability to have weekly attendance rates of 85% or better for kids and 80% of better for volunteers, and to keep most of the kids and volunteers involved from the beginning to the end of the school year, and to have a large percent return each year until they could not participate after sixth grade, was a good measure of our success.

Kids and volunteers would not make the effort to come each week if we did not offer something of value to them. We did not have the information to show what was happening to these kids after 6th grade, even though we knew this was important.

That's why we created Cabrini Connections in the fall of 1993. This program starts kid at 7th grade and attempts to keep them involved with us through high school. Some of the first kids to join us in 1993 began to graduate in 1998 and 1999. Each year since then 4-6 kids who had been with us from 4 to 6 years finished high school. Now we're beginning to collect with alumni on Facebook, and gather information on some who have finished college, or who are still searching for security in their lives. Here's a chart that illustrates some of our outcomes.

When we created Cabrini Connections, we also created the Tutor/Mentor Connection. This was an outgrowth of networking we had done with other tutor/mentor programs in Chicago since 1975. Many of the ideas we have applied to Cabrini Connections were learned from other programs in Chicago, or in other cities. All we did with the formation of the T/MC was formalize the process of collecting information about the different tutor/mentor programs in Chicago, as well as efforts to increase public attention for these programs, so there would be more networking, and there would be more consistent funding.

This chart shows the growth of Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection since 1992

One of the benefits of this is that we, and everyone else, can learn from the work being done by each other. Today I visited the web site of Chicago Youth Programs. I encourage you to view their outcomes page. It illustrates that they share the same commitment we do for tracking retention and participation information as a measure of the outcomes of their program.

In the Chicago Program Links section and the Tutor/Mentor Links section on the T/MC web site you can find links to more than 200 Chicago youth organization web sites, and many others around the country.

If you lead a tutor/mentor program, I encourage you to use these to benchmark how well you tell your story, compared to how well others are telling what they do on their own web sites. Learn from others and find ways to make your program the "best" in the world. Your web site should show that commitment, and how you are doing it.

If you are a volunteer, donor, business leader, or education policy researchers, I encourage you to use the same information to build your own understanding of the impact non-school tutor/mentor programs can have on the lives of economically disadvantaged kids living in concentrated poverty of big cities. Use this information to "shop" for where you want to volunteer or provide your dollars.

You should not need a written proposal or request for a donation. Everyone of these organizations cannot operate, or constantly improve, without a regular flow of volunteers, operating and innovation dollars, and leadership.

If we want public schools to measure up, and if we want to close the education gaps, we need to find ways to expand the tutor/mentor and learning networks for kids attending poorly performing schools.

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