Usable Knowledge For Schools, It's About Who You Know Research shows that partnerships between schools and external organizations, meant to alleviate inequality, often perpetuate it Posted January 17, 2018 By Leah Shafer For more than a decade, establishing partnerships between schools and outside organizations — education-related nonprofits, community centers, colleges, or athletic and arts organizations — has been seen as a key way to address the obstacles and lack of opportunities many students face. A literacy nonprofit might send volunteers into a school with low reading scores, or a local YMCA might invite teenagers from a poor community to its afterschool program. If schools and families do not have the resources to help their students, the theory goes, then the community can fill in the gaps.The reality, though, is that these partnerships are more likely to exist with schools that are better resourced to begin with, according to research by Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, an expert in school policy and leadership. In some circumstances, these partnerships actually worsen the inequities between schools, by providing more supports to schools who are less in need of them. Partnerships are more likely to exist with schools that are better resourced to begin with. In some circumstances, these partnerships actually worsen the inequities between schools, by providing more supports to schools who are less in-need of them. School partnerships do have exciting potential to level the playing field — but to make that dream a reality, policymakers and district leaders will have to go to greater lengths to help the neediest schools establish secure relationships.A Study Examining School PartnershipsBridwell-Mitchell’s recent study analyzed partnerships between 211 New York City high schools and 1,098 external organizations between 1999 and 2005, examining the correlation between those partnerships and the extent to which each school was already well resourced. “High needs” schools were identified by characteristics such as fewer experienced teachers; more socioeconomically disadvantaged students; a lower neighborhood median income; and fewer students passing state exams.All told, schools with fewer needs were more likely to have formed outside partnerships.Schools physically closer to a community organization such as a YMCA or a JCC, or with slightly greater neighborhood diversity, were significantly more likely to have a partnership than schools without those nearby resources.Schools with a larger proportion of students who qualified for free or reduced price lunch, or with a larger proportion of teachers who had been in the profession for less than five years, were less likely to have a partnership.The strongest predictor of a school partnership was simply whether the school had partnered with an organization in a previous year. “Schools having had a partner at least three years are essentially guaranteed to have the partner in subsequent years,” writes Bridwell-Mitchell, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Conversely, schools that have never established a partnership are much less likely to have them in the future. “Hence, the rich get richer effect,” she says. “When advocating partnerships as a solution to school resource needs, state and district officials will need to provide special support to the neediest schools,” writes Bridwell-Mitchell. For Policymakers and District LeadersPolicymakers have pointed toward school partnerships as a remedy to educational inequity since the 1980s, and interest grew in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education began funding grants for partnerships that provided afterschool enrichment and family support activities, including tutoring services, drug and violence prevention programs, and technology education programs.But providing funding and political support for partnerships is not enough to alleviate inequality, this study finds. Schools that are better resourced to begin with often have an easier time securing partnerships, which further adds to their resource bank. Other schools who have not yet secured those partnerships continually lose out on new connections — and the resources they provide. “When advocating partnerships as a solution to school resource needs, state and district officials will need to provide special support to the neediest schools,” writes Bridwell-Mitchell.One strategy is for policymakers to identify the schools with the fewest partners, and then provide personnel, training, or funding partner outreach. These supports likely won’t be needed for long; when more high-needs schools have established partnerships, they will likely maintain them in following years.Districts could also organize meetings for representatives from disadvantaged schools to meet with colleagues from schools with strong partnerships. Here, the goal would be for high needs schools to develop and strengthen their relationships to other schools and, by association, potential partners. These connections, which should make sure to minimize competition among schools seeking partnerships, can help partnerships grow more organically by building networks of relationships between schools and those who have the resources to support them. Usable Knowledge Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities Explore All Articles Related Articles Ed. Magazine Them That’s Got Associate Professor Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell on inequities in school partnerships. Askwith Education Forum Equitable Recovery: Addressing Learning Challenges after COVID With research showing the impact of remote and hybrid learning, what are the federal, state, and district strategies to lift learning and support social-emotional needs? 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