Reducing education externalities in NYC

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

That quote from the highly influential 1983 blue ribbon Federal Department of Education report “A Nation at Risk” catalyzed the past few decades of education reform: class size reduction, charter schools, teacher accountability and a variety of other initiatives aimed at improving the within school student experience. 

It’s become increasingly clear, however, that systemic factors external to schools are large drivers of inequality of opportunity and demand a more holistic response. NYC Mayor de Blasio’s $190 million a year middle school after school expansion is a prime example of this kind of response.

Informing a systems perspective

The program launched in 2014 with a series of 1 year contract and is currently going out to bid again for a 3 year contract term.  To inform that RFP selection process, we’ve put together an interactive analytics tool showing student need for eligible NYC schools.   We synthesized an overall need score for each eligible middle school through through a modified NYC Department of Education need index and neighborhood level obesity rate and youth crime data.

Our analysis does not represent the “solution” to the challenges of where to site the SONYC expansion.  Instead, our interactive tool provides a “common operational picture” focused on the needs of middle school students.   Further this tool can support the ongoing dialogue and effective deliberation about the systemic implications of this program.  The SONYC expansion was billed as a “game-changer” by Mayor de Blasio, and our hope is that this tool supports the ongoing conversation about how to best achieve that goal.

Towards a seamless education volunteering experience: Learnr

I personally do not intend to be an idle bystander in reaching goal.  Back in So Cal, I volunteered my time for a variety of educational causes based on the simple belief that it really does “take a village to raise a child” and we’re all responsible for ensuring the next generation has the opportunity to chase their dreams. 

Students aren’t only educated within the standard confines of a school.  They learn from their friends, their parents, their neighbors, and all manner of random things other humans from around the world post on the web.   As Mayor de Blasio stated, “learning should not end when the school bell rings.” 

As we researched the SONYC RFP process, one after school program provider had a great line about improving the after school implementation: “…might need some eHarmony to match them with schools..." 

A host of web applications like idealist or volunteermatch connect general volunteers to general social good causes.  But other matching applications -- say Tinder for dating or Jobbr for finding work -- enable better interaction and catalyze engagement much more personalized than legacy dating sites. A similar matching platform between teachers and education volunteers presents a wonderful opportunity to connect hi-tech professionals in NYC with teachers looking for someone to help with their arduino-powered science experiment.

Our idea: why can’t finding an opportunity to help kids learn be as seamless, locationally aware and interactive as finding a date or a gig?   We intend to explore this further through our capstone project at NYU CUSP. 



PS See below for an initial proposed user journey.  

H/T Volunteach team at the  2013 SF Gov Jam

H/T Volunteach team at the 2013 SF Gov Jam

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