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WMU gets grant to study impact of Promise

Feb. 16, 2007

KALAMAZOO--The Western Michigan University Evaluation Center has been awarded a two-year, $348,000 federal grant to form a three-way partnership to study the impact of the Kalamazoo Promise.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Education and will fund a partnership between WMU, Kalamazoo Public Schools and the W.E. Upjohn Institute. Also taking part in the effort at WMU is MERC--the Midwest Education Reform Consortium--which operates WMU's GEAR UP program, helping prepare students for college.

Together, this partnership seeks to assess the short-term and intermediate outcomes of the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program announced in November 2005 that provides up to four years of tuition and fees at any two-year or four-year public college or university in Michigan for students who have attended Kalamazoo Public Schools.

"The Kalamazoo Promise has been an inspiration to communities across the country, and many are looking at how to replicate it," says Dr. Gary Miron, Evaluation Center chief of staff and author of the grant proposal. "The federal grant we have been awarded will allow us to do a thorough evaluation of the Kalamazoo Promise to determine its impact on schools and identify strategies that could improve this kind of scholarship program."

The effort will measure 10 individual outcomes: community and district response in terms of supporting and better preparing students for college; the effect on student aspirations; the impact on teacher expectations for students; retention, promotion and graduation rates; changes in school climate; enrollment in college prep courses; performance on standardized tests; college application rates by students; and actual access to postsecondary colleges and universities.

In more general terms, the evaluation will determine whether or not the Kalamazoo Promise--through its transformative effect on the educational culture within the school district and the community at large--improves the progress of students throughout their K-12 experience and better prepares them for postsecondary education. Data collected will provide evidence whether such a program might serve as a model for school reform that induces systemic changes within struggling urban school systems.

KPS Superintendent Dr. Janice M. Brown says the grant provides "a true match with the goals of the Promise and the work of the community and Kalamazoo Public Schools."

"We are delighted to have this research study, in collaboration with our partners, begin to identify our successes and our challenges in assuring that 100 percent of our students receive the Promise," Brown says. "This research will help us greatly to identify the perceptions of our students, teachers and others so that we can move our entire community forward in a most positive manner. We are very thankful to WMU for seeking this support for our public schools and our students."

Miron says the study gets away from the mantra of economic development.

"Much of what we've heard is how it's for economic development," Miron says. "What we've done is outline how we think the Kalamazoo Promise can create systemic change within the public school system. The goal is to give out college scholarships and create more higher education possibilities, but it has the potential of transforming K-12 education itself. That's what's exciting about it."

The W.E. Upjohn Institute was a natural partner for the study, Miron says. The institute has been a repository for school district student data and has already been monitoring the impact of the Promise on students and the community. In addition, the GEAR UP program, operated by MERC in the WMU College of Education, already does extensive surveying within the district. The consortium will provide key survey data to the Evaluation Center by adding more questions to its surveys and by expanding the scope of surveying to other schools.

"With many other communities and states looking to the Kalamazoo Promise as a model for reducing the financial barrier to higher education and stimulating internal reforms within their school systems to achieve that goal, it is essential to have a rigorous evaluation of the effects of this bold initiative," says Dr Randall W. Eberts, W.E. Upjohn Institute executive director. "The grant from the Department of Education provides such an opportunity, and we are pleased to be partnering with Western Michigan University in conducting this evaluation."

Miron believes one of the big reasons the Department of Education funded the study is because there's been so much interest in replicating the program.

After the two-year study is completed, the Evaluation Center and its partners will seek additional grant funding to assess the Promise's long-range impact, Miron says, and examine whether it could be replicated and improved elsewhere.

Miron says the grant is "a tremendous gift to WMU, the local school district and--especially--the children of Kalamazoo."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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