Panel Paper: Preliminary Evaluation of the Effects of Community Education Circles in the Lawrence Public Schools

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katharine Bradbury1, John C. Brown2, Mary A. Burke1, Erin Graves1 and Robert K. Triest1, (1)Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, (2)Clark University

This paper evaluates the effects on school children and their families of the implementation of Community Education Circles (CECs) in the public schools of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Lawrence is a midsize former manufacturing hub that has suffered from prolonged economic stagnation since the 1950s. The city’s median household income is well below the national median and (as of 2014) 26 percent of its families were living in poverty, more than double the national poverty rate of 11 percent. Besides these economic challenges, Lawrence has had a chronically underperforming public school system, though in 2011 a turnaround plan began to address this problem. Through the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Challenge competition, Lawrence won a multiyear grant for the “Lawrence Working Families Initiative.” This initiative seeks to improve the employment opportunities and overall economic outcomes for low-income families as a way to improve children’s school performance; the initiative coordinates outreach efforts with a number of different organizations, including the Lawrence Public Schools. The CEC program is one component of the initiative.

The CEC program aims to improve educational outcomes for students, to give their parents—many of whom are immigrants--a greater sense of belonging and engagement with their children’s school, and to enhance the cultural competency of teachers dealing with students and parents from diverse backgrounds. While there is anecdotal evidence that the CECs are fostering better family-school engagement, this paper is the first to evaluate formally the effects of the program. Our research strategy involves an intent-to-treat approach that compares the outcomes for those invited to participate in the CECs with members of a demographically similar control group who were not invited to participate in the program. We have conducted baseline and follow-up surveys of families in the intent-to-treat and control groups, and have supplemented that with administrative data on student achievement and characteristics obtained through an agreement with the Lawrence Public Schools. An earlier analysis of the baseline data identified patterns that may pose challenges to achieving the goals of the CECs. For example, parents who are not native English speakers—who form the majority of our parent population—may find it harder to be highly involved in their child’s learning compared with native English-speaking parents. 

Our APPAM paper focuses on quantifying the extent to which the CECs had measurable effects on the outcomes of interest in the first year, including children’s school performance (test scores, attendance), parental involvement in their children’s education, parental satisfaction with their children’s school, and families’ employment and financial situations. The paper reports the results of a controlled difference-in-difference analysis of these outcomes between the intent-to-treat and control groups. In addition, we examine whether changes over time in family economic circumstances—within either the intent-to-treat group or the control group—affect how parents engage in their child’s learning, as well as whether participation in the CECs helps mitigate any negative effects on children’s educational outcomes associated with family economic stress.