Skip to main content

The Power of Nonprofits: Solving the U.S. Achievement Gap

This week, I am featuring an insightful and impressive guest blog by Marissa Zych.  


As an advocate for global literacy and accessible education, it’s difficult for me to swallow the United States education pill that is the achievement gap. Directly related to both the learning and opportunity gaps, the achievement gap commonly refers to the “significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between groups of students.” The roots of this disparity run deep.

According to the National Education Association, the student groups that commonly experience achievement gaps (as indicated by test performance, access to key opportunities, and attainments such as diplomas, advanced degrees, and future employment) include racial and ethnic minorities, English language learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. Inner-city schools, which some researchers call “dropout factories,” are often at the heart of this issue, due in part to their high numbers of minority and impoverished students.

The U.S. government’s No Child Left Behind law of 2002 was overrun with issues and failed to make notable improvements. And while a number of city schools nationwide have taken the issue into their own hands, working to improve the quality of their teachers and their graduation rates with some success over the last decade and a half, experts agree that gradual change over time will not cut it. As recently as 2012, African American and Hispanic students trailed their peers by an average of 20 or more test points, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In general, the students experiencing achievement gaps have a higher chance of dropping out of school. These dropouts face significant trials in acquiring employment and attaining economic stability. Female dropouts are at a unique economic uncertainty. As compared to male peers, girls who fail to earn their diploma have higher rates of unemployment; make notably lesser wages; and are more inclined to depend on help from public programs to accommodate for their families.

A Nonprofit Solution
It’s important to note that many of these inadequate strategies have been centered on making changes within regular school hours — changes that take time to implement. How can we make a more immediate impact on our schools, outside of school?

Independent studies have shown that superior after-school programs lead to positive academic outcomes, including improved test scores, grades, attendance, dropout rates, and increased interest in learning. Evidence also suggests that they lead to a decrease in juvenile crime rates and notable boosts in self-esteem and confidence.

Unfortunately, many city school districts that need these programs the most lack the policy and/or budgetary support, making education-based nonprofits a crucial part of the solution.

A growing number of reports on the performance of education-based nonprofits prove that their after-school and/or summer programs have a positive impact on students and their families. They provide disadvantaged youth with a safe and engaging environment, extended time spent on diverse subject matter, mentorship, and psychosocial and intellectual enrichment in exciting contexts and settings that aren’t available in school.

So, What Does a Superior Program Look Like?
  •  MOST: While it’s no longer active, The Wallace Foundation’s Making the Most Out-of-School-Time (MOST) fundraising initiative partnered with other like-minded organizations in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle from 1993-1999 to increase the awareness and availability of after-school programs. The MOST contributed to the foundation of evidence that now proves how necessary these kinds of programs are to bridging the achievement gap.
  •  Girls Do Hack: Giving youth an opportunity to learn something that they wouldn’t normally learn inside the classroom is important, specifically young women. Young women are not always considered for roles in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries. With the help of Misha Malyshev in association with the Adler Planetarium, Girls Do Hack gives young women a safe space to discover and be encouraged to learn and find their skills in these fields.
  •  826 National: A personal favorite, 826 National is a nationwide organization. It tackles the literacy and learning issues of students (ages 6-18) through programs centered around creative writing and is currently run by Gerald Richards. Their centers offer free programs including after-school tutoring, field trips, creative workshops (cartooning, anyone?), and their young authors’ book project. According to Arbor Consulting Partners, “students [at 826 National] develop ‘habits of mind’ that support the achievement of positive academic outcomes.”

There are a number of factors that affect a student’s chance at successfully navigating their way to graduation. That’s where these education-based non-profits really fill the gap in the education system. It isn’t possible for every teacher, principal, school sentry and janitor to solve every potential problem students have. Their plates are already loaded with getting students to pass standardized testing, dealing with administrative issues and keeping schools safe and clean. It’s the non-profits that have the opportunity to see a problem and analyze it, to come up with a creative solution without the same restrictions our school systems and administrators face, and to engage children and their parents in a manner that is more likely to work within those parameters. It certainly isn’t easy to create a successful non-profit. It takes heart, great support, and engaged stakeholders. These are some non-profits out there that have stood out and have done a wonderful job.
Thank you Marissa for writing this blog and sharing your insight!
Marissa Zych is a twenty year old student at RIT. She is interested in the education and political landscape and is from Albany, New York.  She loves getting involved in her community and seeing positive change through giving back. She likes to volunteer her time at after school programs, nursing homes, and animal shelters where she rescued her cocker spaniel puppy Bowie!
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  

Follow on Bloglovin

Popular Posts

Back to School: Planning, Time Management and Organization Instruction

Many teachers can not fathom how apparently simple tasks such as using an agenda or turning in an assignment can be very difficult for some of their students.In fact, many students need comprehensive instruction and scaffolding to learn to plan, manage time, and organize.Executive functioning, which encompasses these skills is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and in actuality, does not reach maturation until students reach their early 20's.
How Hard Can it Really Be to Plan, Manage Time and Organize? I have to admit, when I first started working with students that struggled with executive functioning, I was surprised how challenging planning, time management and organization could be for some of my young, bright learners.What seemed to be clear and obvious was obscure, taxing and problematic for them.
These Students are Often Misunderstood: Instead of compassion and strategies, students that have difficulties with executive functioning are often intimidated, harassed and m…

Help for Struggling Readers: Creating Your Own Color Overlays

You can create your own overlays by using whole sheets or cutting strips of transparent, colored report covers, dividers or overhead projector film. 

Step one: Buy a variety of colorful transparent sheets.  You can use - color, transparency filmcolor, transparent report covers (plastic)color, transparent dividers (plastic)

All of these options can be found at office supply stores.
Step two:  Everyone is different.  Let your students try out the different colors and see which one they like the best. Step three:  For some students, keep whole sheets so that students have the option of changing the background color of the entire page of text.  Other students might like a thin strip of color, as it can help with tracking from one line to the next.  I make them a variety of lengths and widths, and often let students decide for themselves.  Note: The strips also make wonderful book marks. 
Step four (optional):  Place a plain sticker on the end of the overlay strip or the bottom of a whole sheet…

10 Free Ways to Improving Visual Tracking for Weak Readers

While reading, tracking across the page from one line to the next can be tricky when the text is small, but for students with dyslexia or weak reading skills, it can be a problem regardless of the font size. 
What Exactly is Tracking? Tracking is the ability for one's eyes to move smoothly across the page from one line of text to another. Tracking difficulties happen when eyes jump backward and forward and struggle to stay on a single line of text.  This results in problems such as word omissions, reversals, eye fatigue, losing your place while reading and most importantly it can impact normal reading development.  
Can Tracking be Improved? Tracking can be improved by strengthening eye muscles as well as getting your eyes and brain to work cooperatively.  There are three eye movements that need to be developed:   Fixations: The ability to hold one's eyes steady without moving off a target.Saccades: The ability to jump to new targets that randomly disappear and reappear in a dif…

Multisensory Teaching Accommodates the 12 Ways of Learning

Teachers are always trying to reach more learners and improve retention.  One of the best ways to do this is to employ a variety teaching methods.  This involves integrating the 12 ways of learning into instruction.  Here is an infographic that reviews the 12 ways of learning and provides some statistics on how learning improves when teachers implement multisensory instruction.

Here is an image of the same infographic that can be shared on Pinterest.

Here are direct links to:
A free Prezi on multisensory teachingA free video on the 12 Ways of LearningThe Eclectic Teaching Approach
I hope you found this to be informative and inspiring.  If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please leave a comment below this blog post. Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products an…

Following Directions: How Do I Teach this Skill?

Learning to follow directions is a crucial milestone in any student’s learning program.  It is the foundation of learning and difficulties in this area can impact a student’s ability to take notes, follow a sequence of steps, as well as show their knowledge on written assignments and even multiple-choice tests.

Even if a student is listening carefully or reading and rereading text, it doesn’t mean that they will succeed at following directions.  Weaknesses in attention, executive functioning, and language processing (both auditory and visual) can present as great obstacles for these students.  So what can be done about this?

We need to teach students how to follow directions.  They need to learn the subtleties of linguistic cues.  They need to learn to carefully analyze each word and then know how to decipher what it all means.

Whether it involves listening comprehension (auditory, receptive language) or understanding written directions (reading comprehension), there are a number of…

15 Ways to Nurture a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

How can we nurture resilient, active learners that embrace challenging academic material and become successful lifelong learners? Carol Dweck suggests that what we need to do is help students shed a fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset. What's more, Dweck contends that developing a growth mindset will also result in less stress and a more productive and fulfilling life. 

What is a Fixed and Growth Mindset?
In a fixed mindset, students believe that their abilities are dependent on fixed traits that can not be changed such as intellect or talent. Individuals that think this way, often cultivate a self-defeating identity, feel powerless, and many struggle with a sense of learned helplessness. In contrast, students with a growth mindset accept that abilities and aptitude can be developed with persistence and effort. As a result, these individuals are not intimidate by failure, because they realize that mistakes are a part of the learning process. They continue working hard despite a…

Remediating Dyslexia with Orton Gillingham Based Reading Games

Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities often learn differently and require an alternative approach to learning basic reading.  What's more, these young learners are working full tilt while sitting in the classroom and by the time they get home and have to complete their homework, they are mentally spent.  As a result, tagging on remedial reading lessons to a cup that is already overflowing can be enough to turn these kids off to learning altogether.

How Do We Help These Students Learn the Core Skills Needed to be Successful Readers?
First, use a remedial program that is backed by time, testimonials and research.  The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading is a well-established and researched approach that offers a multisensory, sequential, incremental, cumulative, individualized, and explicit approach.  There are many programs that are available.  Click here to learn about a selection of these programs. Second, employ an individualized approach as each …

Improving Spelling for Students with Dyslexia

Not all students require the same remedial process even though they struggle with the same academic difficulties.  Diverse combinations of cognitive processing weaknesses and deficits can unite to create the "perfect storm" that can cause challenges with reading, math, writing, spelling and more.  In fact, no two students have the same cognitive profile, so to provide the optimal solution, one needs to consider both a student's strengths and weaknesses when designing a remedial approach.  

Occasionally, I like to present the questions emailed to me from parents and teachers.  This week, I will share an email that I received from a parent in England as well as my response.

Email received: 

Hi there:
Love the website!
Our son (age 8) is dyslexic and we have been told that he has a good visual memory (so he can easily spot a correctly spelt word and can even easily distinguish the correct meanings of similar sounding words e.g. sea and see). However, he has poor memory retrieval…

How Can I Improve my Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning, or what I like to call the conductor of the brain, is the process of the mind gathering together and making sense of all the information we receive from our instruments or senses.  Helping us to create meaning from what we see, hear, touch, taste and experience, executive functioning also allows us to focus our attention, think about new information, and make connections to what we already know.  
Many teachers and parents have trouble understanding how simple tasks such as remembering appointments, using an agenda or turning in assignments can be difficult, but unfortunately these and other similar tasks can be extremely challenging for some individuals.  However, the good news is the part of the brain that manages executive functioning, which is called the frontal lobe, continues to develop through high school and college.  Therefore, many kids that struggle with executive functioning can significantly improve their abilities.
You Might have Executive Functionin…