Community Education Circles in the Lawrence Public Schools: Evaluation Design and Baseline Survey Community Education Circles in the Lawrence Public Schools: Evaluation Design and Baseline Survey

The Boston Fed launched its Working Cities Challenge as an effort to promote economic growth and development in the region's smaller "Gateway Cities," midsized urban centers that historically were strong industrial hubs, but that today face many economic and social challenges. The inaugural 2013 Challenge focused on smaller Massachusetts cities; Lawrence, one of the cities that received a multiyear grant, 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.

The city's winning proposal, the "Lawrence Working Families Initiative," seeks to improve the employment opportunities and overall economic outcomes for low-income families, and coordinates outreach efforts with a number of different organizations, including the Lawrence Public Schools. The program known as Community Education Circles (CECs) 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 describes the Boston Fed's research strategy for evaluating the success of the CECs (the results of which will be discussed in a forthcoming paper), involving 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. This preliminary paper provides extensive information, garnered by baseline survey data supplied by the families and data provided by the Lawrence public school system, on the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the families in our study—including control group families as well as treatment group families, and identifies relationships among these characteristics that may pose barriers to achieving the goals of the CECs.

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