Improving the Research and Writing Skills of High School Students

Over the last few months I have emphasized several times on this blog the need for more innovation in Rotary projects. Too many projects – especially for district grants – seem to be well-intentioned but somewhat cookie-cutter “let’s help and quickly be done” projects. To explain what I have in mind as an example of a project that I believe is more innovative, consider One World Education (OWEd). This is an NGO that I already mentioned on this blog in October (see the post here). OWEd’s programs aim to improve research and writing skills for public and charter school students in Washington, DC.

Over the last few months, 2,300 high school seniors from public schools in Washington DC participated in OWEd’s program. They wrote essays on college, careers, and other topics using a curriculum developed and implemented in partnership with public and charter school teachers. On December 15, two dozen of those students participated in the College and Career Senior Challenge organized by OWEd. The School Chancellor, Ms. Kaya Henderson, was the keynote speaker. My Rotary club gave scholarships to some of the students who demonstrated great progress and effort through the program and were selected by their teachers to present their work at the Senior Challenge.


DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave the keynote address at the College and Career Senior Challenge

The students presented their research to a panel of two dozen judges (I was one of them) through short formal presentations of two and a half minutes as well as through a poster session after the formal presentations. Their presentation was assessed in terms of the quality of their argument, the evidence they used to make their argument, the organization of their presentation, and their presence on the stage. More than half of the students who were selected to make presentations received scholarships, and all were really impressive. You could feel that the program is making a difference by helping them strengthen their research, writing, and presentation skills. But a feeling is not enough – the impact of such programs must be clearly demonstrated if they are to be scaled up.

OWEd Fair

 A judge for the competition talks with one of the students.

I explained in a previous post how the program works. Feedback from students and teachers has been positive so far.  For example, in the 2014-15 DCPS Grade 10 evaluation by students, as shown in the Figure below, participants reported improvements in terms of their ability to make a claim (87 percent); Provide research to support a claim (87 percent); Write (85 percent); Research information (84 percent); Analyze research (84 percent); Create an outline (79 percent); Create a draft (78 percent); Establish a research plan (75 percent); and Revise their essay (75 percent).

OWEd Data

Source: One World Education

OWEd is still small, but growing. This year for the first time the NGO reached an agreement with the public school system to substantially expand its programs. Yet again, in order to expand and consolidate further its promising relationship with public schools in Washington DC and possibly in other cities, OWEd needs a more robust evaluation.

We will try to conduct such an evaluation in the coming months, in a quasi-randomized setting and at very low cost. As done last year, University teachers will grade student essays before and after the program, but this time with hopefully treatment and control groups. The control group will consist of students enrolled in the program later than the main cohort. If all works well, the sample sizes will be sufficient to assess in a rough way program impacts. The evaluation may not work, or it may not be conclusive, but it is worth doing, so that we can hopefully learn and help improve OWEd’s programs.

Once we have the results of the evaluation, I hope to be able to share them on this blog. But more generally, if you are interested in assessing the impact of your own Rotary project, and if you believe I can be of help, please don’t hesitate to send me an email through the Contact Me page of this blog or by sharing a comment on this post.





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