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Research, Evaluation, and Public Policy

In addition to our strategic community investing, Helios Education Foundation also prioritizes Research, Evaluation, and Public Policy as additional strategies to help make systemic and lasting changes to the education systems in Arizona and Florida.

Research and Evaluation

Research and Evaluation

Helios Education Foundation is a learning organization. We learn from community investments that improve education outcomes in Arizona and Florida; we learn from evaluating those investments; we learn from innovative partners that challenge established systems to close achievement gaps; and we learn from original research that informs our grantmaking. To share our learnings, Helios publishes education briefs that highlight the innovation of our partners and informs the field of philanthropy.

In 2020, Helios’ briefs examined topics such as rapid response framework for supporting students during the global pandemic, the impact of rigorous coursework in high school upon students’ college readiness, and interventions to increase college reenrollment and completion.

Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Student Success

Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Student Success: A Rapid-Response Strategic Framework for Funders

There were many lessons brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Helios and our partners learned about students’ resilience, we learned about adaptation to virtual learning, and we learned how communities rallied to uplift each other. While there were pauses in work at the onset of the pandemic, numerous partners developed new processes or adopted new platforms to provide services to their clients. We learned from our partners’ agility and persistence, traits that were critical to enduring the uncertainty of 2020.

As the pandemic wore on, sharing our learning became essential to continuing to serve our communities and students, and ensuring our grantees prevailed. Helios encouraged our partners to use the reporting process to share both successes and challenges and leveraged that information to open a discussion about grant expectations. Helios encouraged grantees to share ideas, ask for advice, and help each other through this time, and we all learned the power of active listening.

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Examining Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Success Cover

Examining Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Success

For the past several decades, education leaders have sought to increase the proportion of students who graduate high school academically prepared for college. One way that education reformers have tried to prepare more students for the academic rigors of college is by introducing them to what we call “rigorous courses.” This includes Advanced Placement (AP), dual enrollment and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. All of these courses can be taught directly on a high school campus, with both AP and IB having an aligned exam for students to take at the end of their course. To receive college credit for one of these courses, a student must score high enough on the exam to demonstrate mastery of the content.

Prior studies have found positive relationships between rigorous course taking and specific outcomes. But generally, few studies have been able to examine course taking across multiple districts within the same state and across different types of courses (AP, dual enrollment, and IB). To better understand how rigorous courses are impacting Arizona students, we partnered with Mesa Public Schools, Tempe Union High School District, Tucson Unified School District, Phoenix Union High School District, and Yuma Union High School District to analyze student course-taking patterns and the impacts of such courses. We focused on three questions: Who has access to rigorous courses? Is that access equitable? And what impact do rigorous courses have on college-going and college persistence?

The results of this work provided great insight, and, through the research, we were able to develop recommendations to increase access to rigorous courses so that all students, regardless of zip code, can receive a high-quality education that will lead to college and career success.

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Interventions to Increase College Reenrollment and Completion

Interventions to Increase College Reenrollment and Completion

Seeking to identify opportunities to reengage students who stopped out of their college journey prior to completion, Helios Education Foundation, in partnership with the University of Florida, conducted the Florida College Student Reenrollment Demonstration (Florida Reenrollment) project by engaging five Florida College System institutions. The program targeted students who had recently dropped out, had accumulated 30 or more credit hours, and had a GPA of 2.0 or higher. Building off the concept of email reminders, the Florida Reenrollment program used “text nudges” and financial incentives to entice students to reenroll in their colleges.

Three control groups received differing interventions, which produced insights into the measures institutions can adopt to capture previously enrolled students and encourage degree completion. Initial findings have led to a second research study to learn about student persistence once they reenroll.

View Brief

Public Policy

Engagement in advocacy and public policy activity is an important component to our goal of increasing student attainment and closing achievement gaps. This policy activity leads to long-term, system-wide changes that support all students and educators throughout Arizona and Florida. We have developed policy agendas that include championing, collaborating, and monitoring public policy activity.

One significant activity that Helios engaged in at a policy level during 2020 was our support of the 2020 Census. The Census faced many challenges from legal arguments to the impact of COVID-19. However, 2020 also showed us how critical an accurate Census count is to ensuring federal resources are invested in local communities. The Census has a direct impact on education specifically, as it determines the federal funds allocated for a number of education programs in each state. Census data determines funding for special education, Head Start programs, school nutrition, after-school programming and classroom technology, as well as maternal and child health programs.

Ultimately, communities came together to support the Census to ensure a complete and accurate count. Helios was proud to support this effort by funding NALEO Educational Fund’s work in both Arizona and Florida. In Arizona, Helios represented the philanthropic community by serving on the Governor’s Complete Count Committee. Although our support of the Census preceded the pandemic, COVID-19 impacted the work in unprecedented ways, and each state had to utilize new strategies to ensure an accurate count. Although there were challenges with the 2020 Census, both Arizona and Florida will  receive critical federal resources to support schools, school lunch programs, health care, roads, and community services.

In addition to our Census work, we continued implementing policy agendas in both states.  Through staff efforts and the support of Helios’ government and community affairs firm in Florida, Helios also supported the policy priorities and budget requests of several of our grantees, including Teach for America Florida and Take Stock in Children.

In Arizona, Helios continued to promote the Community Leaders Group framework, began work on establishing rigorous coursework legislation based upon research completed for the next legislative session, engaged with the Governor’s Office and Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office on federal investment priorities, and served on the Arizona Department of Education Tech Task Force that has begun discussions on long-term solutions to the digital divide.  Helios also played a lead role in using our voice to publicly oppose divisive legislation (HCR 2036/ SCR 1007 and HB 2598) that would undermine Latino Student Success and Arizona’s economy, as well as worked behind the scenes with legislators, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and other community organizations to stop these measures from moving forward.