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"Say Yes" Success Requires Patience in Syracuse

10:14 PM, Dec 21, 2011   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The "Say Yes to Education" program, which is coming to Buffalo, has been up and running in Syracuse since 2008. While it has received wide praise, it also requires patience, perhaps more than some realize.

The point of the program's free tuition is to get everyone in the community to buy into an even bigger program, which is designed to turn around struggling city school districts.

In Syracuse, "Say Yes" is responsible for helping to send nearly 600 Syracuse high school grads off to college each year. It also is improving the quality of education of younger students. But what it has not done, at least not yet, is dramatically improve graduation rates or test scores there.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, which evaluated the program as it entered its fourth year there, so far, neither high-school graduation or college attendance rates have increased. State test scores remained "dismal," and district enrollment at first rose, but then fell.

Bob Bennett, of the New York State Board of Regents, said the program's results will come, but perhaps not immediately.

REPORTER: Is it fair to say there is no quick fix for these problems?

BENNETT: Not anywhere in the United States. It doesn't exist... I don't think people should have false expectations that in one school year we're going to see dramatic increases. That wouldn't be realistic.

"Say Yes" does not expect any turnaround in test scores and graduation rates to start showing up until years four, five and six -- when the grade schoolers they first reach finally hit high school.

In Syracuse, and eventually here, the program fully evaluates all of the school district's spending, recommending cuts in some areas and increases in others. That means board members, the teachers union, and parents must all be on board for the big dreams and high hopes to eventually become reality.

So far, all of the major parties in Buffalo appear to be buying in. The program has seen great success in places like Harlem and Cambridge, Massachusetts. While supporters urge Buffalo families to be patient with the program, they also say it's very possible Buffalo could start seeing results faster than Syracuse, because there, they implemented the program gradually, one section of the city at a time.

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