DOE dealt large portion of funds to narrow achievement gap

One of the largest pots of money in the city’s new initiative to aid black and Latino young men is going to the Department of Education.

Of the initiative’s $127 million price tag, $24 million will be used to study and develop the best practices of city high schools that have best prepared male minority students for college and work. Billionaire philanthropist George Soros will foot the bill for the three-year program, called the Expanded Success Initiative.

The funding will allow the Department of Education to hire a team of research consultants to study 40 high schools with a track record of bridging the achievement gap for black and Latino male students. Josh Thomases, the DOE’s deputy chief academic officer charged with coordinating the program, said the city had not yet identified the schools that would be studied.

“We’re looking for schools with a high concentration of black and Latino boys, with high poverty and Title I funding, but with an evidence of success,” Thomases said.

“We’re agnostic to what kind of school it is,” he added. “We’re looking at the schools that have had success graduating black and Latino boys at a high school level and expanding it to other schools.”

Thomases, citing a study published by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) last year, said that he would look particularly close at small high schools in New York City, which have shown higher rates of graduation and credit accumulation.

The high school program is part of a broader plan, the Young Men’s Initiative, unveiled by Mayor Bloomberg this morning that aims to help a segment of the city’s population that Bloomberg said were disadvantaged across the board.

“When we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates, and employment rates, one thing stands out: blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape,” Bloomberg said today.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation, which operates two city schools, served on the steering committee for the Young Men’s Initiative.

More than a third of the plan’s funding – $42 million – will go to education programs, which Walcott said was necessary to achieve the initiatives larger goals objective of lower poverty, less violent crime and higher employment.

“We’ve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” Walcott said in a statement. “But in order for all students to meet our highest expectations and have a chance at successful futures, we need to go a step further.”

The achievement gap, which measures the disparity in performance between white students and minority students, has narrowed according to some measures since 2005, but stark differences remain. Last year, white students graduated 18 percent more often than black students, and graduate 20 percent more often than Hispanic students, according to DOE graduation data.

The other education initiatives include a $3 million mentoring program for middle school boys and a $3 million literacy program for high school students who are well below reading proficiency standards. Neither program will be coordinated under the DOE, however.

The entire cross-agency initiative, which include job training and other social programs,  will be paid for with $67.5 million from city funding, $30 million from Soros’ Open Society Foundations, which has tackled similar problems in Baltimore, and $30 million from Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”