status update

Walcott touts Young Men's Initiative as DOE inches forward

Chancellor Walcott speaks at the Mayor's Young Mens Initiative Summit in Harlem.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wanted attendees at the Mayor’s Young Men’s Initiative Summit to know that even programs with the best intentions can be tricky to execute.

This lesson, he said, would be particularly important for city officials as they implement a sweeping new initiative to address the educational and economic disparities between male students of color and their peers.

Walcott stopped by the day-long summit to represent the Department of Education, which is leading up the Expanded Success Initiative, one of several prongs of the Bloomberg administration’s  Young Men’s Initiative. At a cost of $24 million, the project will bring researchers into schools that are succeeding with male students of color. But nearly nine months after it was announced, the department still hasn’t picked which schools to show off.

The city has assembled a shortlist of 81 eligible schools and will by the end of May pick 40 who want to participate — and receive a $250,000 bonus. To be eligible, a school must have a four-year graduation rate above 65 percent, an A or B on its most recent progress report, and a student body where at least 35 percent are black or Latino males and 60 percent are qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. It must also promise to implement even more aggressive strategies to help black and Latino male students.

When he announced the Young Men’s Initiative in August, Mayor Bloomberg promised swift changes to schools serving the highest proportions of black and Latino students. Already, the department has begun giving high schools extra credit when those students make progress. Schools have started to benefit from a literacy program and a middle school mentoring initiative, neither of which the department is administering. But the Expanded Success Initiative has been slow to start.

The summit, which was held at Harlem Hospital and only open to the media in the morning, made good on the city’s promise to bring together leaders of local and national non-profits, foundations, city agencies to brainstorm how to connect students with mentors.

While skirting specifics of the Expanded Success Initiative during his short speech, Walcott got his audience of city employees and community organization leaders laughing this morning as he described his first foray into youth mentorship, the subject of the morning panel. In the 1970s he founded a Queens spin-off of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, a national mentorship program, to pair students ages 5 through 12 with older mentors.

Walcott pushed the program in the local media, and ran a television announcement adjacent to “Soul Train,” an iconic music show. But he said the response from community members who wanted to volunteer was too overwhelming for one person running the program alone.

“I didn’t have any researched strategies in place, I just had good intentions,” he said. “Between the Daily News article, which was a front page article, and the [Public Service Announcement] in front of ‘Soul Train,’ or during ‘Soul Train,’ there’s was a huge volume of information going in.”

Walcott fit this anecdote into a larger message about the importance of cross-agency collaboration to the success of the Young Men’s Initiative, an ambitious set of youth programs with a collective $127 million price tag.

“One size does not fit all. It’s not just having a big brother or a little brother,” he said. “It’s a variety of different ways of being a mentor to people who are out there, especially young men of color.”

Walcott spoke directly following a panel discussion about the value of youth mentorship, featuring Leslie Cornfeld, chair of the Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement, and several community and youth mentoring organization leaders.

Walcott championed the notion of system-wide collaboration during the question-and-answer session, after one attendee raised a question central to the Young Men’s Initiative: How will the city make a long-term impact on the grim college readiness rate for black and Latino students, which hovers around 13 percent?

“It’s really great that we’ve raised this million dollars for this mentoring,” the speaker said, “but who is looking at this as an entire system, so that in ten years we’re not back looking at how we’re going to spend a million dollars to save a generation of kids?”

“Your question is right on. It’s a collective effort of the Department of Education, the people on the stage, and the people here in the audience as far as working together,” Walcott said. “Through the Expanded Success Initiative we are identifying schools that have done the job well, particularly with black and Latino males, and black and Latino students, and replicating that success in other schools.”

The Department of Education’s list of schools that are eligible to apply for the Expanded Success Initiative is below.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”