study says...

A $24 million New York City program was supposed to prepare more black and Latino men for college. But a new study found it didn’t.

PHOTO: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the Expanded Success Initiative in 2012, he hoped to address a problem that had vexed policymakers: How can schools get more young black and Latino men not only to graduation — but also ready for college?

With just 10 percent of male students of color graduating “college ready” at the time, city officials hoped to boost that number by giving extra money and support to schools that already made strides getting those students to graduation. With extra resources, the theory went, those same schools might be able to nudge young men of color into college while the city studied and replicated their approaches.

But after four years and $24 million, the program has not lived up to its promise, according to a report released Wednesday by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Schools in the program turned out to be no better at preparing young men of color for college or helping them enroll than a group of similar schools that didn’t receive extra support.

“The aspirations were very high,” said Adriana Villavicencio, the lead author of the study, which, like the initiative itself, was funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. “[The initiative] was not able to move the needle on a number of student outcomes — in particular college readiness and college enrollment, which were the primary goals stated at the outset.”

The Expanded Success Initiative, launched as part of a broader effort to aid black and Latino young men across the city, included 40 high schools that had strong graduation rates among young men of color, but still struggled to meet the city’s new college readiness metrics.

Those schools received $250,000 in one-time funding, ramped up academics, added college counseling and career preparation programs, and were asked to implement some combination of mentoring, tutoring, and leadership opportunities. Schools were also encouraged to promote culturally responsive education — such as studying texts featuring protagonists of color — and less strict approaches to student misbehavior.

Exactly how the program was implemented at each school varied considerably: Some schools created small advisory groups for students to talk about academic challenges or offered SAT prep sessions. Others focused on expanding AP classes or offering workshops for parents on college financial aid.

About 16 percent of black and Latino male students at the participating schools were found to be college ready, compared to 18.6 percent of the same group of students at comparison schools, the report found, though the difference was not statistically significant.

So why didn’t the program lead to better academic outcomes for young men of color?

One possible reason, the study notes, is that the program looked different at every school that participated, making it difficult to hold schools accountable for completely buying in or picking high-quality programs (a frustration some of the program’s managers expressed).

Second, the effort included a broad range of initiatives designed to make schools more welcoming for students of color, including different approaches to discipline, but did not always drill deep into college preparation. (The program did not improve student attendance or reduce suspensions.)

“Those of us who have seen a lot of educational evaluations show essentially no effect — I think we were anticipating this would be really hard,” Villavicencio said.

The third potential reason the program fell short, researchers found, was the $250,000 funding boost was designed to phase out just after the halfway point of the four-year program, which made schools less faithful to the initiative.

At Manhattan’s New Design High School, for instance, Principal Scott Conti used the program to take students on a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit colleges and museums, add a counselor who helped students with academic or life issues, and train staff members in culturally responsive education. But after the funding dried up, Conti lost the counselor he had hired.

“It’s a great initiative,” he said. But, he added, “They opened up and tried to get to 100 miles per hour then closed very quickly.”

Despite some lackluster results in boosting academic outcomes, the effort has produced other significant benefits. Students at Expanded Success Initiative schools were more likely to receive college advising, go on college trips, and participate in mentoring programs.

And based on hundreds of interviews and surveys, the researchers found that students were more likely to feel a sense of “fair treatment” and belonging at school and were also likelier to talk with adults about their plans after graduation (though they were no more likely than students at similar schools to apply to college).

“Students can feel so alienated when they come into school buildings,” said Villavicencio, who helped conduct interviews at schools in the program. “To hear them talk about their schools in such a positive way signaled a shift in the school environment for boys of color.”

But the researchers point out that the improvements in school culture were supposed to also improve college access. “These patterns suggest that we cannot assume, as [the program’s] theory of action does, that greater participation in these activities, more college-focused support, and a greater sense of belonging in high school will promote college access and success — at least not on their own.”

Josh Thomases, a top education department official during the Bloomberg administration and one of the program’s architects, also pointed to other less tangible ways the Expanded Success Initiative has made an impact. He said the effort helped make boosting college readiness for black and Latino young men a higher priority that was “less siloed” in the education department.

It also helped raise awareness around culturally relevant education “in a way that was entirely absent five years ago,” he said.

Still, Thomases acknowledges the program didn’t pan out as he hoped.

“We never thought 40 schools were going to break the ceiling and figure it all out,” he said. “I’d be lying to say I wasn’t hoping for more.”

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.