Researchers, policymakers, educators and parents are increasingly recognizing the value and benefits of early childhood care and education. Even the President of the Unites States has made this issue a priority.
Research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. (Getty Images)
Last December, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents and business and community leaders to talk about the importance of quality early childhood education. The summit highlighted the launch of Invest in US, a new initiative created by the First Five Years Fund to help communities expand early learning programs by connecting them with philanthropic and private resources. The National League of Cities (NLC) is a partner with Invest in US in furthering these efforts.
President Obama hosts the White House Summit on Early Education on December 10, 2014. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
A growing body of research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. Economists have documented a return of $7 or more for each dollar invested in quality early education. This has been achieved partly through a reduced need for spending on services such as remedial and special education, and partly through increased productivity and earnings in adulthood. The long-term, societal returns on investment include a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, and fewer residents living in poverty.
Mayors and local officials have a unique ground-level perspective on the impact that a high-quality early education system can have on the lives of young people, families and residents. Local officials know that in order to improve educational, economic and social outcomes for young people, these systems must begin at birth and continue through preschool and into the early grades.
Cities in Action City leaders can and increasingly do play a lead role in ensuring more children and families have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.
Cities such as Hartford, Conn., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Seattle (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100 percent of preschoolers in school by 2019.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also established the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children, which serves to consolidate all policymaking, planning, coordination and implementation on early childhood issues. This cabinet is composed of nine elected and appointed public sector leaders who advise the mayor on policy issues affecting young children and their families. The cabinet also works with the mayor to advance the city’s early childhood plan.
Several years ago, city leaders in San Antonio decided to make early childhood education a high priority. To explore options for creating a citywide Pre-K program, former Mayor Julián Castro created the “Brainpower Taskforce.” Made up of members of the business community, school superintendents and education professionals, the taskforce determined that a tax increase would be necessary in order for the city to be able to fund a high-quality Pre-K program.
In November 2012, San Antonio voters passed the Pre-K4 SA initiative, increasing the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund a full-day Pre-K program for 4-year-olds. The initiative has demonstrated progress so far – preliminary results indicate that achievement gaps for children in the program, compared to kindergarten students who did not participate, have been reduced by at least 25 percent in language, 33 percent in math and 90 percent in literacy.
Finally, as part of our Early Alignment for Young Children initiative, NLC is working with six cities to promote the healthy development and education of children from birth to age eight. The initiative focuses on three key elements of educational alignment: formal partnerships or governance structures, quality professional development opportunities for early education providers, and parent engagement and family supports. Contact us to learn more!
About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.
Union City, Ga., Mayor Vince Williams at the Congressional City Conference Big Ideas for Small Cities event on Sunday, March 8, 2015. (Jason Dixson)
In a large city, implementing a creative idea doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between innovation and laying off a police officer. Smaller cities, on the other hand, have a significant challenge when it comes to establishing new programs – a smaller budget. This afternoon, mayors from small cities gave examples of out-of-the-box ideas that didn’t break their bank. Here are six ideas they shared with Congressional City Conference delegates:
1. Build your brand around a cultural endeavor: Mayor Jud Ashman of Gaithersburg, Maryland encourages small city leaders to define their community to the larger world through culture. The Gaithersburg Book Festival attracts prominent and celebrity authors from all over the world, not to mention scores of attendees who eat, shop, and stay in the city of Gaithersburg, which normally has a population of 64,000. He shares three tips for putting on this kind of game-changing event in your city: get the whole community involved (including schools, libraries, and private partners), make sure it occurs at the right time, and choose the right event for the market.
2. Believe in your own city. Mayor Nancy Backus of Auburn, Washington says “Show everyone how much you believe in your city, and they’ll believe in you.” Through a very tough economic time, Backus and her council asked “What can we do to attract developers?” And answered their question by restraining development fees, securing grants, and starting a small business assistance program.
3. Put people on your team without putting them on the payroll. If you have the challenges of a big city without the resources, Mayor Christian Price of Maricopa, Arizona suggests finding people in your city who can help change the narrative. These are well-connected, outgoing citizens who can serve as “ambassadors.” They are given accolades and responsibility to debunk the idea that their city is less desirable than their neighbors. Mayor Price’s ambassador program has tremendously changed the story of Maricopa, through real citizens who love their community and want to share it.
4. Have vision for your community. Mayor Vince Williams of Union City, Georgia transformed a failing mall into a movie set, and brought 800-1200 jobs into his city in one year. After a lot of work and state lobbying, this endeavor brought incredible opportunities for young people, huge growth in small businesses, job training, tourism, and tax credits. Identify what challenges could transform into something beneficial for your whole community.
5. The three most important ways to improve your community are partnerships, partnerships, and partnerships. Mayor Garrett Nancolas of Caldwell, Idaho created the Caldwell Youth Master Plan using resources from NLC’s YEF Institute and collaboration with public and private partnerships. For example, the city now offers free swimming lessons for all 3rd graders with help from the bus companies, who bus kids free of charge to this important after-school program that directly correlates to a major improvement in reading scores. Crime has gone down and reading scores have gone up since Mayor Nancolas began collaborating to meet huge goals. Caldwell is now considered one of America’s 100 best communities for young people!
6. Provide education for your business owners. After his city lost its successful and vibrant downtown due to big box shopping centers and online retailers, Mayor Stan Koci of Bedford, Ohio joined with his small town downtown retailers to revitalize the area through education. To reengage with the community identity of Bedford, he invested public dollars to fund free classes to give retailers the tools they need to grow with the times and prosper as small business owners.
Want more big ideas? This event kicks off NLC’s brand new, ever-growing database of City Practices. This is a resource for you to find examples of initiatives and projects in cities of all sizes across the country.
About the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more creative clothing.
REAL Talk Town Hall panel members listen as NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone discusses relationships between Cleveland police and community members.
National League of Cities President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker today announced the launch of a new NLC program, the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative. The announcement was made at the first REAL Talk Town Hall meeting at the Congressional Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 10th. FOX News Commentator Juan Williams moderated a provocative discussion with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone, and President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Member Dr. Cedric Alexander.
More than 400 city leaders attended the riveting discussion on race and justice in our communities and the challenge and opportunity to build trusting relationships between the community and police. Panel members began by sharing stories about the challenges they face regarding racial inequities in education, criminal justice and housing systems, and highlighted actions they are taking to implement programs and partnerships that include youth employment programs and citizen ambassadors programs.
The second panel was moderated by NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, and featured leaders from NLC constituency groups – Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Suzanne Chan, Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials (APAMO) President and San Marcos, Texas, Mayor Daniel Guerrero, Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO) Board Member and Wilmington, Del., Councilmember Dr. Hanifa Shabazz, and National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Vice-President and District Heights, Md., Mayor James Walls. The panel also included Julie Nelson, the director for the Local and Regional Government Alliance for Race and Equity. Panel members provided helpful insights on understanding race and equity issues in diverse communities, and expressed the need to take careful steps to normalize the conversation about race in communities with a common understanding and language before organizing to advance racial equity.
Finally, Executive Director Anthony introduced REAL Director Leon T. Andrews, Jr., and encouraged city leaders to stay engaged and join the REAL network to get next steps, share experiences and learn more about what others are doing to combat racial inequity in communities across the nation.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re the mayor of a big city or a small town – you understand that the economy is dynamic now, and you can’t just stand still; you can’t rest on your laurels.”
– President Barack Obama
At NLC’s Congressional City Conference on Monday, President Obama addressed an enthusiastic crowd of over 2,000 mayors and councilmembers from small towns and large cities. The President used this opportunity to announce a brand new initiative, TechHire. Watch the video of his announcement. (Jason Dixson/jasondixson.com)
The President’s TechHire initiative is intended to create a pipeline of tech workers for the 21st century economy, and help local leaders connect tech training programs to available jobs. As the President noted, “right now, America has more job openings than at any point since 2001… Over half a million of those jobs are technology jobs.”
The 20 communities that the White House is holding up as models – the list includes cities such as St. Louis, Louisville and San Antonio alongside high-tech havens such as San Francisco – have demand for tech jobs that appears to outstrip supply. But in many communities, employers may be overlooking talented applicants because they don’t have four-year degrees. As the president observed, a college degree is not necessary for many positions in the tech field. “Folks can get the skills they need for these jobs in newer, streamlined, faster training programs,” he said. These 20 TechHire communities will help employers link up and find and hire potential employees based on their skills and not just their résumés.
Cities already engaged in efforts to boost their rate of postsecondary credential attainment, including training programs, such as those participating in the Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnerships for Attainment initiative and Kresge Foundation-supported partnerships, can take advantage of a new competitive grant program under TechHire. The Obama Administration is launching a $100 million competition for innovative ideas to train and employ people who are underrepresented in tech.
TechHire aims to reach women and people of color, who are still underrepresented in this sector, as well as veterans and lower-income workers, who might have the aptitude for tech jobs but lack the opportunity to access them.
Overall, as concerns about a “skills gap” continue to abound – even without clear evidence of how quickly employers would grow their workforces if more skilled potential employees presented themselves for hiring – the Obama Administration is taking a bold step forward to offer employers what they’ve been asking for – more qualified workers who can fill the demand for tech jobs.
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.
This is a guest post by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. It originally appeared here.
If you were to build a city from scratch, using current technology, what would it cost to live there? I think it would be nearly free if you did it right.
This is a big deal because people aren’t saving enough for retirement, and many folks are underemployed. If the economy can’t generate enough money for everyone to pay for a quality lifestyle today, perhaps we can approach it from the other direction and lower the cost of living.
Consider energy costs. We already know how to build homes that use zero net energy. So that budget line goes to zero if you build a city from scratch. Every roof will be intelligently oriented to the sun, and every energy trick will be used in the construction of the homes. (I will talk about the capital outlay for solar panels and whatnot later.)
I can imagine a city built around communal farming in which all the food is essentially free. Imagine every home with a greenhouse. All you grow is one crop in your home, all year, and the Internet provides an easy sharing system as well as a way to divide up the crops in a logical way. I share my cucumbers and in return get whatever I need from the other neighbors’ crops via an organized ongoing sharing arrangement. My guess is that using the waste water (treated) and excess heat from the home you could grow food economically in greenhouses. If you grow more than you eat, the excess is sold in neighboring towns, and that provides enough money for you to buy condiments, sauces, and stuff you can’t grow at home.
Medical costs will never go to zero, but recent advances in medical testing technology (which I have seen up close in start-up pitches) will drive the costs of routine medical services down by 80% over time. That’s my guess, based on the several pitches I have seen.
Now add Big Data to the mix and the ability to catch problems early (when they are inexpensive to treat) is suddenly tremendous.
Now add IBM’s Watson technology (artificial intelligence) to the medical system and you will be able to describe your symptoms to your phone and get better-than-human-doctor diagnoses right away. (Way better. Won’t even be close.) So doctor visits will become largely unnecessary except for emergency room visits, major surgeries, and end-of-life stuff.
Speaking of end-of-life, assume doctor-assisted-suicide is legal by the time this city is built. I plan to make sure that happens in California on the next vote. Other states will follow. In this imagined future you can remove much of the unnecessary costs of the cruel final days of life that are the bulk of medical expenses.
Now assume the city of the future has exercise facilities nearby for everyone, and the city is designed to promote healthy living. Everyone would be walking, swimming, biking, and working out. That should reduce healthcare costs.
Now imagine that because everyone is growing healthy food in their own greenhouses, the diet of this new city is spectacular. You’d have to make sure every home had a smoothie-maker for protein shakes. And let’s say you can buy meat from the outside if you want it, so no one is deprived. But the meat-free options will improve from the sawdust and tofu tastes you imagine now to something much more enjoyable over time. Healthy eaters who associate with other healthy eaters share tricks for making healthy food taste amazing.
Now assume the homes are organized such that they share a common center “grassy” area that is actually artificial turf so you don’t need water and mowing. Every home opens up to the common center, which has security cameras, WiFi, shady areas, dog bathroom areas, and more. This central lawn creates a natural “family” of folks drawn to the common area each evening for fun and recreation. This arrangement exists in some communities and folks rave about the lifestyle, as dogs and kids roam freely from home to home encircling the common open area.
That sort of home configuration takes care of your childcare needs, your pet care needs, and lots of other things that a large “family” handles easily. The neighborhood would be Internet-connected so it would be easy to find someone to watch your kid or dog if needed, for free. My neighborhood is already connected by an email group, so if someone sees a suspicious activity, for example, the entire neighborhood is alerted in minutes.
I assume that someday online education will be far superior to the go-to-school model. Online education improves every year while the classroom experience has started to plateau. Someday every home will have what I call an immersion room, which is a small room with video walls so you can immerse yourself in history, or other studies, and also visit other places without leaving home. (Great for senior citizens especially.) So the cost of education will drop to zero as physical schools become less necessary.
When anyone can learn any skill at home, and any job opening is easy to find online, the unemployment rate should be low. And given the low cost of daily living, folks can afford to take a year off to retool and learn new skills.
The repair and maintenance costs of homes can drop to nearly zero if you design homes from the start to accomplish that goal. You start by using common windows, doors, fixtures, and mechanical systems from a fixed set of choices. That means you always have the right replacement part nearby. Everyone has the same AC units, same Internet routers, and so on. If something breaks, a service guy swaps it out in an hour. Or do it yourself. If you start from scratch to make your homes maintenance-free, you can get close. You would have homes that never need paint, with floors and roofs that last hundreds of years, and so on.
Today it costs a lot to build a home, but most of that cost is in the inefficiency of the process. In the future, homes will be designed to the last detail using CAD, and factory-cut materials of the right size will appear on the job site as a snap-together kit with instructions printed on each part. I could write a book on this topic, but the bottom line is that home construction is about 80% higher than it needs to be even with current technology.
The new city would be built on cheap land, by design, so land costs would be minimal. Construction costs for a better-than-today condo-sized home would probably be below $75,000 apiece. Amortized over 15 years the payments are tiny. And after the 15th year there is no mortgage at all. (The mortgage expense includes the solar panels, greenhouses, etc.)
Transportation would be cheap in this new city. Individually-owned automobiles would be banned. Public transportation would be on-demand and summoned by app (like Uber).
And the self-driving cars would be cheap to build. Once human drivers are out of the picture you can remove all of the safety features because accidents won’t happen. And you only summon a self-driving car that is the size you need. There is no reason to drag an empty back seat and empty trunk everywhere you go. And if you imagine underground roads, the cars don’t need to be weather-proof. And your sound system is your phone, so the car just needs speakers and Bluetooth. Considering all of that, self-driving cars might someday cost $5,000 apiece, and that expense would be shared across several users on average. And imagine the cars are electric, and the city produces its own electricity. Your transportation budget for the entire family might be $200 per month within the city limits.
The cost of garbage service could drop to nearly zero if homes are designed with that goal in mind. Your food garbage would go back to the greenhouse as mulch. You wouldn’t have much processed food in this city, so no cans and bottles to discard. And let’s say you ban the postal service from this new city because all they do is deliver garbage anyway. (All bills will be online.) And let’s say if you do accumulate a bag of garbage you can just summon a garbage vehicle to meet you at the curb using the same app you use for other vehicles. By the time you walk to the curb, the vehicle pulls up, and you toss the bag in.
I think a properly-designed city could eliminate 80% of daily living expenses while providing a quality of life far beyond what we experience today. And I think this future will have to happen because the only other alternative is an aggressive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor by force of law. I don’t see that happening.
How can local leaders create a community-building activity that helps citizens make healthy food choices and get outside more? Gardens may be the ideal answer.
Mizmor L’David Garden
While you may not have immediately jumped to the same conclusion, consider that gardens are a valuable resource, providing a good source of nutritional local produce, an opportunity for community engagement, and symbiotic environmental stewardship efforts.
In my travels to urban gardens throughout the city of Jerusalem last summer to conduct food security and community participation surveys, I found the interdependent benefits of locally grown foods too tempting to ignore. Even with the severe water shortages inherent in a desert climate, the proliferation of gardens and edible landscaping in Jerusalem allows cheap access to fresh produce and helps to eliminate food deserts. Whether this is accomplished through a private venture, a municipal undertaking, or even participation in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), gardens offer rewarding personal and community experiences as well as health and environmental benefits.
From a health perspective, growing your own food or participating in a CSA puts you in control of what’s fueling your body – you choose the seeds (for all those non-GMO lovers), and you control the pesticides (or lack thereof). Gardening can even be a form of moderate cardiovascular exercise.
Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School Garden
In Jerusalem, community-wide urban gardens are run by volunteers or non-profit organizations such as Hand in Hand, and they often offer the fruits of their labor to the public in a very literal sense. Private garden owners donate extra produce to religious institutions or schools such as Mizmor L’David, with some even selling their surplus. Water for the community gardens’ drip irrigation systems is generally provided and paid for by the municipality. One garden run by the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem Bilingual School brings students and their families, of both Jewish and Muslim faiths, together for garden work days to achieve a common goal and vision. Whereas crops such as olives, cactus fruit, almonds, pomegranate and figs differed slightly from those found in the more temperate U.S. climate, I was surprised to find that these Jerusalem gardens boast large yields of peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggplants and even corn.
I was able to experience urban agriculture first-hand in Jerusalem, but municipalities across the US – as well as NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute – are no stranger to gardens and best practices. A growing number of cities across the nation are already promoting the growth of urban agriculture through direct community engagement by passing new zoning policies and by creating Sustainability Plans and local food networks. So this year, instead of stocking up on frozen or artificially low-calorie, low-fat products, try to discover the resources and opportunities available in your neighborhood for locally-grown fresh produce. You might be inspired to participate in a community garden – or even start one of your own!
Two developments last week provide opportunities for cities to connect young people to the outdoors and to local history.
The President’s new Every Kid in a Park initiative will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to our national parks. (Getty Images)
For some children, spending time outdoors isn’t as easy as it should be. In many communities, safety concerns and a lack of access to parks and green space hinder young people from spending quality time outside. This, coupled with a national screen time average of 7½ hours a day (seven days a week) among eight to eighteen year olds, has contributed to an increasingly indoor and sedentary lifestyle for many young people.
Last week, President Obama announced a new initiative, dubbed Every Kid in a Park. This initiative will provide all fourth-grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands for a year beginning in September 2015. It’s an important step to providing needed access to the outdoors and ensuring that kids across the country have the opportunity to visit America’s national parks and landmarks. President Obama also requested new funding in his FY 2016 Budget to support transportation for school outings to parks for students from low-income areas.
In line with the Administration’s new initiative, NLC is partnering with the Children & Nature Network on the Cities Promoting Access to Nature initiative. This new, three-year project will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to parks, green space and natural areas, with a focus on children and youth in economically stressed communities.
New National Monuments
Along with the Every Kid in a Park Initiative, the President announced that he is designating three new national monuments, including the Pullman National Monument in Chicago. “What makes Pullman special is the role it plays in our history,” President Obama said on a recent trip to Chicago, where he designated the factory district a national monument. “This place has been a milestone in our journey toward a more perfect union.”
The Pullman District was America’s first planned industrial town, created in the 1880s to house railroad and factory workers. Many of the jobs in the Pullman district went to African Americans, and the site became a symbol of economic opportunity for African Americans and other minority groups. The area was also where the seeds for the modern labor rights movement were planted. In 1894, workers organized a strike after railroad mogul George Pullman refused to lower rents when he lowered wages.
The designation of Pullman as a national monument means that fourth-graders and their families in Chicago, and from cities and towns across the country, will have the opportunity to visit the site (at no charge) and learn about our nation’s rich labor and civil rights history.
About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.
Providing meals for children through federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs is a win-win opportunity for cities. Cities benefit by bringing more federal funds into their neighborhoods, and can improve the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing their access to healthy meals and their participation in fun and safe activities during out-of-school time hours. It is important for mayors and other city leaders to build strong partnerships with stakeholders, such as statewide anti-hunger groups, schools, food banks and other community organizations, to implement meal programs in ways that maximize quality and participation. These stakeholders can serve as important outreach partners that help city leaders connect with their residents to make sure they are aware of the resources available to them. Here are five ways that city leaders can promote afterschool and summer meal programs in their communities. 1. Use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of child hunger and promote out-of-school time meal programs. Local elected officials can write op-eds for local newspapers, emphasize the need for afterschool and summer meal programs in public speeches or at events, and promote afterschool and summer meal programs on the city’s website and through newsletters and social media. 2. Publicize out-of-school time meals through a targeted marketing strategy. An important component of any marketing strategy for out-of-school time meals is a kick-off event. These events can raise awareness about meal programs in a way that brings key stakeholders and families together. Mayors can use kick-off events to frame afterschool and summer meals as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders. Cities can also take advantage of existing national resources such as the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) to make meal program site locations and operating hours easily accessible to families. In addition, cities can advertise information about meal sites on utility bills, via robo-calls, or through the city’s 311 information line or the United Way’s 211 information line. 3. Sponsor Afterschool or Summer Meal Programs. City agencies such as parks and recreation or departments of housing are well-suited to be sponsors of afterschool and summer meal programs and to host meal sites at local facilities, e.g., recreation centers. Staff from a mayor’s office can also coordinate a working group or task force that focuses on the issue of child hunger and identifies strategies to reduce it, including initiatives to increase participation in out-of-school time meal programs. City staff relationships with key community partners, as well as knowledge of where young people congregate after school and during the summer, are integral to the success of these programs. 4. Partner with community organizations that serve afterschool and summer meals. Local nonprofits and other afterschool providers often act as sponsors to provide afterschool and summer meals as well as activities for young people before and/or after meals. Cities can leverage funding for meal programs in partnership with community-based organizations. 5. Incorporate child nutrition goals into a broader citywide agenda. City leaders can work with staff responsible for broader citywide initiatives such as Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties or other initiatives that focus on children and youth to expand the reach and scope of child nutrition programming. To learn more, check out our new issue brief on afterschool and summer meals. About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at email@example.com.
Communities can succeed in ensuring that all students achieve their full potential when parents and families are fully engaged as partners and allies.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend two days in Madison, Wisconsin with Mayor Paul Soglin, his senior staff and a variety of key community partners who are working to close opportunity gaps and expand out-of-school time learning across the city.
An early afternoon meeting in Mayor Soglin’s office was half tutorial, half search for answers to vexing questions. Bar graphs flashed across a large, wall-mounted screen, the starting point for a probing discussion of how both white and African American households have fared in Madison and the surrounding county after the Great Recession, and the role that the city’s Neighborhood Resource Teams may have played in recent economic gains. A line graph sparked an energetic conversation about the role that the closure of a local community health center may have played in a sharp upturn in infant mortality among African Americans.
A common thread in the discussion was the attention to racial disparities. Madison has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between white and African American, Latino and Asian students, a crisis that weighs heavily on the conscience and self-image of this progressive community. Race to Equity, a local effort dedicated to closing these gaps, helps keep the issue and key data at the forefront of city deliberations.
One key part of the city’s strategy to address its achievement gap, and the critical opportunity gaps that fuel its persistence, was on display the next day in a community conversation hosted by the City of Madison in partnership with NLC and the U.S. Department of Education. The Saturday event, sponsored by the Madison Out-of-School Time (MOST) initiative and held at a local Boys and Girls Club, drew a crowd of more than 100 participants, including Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, Dane County Human Services Director Lynn Green, representatives of community-based organizations and a diverse group of parents and other neighborhood residents.
I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the group, underscoring the important role that Mayor Soglin has played in NLC’s Mayor’s Education Reform Task Force and the potential for mayoral leadership in expanding learning opportunities for all children. Eddie Martin, Special Assistant for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized Secretary Arne Duncan’s commitment to supporting city-school collaborations that seek to improve public schools and close achievement gaps.
The central message of the day, however, was that Madison can succeed in its efforts to ensure that all students achieve their full potential only if all segments of the community – and most importantly parents and families – are fully engaged as partners and allies. The community conversation organized by Mayor Soglin represented a key first step in that direction.
About the Author: Clifford M. Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.
This is the seventh post in NLC’s 90th Anniversary series.
NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., has made education a centerpiece of his mayoral vision.
As the National League of Cities celebrates its 90th year of service to cities, we are heartened to see that improving educational outcomes for young people has become a top priority for mayors and local elected officials across the country. Although most mayors and other municipal leaders do not have formal authority over school districts, they understand how critical education is to building up their communities. They know that the quality of their schools is directly tied to the quality of life and well-being of their residents.
Mayors and education leaders must work in partnership to help young people succeed. And many are doing just that.
For almost 15 years, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) has been working with mayors and councilmembers in cities across the country to exercise leadership to support K-12 education, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates and promote college access and completion. We have also been working hand in hand with mayors and councilmembers to expand and improve high quality afterschool programs in communities across the nation.
The YEF Institute has worked with cities to establish local teams to develop action plans with specific goals and measures. Typically led by mayors, these teams are comprised of school superintendents, community- and faith-based organizations, local colleges and universities and business leaders. Over the years we have worked with and assisted mayors in leading local education initiatives — all in partnership with school districts and other community stakeholders.
Partnerships between cities and school districts are powerful because together these entities can collectively own the problems and share in the successes. Examples of successful partnerships that we have helped support over the last 15 years include:
In the Institute’s early years we worked with local officials and school leaders to address the persistent student achievement gap and improve literacy and attendance rates in cities such as Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Mich.
During the middle years, we focused on introducing small school models in Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Newark, N.J. to address the rise in high school dropout rates.
In more recent years, we have focused on ensuring that more low-income young people are attending and completing college. We have worked with Mesa, Ariz., Riverside, Calif., and San Francisco among others to establish multi-sector partnerships between mayors, school superintendents and local community colleges. We now have a growing network of 18 cities through our Postsecondary Success City Action Network (P-SCAN), with mayors playing key leadership roles.
For 11 years we have maintained a strong network of mayors through the Education Policy Advisors Network, drawn from the 75 largest cities in the U.S. Our Afterschool Policy Advisors Network is also strong. These networks provide city leaders a unique opportunity to share best practices and learn about the latest research in the field.
Most recently, NLC entered into a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to increase the visibility and understanding of the role that mayors can play in leading educational change in their communities. As a result of this partnership, 15 cities are holding community conversations on education, with a focus on early childhood, afterschool and postsecondary education.
Educated citizens are likely to contribute more to the economy and build a stronger workforce. Businesses are more likely to want to place their anchors in communities with good schools. Mayors and councilmembers care deeply about these issues, and so do we.
The YEF Institute is committed to supporting cities by providing technical assistance, sharing best practices, creating robust peer learning opportunities and developing effective tools to support communities in their work to build better communities by improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all residents.
About the Author:Audrey M. Hutchinson is the Program Director of Education and Afterschool Initiatives in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.