From Low-Skilled to College Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out- Part 3

Flickr: Gates Foundation

This post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. It is the third in a series on dropout reengagement, drawn from the case study: For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way? which details the work of two community organizations. The study is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and The Pinkerton Foundation. To comment, write peterkleinbard@Verizon.net.

In the previous post I highlighted two programs for young adults who have dropped out of school and how they have gained flexibility by convincing funders to support longer periods of service. This post focuses on a major gap in serving youth who have dropped out, the quality of classroom work.

Many young adults drop out because of their struggles in the classroom. While our field has often focused on counseling and work experiences, further education is essential to achieve economic independence.

In the study, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop out of High School and What Can Be Done About It, Russell Rumbergpulls together leading research and concludes: “educational performance…is the single most important predictor of whether students drop out or graduate from high school.” Academics are highlighted again in a recent study that tracked a single cohort of New York City students from elementary through high school: “and only one in three of the students who failed to meet the third-grade [English Language Arts] standard [emphasis added] graduated from high school.”

While numerous factors may contribute to dropping out, such as those highlighted in America’s Promise Alliance’s recent report, disengagement stemming from academic struggles is nearly always central. For young adults to build skills in reading, writing, oral communication and math, they must become engaged in learning. When instruction is done well, young adults take pleasure in learning.

Interviewed youth affirmed research findings as to what keeps them engaged in learning:

  • High interest materials
  • Activities that feel tailored to them as individuals
  • A sense of control from knowing where they stand and what more they need to achieve
  • Caring staff who expresses belief in their success

A Model for Engaging Young Adults in Academic Study

In my study, Site A adopted a model developed by an intermediary rather than creating its own program. Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) integrates research findings from youth development with those from instruction and is designed to address the needs and strengths specific to young adults. In this guide, I focus on the literacy component, though the work in math is similar. (For purposes of transparency, I was involved in the development of CEPS.)

The program created a structure of progressively more demanding classes, so that a young adult who enters at any skill level can move up to college preparation. Teachers receive training and ongoing coaching in delivering instruction. For example, they are taught to use high-interest books at reading levels that enable students to experience mastery. Assessments are used both to place students in classes and to target specific skill gaps. Non-instructional staff are trained how to reinforce the work of instructors and meets regularly with instructors as a team to strategize about students. The emphasis is on consistent and systematic application in the classroom and other program components.

Classes are highly structured and therefore follow the same sequence of activities each day. Work is familiar and comfortable to students, even as it increases in difficulty. While focusing on instruction, the model reshapes the entire program as an integrated whole, addressing counseling, transition planning and other components.

Following an encouraging evaluation, the city in which Site A is based adopted the model and is funding several sites to implement it, adding a work experience component. These and other strategies are detailed in documentation about the model and a three-year evaluation of eight sites.

As readers know, the path to financial independence is long and uneven for many young people, especially those with poor skills. For students that desire immediate work experience, Site A’s staff tries to place them so that their work schedules allow continuation in education. In other sites, young adults who had gained solid work skills – carpentry or using common software – acquired jobs, though rarely steady, that provided income so that they could continue their studies. Although many returned, for others there were periodic hiatuses in their participation.

Our challenge as a field is to make sure that we support the hopes for success of young adults with engaging and effective programs. Some are ready to move ahead when they come to our doors; others will need time before they are ready to sustain their commitment. For practitioners, this requires flexibility, a high degree of commitment, and a determination to find and implement approaches with solid evidence of success.

Peter KleinbardAbout the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.

Keeping the Promises in Jacksonville, Florida

This post was written by the Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor, Jacksonville, Florida. It originally appeared on the GradNation blog.

dropout reengagement

As mayor of Jacksonville, I recognize the importance of education to the success and vitality of a city.

By equipping students with the skills they need to achieve their fullest potential, we ensure our city has a talented and competitive workforce ready to meet the challenges of the global economy. Support for education must be the responsibility of the entire community – we all have an interest in providing empowerment and opportunity to our young people.

That’s why it was so important to me to bring a GradNation Community Summit to Jacksonville. I am proud of the way our community has rallied around our children and young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years. But we must continue our efforts to close the achievement gap, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

From the first day I took office in 2011, education has been a top priority in my administration. During my first week in office, I created by executive order the cabinet-level position of education commissioner to carry out my vision for education initiatives that support lifelong learning in our city. The commissioner, Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette, partners with schools and community organizations to improve the quality and accessibility of educational programs for Jacksonville residents.

Our recent GradNation Community Summit focused on four key issues that require our attention: early childhood education, mentoring and support for at-risk middle school students, literacy and grade-level reading, and African-American male achievement.

I was delighted that Alma Powell was able to join us in person for the summit, and we were honored to host her and the America’s Promise Alliance team in our city, along with the opportunity for our community to hear Mrs. Powell speak so powerfully about our achievements, challenges and goals here in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville’s GradNation advisory council reconvened on May 20 to discuss findings from the summit, and make recommendations about short-term and long-term education goals for our community. One of the goals highlighted by the council and meeting attendees was to meet the continued demand for mentors in our schools.

Our community has rallied around our young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years.

I have been so gratified to align our mentoring efforts with Achievers for Life, a dropout prevention initiative developed and funded by the United Way of Northeast Florida in partnership with Communities in Schools of Jacksonville and Jewish Family and Community Services.  Serving the community since 2007, Achievers for Life has expanded from two to ten middle schools with plans for additional schools in the near future. By leveraging the influence of my office in support of our students, my Mayor’s Mentors program has successfully placed over 600 screened and trained mentors with youth considered at-risk for dropping out of school. I have been able to connect students at these schools with diverse opportunities including visits by NBA Legends players to talk about the importance of staying in school, to science enrichment opportunities offered by partnerships with DuPont, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At our city’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast earlier this year, I announced a citywide youth initiative to improve opportunities for Jacksonville’s next generation, recognizing that we must invest in their success and help them take their lives in the right direction. An important aspect of this initiative is helping young people who are first-time offenders stay out of further trouble by expanding Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Boards.

These programs follow a restorative justice model, allowing students to be accountable for their mistakes through sanctions such as public apologies, community service, and other rehabilitative measures. Successful completion of these requirements means they avoid a criminal record that could otherwise foreclose future educational and employment opportunities.  By guarding young people who have made minor mistakes from the harsh realities of the criminal justice system, we give them the opportunity to stay focused on their education and enter adulthood with a clean slate.

The overwhelming percentage of students not only fulfill the requirements, but also take to heart the lessons they learned through the experience. Consider that 92 percent of juveniles who appear before Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Board in Duval County successfully complete the program. Of those students, 91 percent are not rearrested within the next year. Statewide, these programs boast a 4 percent recidivism rate, the lowest of any Florida juvenile justice program.

Additionally, through the expansion of this initiative, young people are receiving increased quality of care as Teen Court monitors work with them identifying needs for mental health services for trauma, neglect, or sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse counseling.

Recognizing the wealth of resources within our own community, we have partnered with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and other youth services groups in Jacksonville to increase funding for a system of care that will help young people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems access services. By reversing a damaging trend of low funding for these vital services, we are able to improve the lives of young people who face the highest risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Together we can give hope for a healthier, more productive future and the opportunity to succeed. That hope has the power to transform our young people, and we must honor our shared responsibility to stand by them during that transformation, nurturing the self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline they need to succeed in school and in life.

MayorAlvinBrownFormal

 Alvin Brown is the Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. He was elected in 2011 and education is one of his top priorities, along with job creation, downtown revitalization, and public safety.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

From Low-skilled to College-Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out

Low skilled to college ready - for blogThis post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. This is the first post in a series that describes how organizations that operate dropout reengagement programs work with city and state leaders as well as private funders to maximize success.

In 2011, I began an examination of two programs serving young adults who had dropped out of school. Having worked for years with such programs, I was frustrated by the lack of research that could guide local efforts. Most research is about national initiatives, funded at $10,000 or more per participant, and has limited applicability to programs that are developed in communities where funding levels typically are much lower.

Further, trends affecting dropouts are changing rapidly. On the one hand, new reports from the U.S. Department of Education and Building a GradNation show that high school graduation rates are at an historic high. However, disparities continue to exist between states, and major cities persistently have lower graduation rates. Prospects for federal support of national projects continue to dim as a result of Washington’s political battles, even though there are excellent initiatives with their extensive resources and highly developed programs. In addition, in districts that are unprepared, the Common Core’s rigorous academic standards, a good thing for most youth, will push out more of those who are struggling.

How do local programs that serve dropouts actually work? How do the organizations that operate them work with city, state leaders and private funders?
Over the next few months, this blog series will provide an overview of how two community-based organizations (CBOs) have worked with governments and funders to reduce obstacles to their services in funding and policy, re-engage and advance the skills of young adults, and establish strong and positive cultures in the programs that they operate. The full paper, For Young Adults Who Drop Out: Pathways or Merely Stops along the Way?, chronicles their work in greater detail.

My selection of sites was based on recommendations from leaders in the field and my observations in five cities. Besides evidence of high-quality services, the programs had to be “local” in the sense that they were designed and managed by CBOs and, funded, at least partially, with local resources. And the sites had to serve the full range of 16- to 24-year-olds that have dropped out, from those who are low-skilled to those nearly ready for work or college. Costs at these sites averaged $7,000 per participant. I interviewed and tracked 27 young adults for a year or more, and spoke to more than 30 staff as well as observing program activities.

What I learned casts a sharp light on how these sites build and sustain effective programs, and the challenges in enabling these youth to achieve financial independence. I hope this knowledge will be useful to cities and CBOs, and that the qualitative study will inform and provoke more formal and rigorous research.

Stay tuned…the next post will describe how community-based organizations have worked with funders and local governments to help overcome a major obstacle to success: the short time periods allowed to serve individual young adults.

Peter Kleinbard_headshot

About the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.  

Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling Likely to Affect Local Government

supreme-court-blog

The Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action ruling should be viewed through the lens of public employment and contracts not just public universities.

In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action the Supreme Court held 6-2 that voters may by ballot prohibit affirmative action in public universities admission decisions.  While this case was limited to the use of race in public university admission decisions, Michigan’s constitutional amendment also prohibits the use of racial-preference in state and local government employment and contracting.

Presumably, these provisions are also constitutional.  As NCSL’s Affirmative Action:  State Action chart describes, a number of states prohibit the use of affirmative action in local government employment and contracting.

In 2003 in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court held that public universities may consider race in admission decisions.  In 2006 Michigan voters adopted a constitutional amendment which prohibited preferential treatment in admission to public universities on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The majority of the Court held this amendment does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Justice Kennedy, in a plurality opinion joined only by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, concluded that this case is about who and not how the debate over racial preferences should be resolved.  “There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

In reaching this holding Justice Kennedy rejected a broad reading of past precedent that any state action with a “racial focus” that makes it “more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other groups” to “achieve legislation that is in their interest” is subject to strict scrutiny.

Justice Kennedy pointed to numerous practical problems with this so-called “political process” doctrine including:  assuming that all individuals of the same race think alike; defining race-based categories in a society where “those lines are becoming more blurred;” and determining which policy realms racial groups have a political interest.

Justices Scalia and Thomas agreed that the ballot measure was constitutional but would have overruled the precedent that Justice Kennedy read narrowly.  For the first time since she joined the Court in 2009, Justice Sotomayor read a summary of her dissent, which Justice Ginsberg joined, from the bench—signaling her displeasure with the Court’s decision.

Justice Breyer provided the sixth vote in favor of the amendment but wrote separately; Justice Kagan did not participate in the case.

While those for and against the ballot measure disagree about the wisdom of the Court’s decision, both agree that it will only be a matter of time until more states follow Michigan’s lead.

Soronen_Pic (2)

About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

WUF7: Final Thoughts on My Week in Medellin

This is the seventh post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

medellin-hills-pic

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to a tour of the city of Medellin, the trip would have been worth it. This is truly a city on the rise. Gone is the violence and narco-terror for which the city was famous. In its place is a young, vibrant city filled with new libraries and schools serving some of the poorest neighborhoods; parks that include concert halls, a planetarium and computer learning centers; and a metro system that runs the length and width of the city, employing traditional rail cars, cable cars and escalators.

Its town center or “el Centro” is filled with the wonderful and massive sculptures of Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, whose work is wonderfully sardonic and sarcastic at the same time, and includes a small gem of a museum that proudly displays Colombia’s pre-Columbian, colonial and modern artists. Its neighborhoods are diverse and reflective of a city that is growing but retaining a “small town” feel. Looking out over the city at night from a bar atop the Charlee Hotel in the Poblado, one can feel the pulsating rhythms of this increasingly successful business center.

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to participation in the mayor’s roundtable on urban equity and the new urban agenda, the trip also would have been worth it. This was truly a roundtable that demonstrated the optimism that exists among city leaders from around the world to create “cities of opportunity” — cities where the poorest and most disadvantaged are able to take advantage of what their city has to offer so they can create a better life for themselves and their families.

As I reported in my fourth and fifth blogs, in its broadest sense, the message of the mayors forum was cities are on the rise as economic centers, centers of innovation and centers of learning — what we have chosen to call “cities of opportunity” — and that cities are replacing individual states and nations as the places in which “real change is taking place.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to attending the various “dialogues” that focused on city resiliency and financing, the trip also would have been worth it. For here the conversations focused on how to finance cities, and how to build cities that can respond to and come back from natural and man-made disasters, but not just for the benefit of the few, but in a way that promotes inclusion and social equity.

Though the solutions that were offered are costly, what was clear is that to do nothing would be even more costly. And though it is much easier to make decisions from the top down, or to make investments that benefit the wealthiest residents, for a city to thrive and grow, every resident must be included in the decision making process, regardless of their income or social standing, and every citizen must be viewed as a likely beneficiary of the investments made.

As Michael Cohen, a professor at the New School (New York) said, it is no longer feasible to operate the way Buenos Aires and New York City have operated until now, where 60 percent of the expenditures benefit the wealthiest 11 percent of the population. “If our cities are to be financially sustainable we must find ways to effectively leverage our resources to the benefit of all.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to hearing Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economics professor and Nobel laureate, speak passionately about the need for national and local governments to take meaningful steps to end inequality and create opportunity through investments in education, job creation and small business, the trip would have been worth it. Had it been limited to hearing Leon Krier, the famous and highly controversial architect, urban planner and architectural theorist, the trip would have been worth it. His desire to create urban environments that are inclusive but limited in size, and therefore more humane in scale, rang true as we sat in the midst of a city whose one-time modest scale has given way to skyscrapers as far as the eye can see.

Finally, had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to visiting the exhibit hall and witnessing what nations and cities around the world are doing to address inequality and create cities of opportunity – from Barcelona to Jerusalem, Guangzhou to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires to Paris – the trip would have been worth it.

But in fact, this trip to the World Urban Forum 7 and Medellin, Colombia, was worth it for reasons that transcended each of its parts. It was a place for people from around the world to exchange ideas and learn from one another. It was a place where creativity was acknowledged and innovation rewarded. It was a place where one’s status as part of the developed or developing worlds did not seem to matter – everyone had something important to offer.

And it was a place that confirmed what we at the National League of Cities have long stated: cities are the laboratories of innovation and creativity, and the solutions to the world’s urban settlement problems will not happen because of national government. Rather, the solutions will emerge at the local level through the commitment of mayors and other local officials, private sector leaders who share the goal of creating “cities of opportunity,” as well as foundations, non-governmental organizations and universities.

This conference left no doubt: if those who live and work in cities are able to come together to create inclusive, resilient and financially sustainable cities, then the urban future is a very bright one, indeed.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

NLC and Dept. of Education Partner to Advance Afterschool Opportunities

This post was written by Jen Rinehart, Vice President of Research & Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. It originally appeared on the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool Snack blog.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk with a room full of mayors, city council members and education/policy advisors about the role of federal policy in local afterschool efforts.  With a crowd like that, I certainly felt like I was standing on the wrong side of the podium!

It was a dynamic discussion about how federal policies related to 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, Child Care Development funds and newly proposed initiatives—like Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity—may impact local afterschool initiatives.

Many of the city leaders in the room were first drawn to afterschool because they recognized it as a strategy to keep their communities safe.  After learning more about afterschool, they readily saw how keeping youth safe also supports working families, which is linked to worker productivity and therefore economic development.  This necessitates a skilled workforce of the future, which brings you right back to education and safety again.  In short, they were quickly sold on the importance of afterschool.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Congressional City Conference.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Congressional City Conference.

I’d like to take credit for the participants’ excitement about afterschool, but in truth it was most likely the result of an announcement made earlier that morning.  Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Chris Coleman, president of the National League of Cities, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laid out a plan detailing how they would work together to boost partnerships among federal and local governments, schools, families, faith-based organizations, businesses, nonprofits and universities to advance learning, enhance student engagement and improve schools in cities across the country.

Increasing access to afterschool programs, along with early childhood education and postsecondary education, was a key part of the plan.  It is exciting to see afterschool recognized by these two national leaders and organizations as a key strategy to close the achievement gap and improve educational opportunities for all.  Throughout the year, community conversations will be held in the following cities, with leadership from the mayor of each city:

Avondale, Arizona – Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers
Berkeley, California – Mayor Tom Bates
Dayton, Ohio – Mayor Nan Whaley
Gary, Indiana – Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson
Hattiesburg, Mississippi – Mayor Johnny Dupree
Kansas City, Missouri – Mayor Sly James
Louisville, Kentucky – Mayor Greg Fischer
Madison, Wisconsin – Mayor Paul Soglin
Memphis, Tennessee – Mayor A C Wharton
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- Mayor Michael Nutter
Phoenix, Arizona – Mayor Greg Stanton
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Mayor William Peduto
Saint Paul, Minnesota – Mayor Chris Coleman
Salt Lake City, Utah – Mayor Ralph Becker
Savannah, Georgia – Mayor Edna Branch Jackson

We are excited to follow these conversations and to see what plans take shape in each of these 15 cites, and hopefully even more cities, throughout the year.

Resilient Infrastructure and Energy Savings to be Focus of 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30

This post was written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

The facts about water shortages are indisputable. Yet, by and large, we tend to think of these shortages as temporary problems, without giving thought to the fact that a changing climate, growing populations, an aging water delivery infrastructure and increasing demands for a finite resource now requires a drastic change in how we consume water. The annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30, was created to promote a long-lasting mindset of water conservation across a broad swath of our population. Now in its third year, the challenge is widely recognized as one of the most engaging, zero-cost outreach tools especially designed for cities and water utilities to encourage conservation in the United States.

At its most basic level, the challenge asks residents to take a series of informative, easy to use pledges online to conserve water, energy and other natural resources on behalf of their city. Cities with the highest percentage of residents who take on the challenge in their population category win eco-friendly prizes for their residents. Past participating cities have included Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson, Los Angeles, Washington, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The approach is designed to reward residents for positive conservation behavior, provide immediate feedback with real time results that can be measured against neighboring cities, set achievable goals and put a spotlight on public role models to encourage behavioral change.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

The pledges that consumers make may seem simple, yet they have been carefully designed to harness four key drivers and result in the following benefits:

  • Save costs for consumers
  • Save infrastructure and operating costs for cities
  • Promote drought resiliency
  • Protect watersheds and ecosystems
The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

Elected officials are encouraged to use their leadership position to actively inspire residents to make pledges and support their city’s conservation efforts. Officials who add their name to the online endorsement page receive a comprehensive toolkit with resources including animated broadcast-ready PSA’s, graphics and blogs. Past mayors have held kickoff events, pledge drives at local libraries, created their own videos to display on their city’s website, sent utility bill stuffers, set up electronic road signs to encourage residents to take on the challenge and asked neighboring cities to participate. The challenge supplements the city’s efforts with a national public service advertising campaign.

Americans use over 150 trillion gallons of water a year in total. Moreover, according to the River Network, the U.S. consumes about 13 percent of its energy exclusively for water-related purposes, including moving, heating and treating water. Clearly, how we use this resource is having a greater and greater impact on our economy and our future quality of life. But shifting attitudes takes time, cooperation and wide recognition that a conservation mindset is one of the best, most powerful tools available to ensure the future availability of this indispensable limited resource. The National Mayor’s Challenge For Water Conservation offers another way for cities to keep this important issue top of mind.

The 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, in association with the National League of Cities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, the Toro Company, Bytelaunch Inc., Wondergrove Kids, WaterSmart Software. Learn more about the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Summertime Doesn’t Need to be a Vacation from Learning

Tapping my mechanical pencil on my desk, I could feel the excitement coursing through my veins. Summer vacation started in four minutes and I could barely keep from jumping out of my chair and sprinting down the hall towards the bus lane. My classmates and I knew what awaited us on the other end of those four minutes – long days playing in the sun, ice cream trucks, and NO SCHOOL for three whole months.

Summer enrichment activity at the Erechtheion at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Summer enrichment activity at the Erechtheion at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Though I wouldn’t be in school, I would still be learning. That summer, the one before fourth grade, my mother decided that I would attend a summer enrichment program called S.I.S.T.E.R.S. on Our Shoulders.

My mother knew that I needed to continue my education in the summer months in order to maintain and retain the skills and knowledge I had learned during the school year. She also didn’t trust leaving me alone in the house the entire day while she had to work. But like many families, our monthly income barely covered our bills, so going to summer camp or taking a family trip like many of my more well-off classmates was not an option.  However, my mother was determined not to embody a situation Professor Joel M. Charon cites in his textbook Social Problems: Readings with Four Questions “where parents’ lack of money and time hinders the ability to invest in [their] children’s education.” As a result, she made sacrifices so I could have an engaging and enriching summer experience.

The Problem with Summer School

Like my mother, parents and city leaders know the importance of summer learning activities, but many recognize the disadvantages of traditional summer school programming. As a result, many cities have begun to direct their efforts toward bolstering summer learning programs that blend academics with interactive enrichment activities.

For example, I can recall the summer following sixth grade where I attended Fernbank Science Center’s STEM Summer Academy in Atlanta. We learned about growing hydroponic plants and how food was processed for missions on the space shuttle. Our professors helped us to conduct science experiments where we grew crystals and simulated space missions that incorporated mathematics, chemistry, and physics lessons. The best part of the summer came when we attended Space Camp for a week in Huntsville, AL.

Fortunately, many city leaders have focused on providing access to these programs to a broader set of young people. For many of the families within my neighborhood, mine included, the lack of sufficient reading materials and resources to maintain academic skills acquired during the year made summer learning programs essential to addressing the achievement gap between us and our middle and upper class peers.

Why Summer Learning Matters to Cities

Learning and having fun far away from the Classroom: Whispers of Ancient History: Theatre of Epidaurus in Athens.

Learning and having fun far away from the Classroom: Whispers of Ancient History: Theatre of Epidaurus in Athens.

Loss in academic skills over summer vacation varies across grade level, subject matter, and family income. For all students, the loss is equal to roughly one month of school education. However, research shows that low-income students suffer disproportionately, losing closer to three months of grade- level equivalency. This loss in academic skills contributes to two thirds of the achievement gap between lower and higher income ninth graders and can be attributed to summer learning loss during their elementary school years. This learning loss has also been found to be cumulative, and can affect low-income students’ success rates for high school completion, post-secondary education, and workforce preparedness.

A research study released by Johns Hopkins University in 2007 entitled Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study states that “low socioeconomic status youth are more likely to enter adulthood without high school certification and are less likely to attend a four year college than their middle and upper class peers.” For low-income African Americans, the situation is even more troubling. Writer Jordan Iceland characterizes the U.S. poverty population by revealing that “poor African-American children are less likely to escape poverty than others – 1 in 3 were still poor at ages 25 to 27, as compared to 1 in 12 white children.”

It is for these reasons that cities must continue investing in successful summer learning programs and encourage the expansion of local programs into city and statewide initiatives. One of the largest challenges that summer learning programs face is the lack of available funding; however, with the support of cities, these programs can obtain the resources needed to serve their target audiences and scale up to ensure the greatest impact within their communities.

Summer learning programs help to encourage parental involvement in youth education, which has been shown to enhance academic achievement. They also allow summer learning to become a collaborative effort among city organizations through partnerships with parks and recreations departments, as well as public library systems, police departments, youth employment agencies, and community health organizations.  Alliances among these different venues allow summer learning programming to take an all-inclusive approach to addressing to health disparities, crime, workforce development, education completion, and academic inequity.

Through their academic framework and emphasis on extracurricular activities, they expose many youth to arts and cultural experiences, STEM, and even post-secondary educational opportunities they may have never been exposed to otherwise. I can personally attest to the fact that summer learning programs can serve as academic and personal enrichment opportunities.

For youth who participate in summer learning programs, cumulative learning loss is decreased and confidence in their ability to achieve academically is increased. With the assistance of summer learning programs, youth are more likely to complete their primary and secondary educations. They also feel encouraged continuing on to post-secondary education options as well. These decisions ultimately lead to a greater number of educated workers in cities, which is something we all benefit from.

Dropout Reengagement Extends Reach in 2013, Pursues New Heights in 2014

At its second national meeting in 2012, the NLC Dropout Reengagement Network set out a number of ambitious goals for itself. These included extending the outreach of the Network further; creating a sense of urgency around the need for reengagement; continuing peer learning; informing federal policy; providing students a voice; and demonstrating impact through narrative and numbers. One year has passed, and the Network can point to accomplishments on all these fronts! But before I dive into that good news, consider this vignette from Boston – the city that hosted our first Network convening two short years ago.

April Mae Smith dropped out of Madison High School in May, 2012. April briefly enrolled in the Re-Engagement Center (REC) to earn enough credits to become a senior that fall. But her heart wasn’t in it and she quickly dropped out, moved to Rhode Island to live with her boyfriend, started doing drugs, became pregnant and ended up homeless. Fortunately this interlude was relatively brief, and by fall 2012, April was looking for a way to turn things around so she could provide a better life for herself and her child. “I decided I wanted to graduate before my son was born,” says April, now 19. When April returned to school, she again turned to the REC. She delivered her son this June and about the same time, earned her diploma from the Boston Adult Technical Academy. Now she is enrolling in nursing school with assistance from REC staff. She credits the program with helping her get back on track. “The REC staff always told me if I needed help, to just ask,” April says. “I learned a lot more there than what I would have learned in the classroom. When I graduated, I was one of the top students.”

With that shining story of personal progress in mind, the Network’s 2013 convening in Los Angeles now opens — extending participation and purpose beyond reengagement to and through college, thanks to co-sponsoring partnerships with the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) and Zero Dropouts. Once again, the number of self-financed participants in the convening has doubled, such that what was a Network is now on the verge of becoming a movement.

This is not just a year of accomplishments; this is a year of clarifying nationwide results and impact. Network members reached agreement around a few common measures, and voluntarily submitted data compiled by NLC interns and Matt Mendoza of the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). We learned that centers in 14 cities made initial outreach to more than half of those on dropout lists.  More than 10,000 young people received referrals to education options from a reengagement center or program, and for 6,000 of those youth, centers received confirmation of enrollment. Of those enrolled, 73 percent completed a full additional year of school or graduated.

In addition to recruiting the national meeting co-sponsors, we looked for strategic outreach and leveraging opportunities. This led to reengagement discussions at high policy levels in the U.S. Department of Education and with members of the rapidly growing Gateway to College National Network. Education Week chose reengagement as the topic for a special pull-out section, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided just-in-time support for publication of the new NLC Municipal Action Guide on reengagement, released this week and already drawing media interest.

The Network continues to grow from the ground up, thanks in large part to ample practice sharing. Chicago launched three reengagement centers. Washington State’s Open Doors initiative grew from 3 to 22 programs. Washington, DC commissioned a feasibility study, and plans to launch its center in April, 2014. The California Assembly formed a Select Committee on Addressing Out of School, Unemployed Youth, and in Congress, Rep. Jared Polis’ office completed drafting of the first ever federal reengagement bill – suitable to serve as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As the Network and new partners gather in Los Angeles, opportunities abound to discuss where to go next. One focus area to carry over from last year and build upon: propelling former dropouts forward into options to gain postsecondary credentials. A perennial issue involves using the demand for reengagement to drive creation of many more high quality school completion options. And the “new GED” and GED alternatives waiting around the corner in 2014 surely pose challenges for the broader “ecosystem” of alternative education.

Yet the past three years show that this is a Network that constantly reaches for new heights. So with those heights in mind, I look forward to pursuing these questions:

• What shall the Network do to advance the federal policy ideas built into the draft Polis legislation?

• What other states could emulate Washington and spread reengagement programs via state policy and local determination? (Massachusetts, Oregon, California – are you in the house?)

• What city or district – or coalition of districts – in partnership with Community-Based Organizations, will reprogram resources to expand alternative schools rapidly?

• Who will follow Los Angeles’ inspiration with the Workforce Incentive Fund, to identify and use a federal funding source to expand reengagement locally?

• How will we sustain the census of reengagement programs, and continue to add precision to our counting of results?

* Are the more experienced members of the Network ready for an external evaluation of their effectiveness and impact?

• How will the 21 cities involved in the high-profile Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund tackle the need for reengagement capacity?

• What other philanthropies will join the CS Mott and Annie E. Casey Foundations to lend their support to advance reengagement nationwide?

Andrew Moore
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.