Educational Diamond in the Bronx

With an eye to the large numbers of local young people who do not finish high school and thus find themselves ill-prepared to join the workforce or pursue further schooling, city and town leaders would do well to turn attention to an educational diamond in the Bronx known as CUNY Prep .

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized the initial and continuing promise of CUNY Prep with financial support from New York City’s public-private innovation fund, the Center for Economic Opportunity.  The investment has paid off with hundreds of additional young people taking the desired combined steps of passing the GED and enrolling in college.  In addition, CUNY Prep serves as a much-needed model and testing ground for updates of GED programs across the city.

In New York and nationwide, the drive to launch out in a new direction results from these statistics:  Whereas some two-thirds of high school dropouts pass the GED, most by age 25, only five percent of those obtain the postsecondary credential they need to have hopes of obtaining living wage employment.

As a special initiative of the City University of New York, CUNY Prep re-imagines preparation for the GED, often treated as a terminal degree, as the first step in a GED Through College sequence.  As the students say, “CUNY Prep is college prep.”

CUNY Prep has attracted attention from Jobs for the Future (JFF), the Boston-based education and workforce policy and practice organization, as a forerunner example of a three-phase Back on Track to College model with great promise, and some early evidence, for placing those who were once dropouts on a path to receive a postsecondary credential.  The three phases:  enriched preparation, postsecondary bridging, and supports during the first year in college and beyond.  JFF now makes a range of resources available at, including an online self-assessment.

A recent visit to CUNY Prep by representatives of several cities seeking to strengthen postsecondary completion options for dropouts and disconnected youth confirmed the attractiveness of the three-phase model as a potential template for improving local GED provision.  Depending upon local structures, school districts, state or local adult basic education agencies, and community- and faith-based organizations may administer or provide GED instruction.  Ultimately, some or all of these plus community colleges – since some colleges constitute the go-to place for GED, and usually represent the “next step” – will need to get involved in local assessment, planning, and implementation of a new model.  Experience in New York and elsewhere suggests that involving workforce agencies or college offices with a finger on the pulse of job growth sectors solidifies the benefits of GED completion and college studies, in the context of a vocationally-focused career pathway.  As so often in education, city leaders and agencies can play a convening and facilitating role, at minimum.

Notably, with a few years’ experience under its belt, CUNY Prep now operates its own variant of the three-phase model.  In an initial three-month cycle, students prepare to take the GED in classes taught at a college level.  Once they pass the test – often with months to go before the beginning of the semester at one of CUNY’s six community colleges — students enter a College Transition Academy (CTA).   CTA provides classes to start earning credits, as well as catch-up classes to eliminate the need for remediation.  CTA’s director tells students, “give us six months, and we’ll save you $3,000” – the fees students would otherwise pay, or charge against financial aid, for remedial classes.  Upon admission to college, students gain access to the College Success Network, which includes two on-site college success coaches and a job program to support students’ financial needs.   Of the first 100 students benefiting from CTA, nearly half have persisted through the first year of college classes.

NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will continue reporting on and supporting evolution of new approaches to the GED – an essential activity to pave the way to college and careers for a large segment of the youth population.

Mayors Can Be Effective Advocates for Better Schools

The following post was written by Michael Karpman, Senior Associate for Outreach in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

Municipal involvement in education has been steadily increasing for at least two decades.  Yet there continues to be a common misperception that mayors who care about education but don’t govern their school districts have few options for improving local schools.  People who still share this notion might gain a different perspective by looking to St. Louis, where Mayor Francis Slay has aggressively advanced a K-12 school improvement agenda since 2001.

The mayor’s office is a member of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), a “network of city-based education reform organizations, initiatives, and foundations dedicated to accelerating the growth of entrepreneurial education ventures.”  Learning from other network members – including The Mind Trust founded by former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and his charter schools director David Harris – and through peer networks in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, Mayor Slay has demonstrated some of the unique roles that mayors can play in pushing for school reform.

For instance, as an avid supporter of new, high-quality charter school options, Mayor Slay’s office utilizes the city’s regulatory and service delivery expertise to review charter school applications and endorse those with the greatest potential for success.  Local entities with the power to sponsor charter schools benefit from the careful review process conducted by the mayor’s office.

The intensity of the national charter school debate often obscures the wide variation in quality across charter schools.  Mayor Slay’s efforts show how mayors can have a more nuanced and thoughtful discussion about charter school quality.  Elsewhere, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has supported the development of a charter school incubator, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard remains the nation’s only mayor with the authority to grant charters.

Recently, Robbyn Wahby, who serves as Mayor Slay’s education advisor and is a longtime member of NLC’s Education Policy Advisors’ Network, shared some thoughts with CEE-Trust about the city’s school reform accomplishments, priorities and challenges.  The interview, which appeared in the January 2012 CEE-Trust Times, is reposted below.


What are a few of Mayor Slay’s greatest achievements in K-12 reform?

 -School Governance

The Mayor chaired a coalition of civic, religious, and business leaders who wanted rapid and dramatic change of the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) system.  This resulted in the development, campaign, and service of school board members who had a shared platform.  After union-backed leaders took over the school board, the Mayor called for (and got) a state takeover of SLPS.

-Charter Schools

The Mayor replicated the Indianapolis’ mayor’s charter school efforts, with the exception of authorization.  In November of 2007, Mayor Slay issued an RFP for high quality schools and created a board to review the applications and make recommendations for endorsement to the Mayor.  Once endorsed, the Mayor then connects the schools with eligible sponsors.  Additionally, he communicates the names of schools that have been denied to sponsors, thus preventing potentially low performing schools from opening.  Thirteen schools have opened since 2008 under this model.

-Expanding Entrepreneurship:  Teach For America, College Summit 

Mayor Slay asked local businesses to support the start up and ongoing funding for key school reform organizations.  TFA and College Summit have both expanded beyond St. Louis Public Schools to high-need suburban districts as well.

What are the Mayor’s current highest priorities? 

In focusing our education agenda, we tried to make it really simple, asking: how do you get good schools to kids?  Ultimately, what people want is to be able to depend on a good local, community school.  We’re continuing our efforts to attract new charters, working on the replication of existing charters, and closing low performing schools.  Aside from these things, we’re focused on preserving after school programming, increasing opportunities surrounding early childhood, and increasing access to post-secondary education.  We’re keeping several balls in the air, but our K-12 policy is firmly focused on charter schools.   

Given the Mayor’s interest in expanding the charter market, have there been any conversations about launching a charter school incubator? 

Unfortunately, we have not been able to launch an incubator in St. Louis yet.  We have formed a sort of “local CEE-Trust,” bringing top education leaders together to talk about very critical issues in public education and how to advance them here in St. Louis.  Specifically, we’ve discussed how to support the development of new and innovative schools in a scalable way.

This spring, I’ve secured a graduate student intern from Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work to work on our charter incubation efforts.  He is very knowledgeable on school reform, and I’ve asked him to research how to best craft an incubator; he will definitely be in touch with the CEE-Trust network.

What challenges have you faced advancing the reform conversation in St. Louis? 

Like many communities, we’re struggling with the ramifications of a weak economy. There just isn’t as much money to invest in reform right now. The Mayor continues to use his bully pulpit but a lot of the state and local/district conversations right now are being driven by how to slice up an ever smaller pie of tax dollars.

In addition, I’ve learned that simply getting our key education leaders in the same room is not a small order.  They are extremely busy, and to ask them to take on another layer of this work when they have their own goals specific to certain schools and initiatives, is a lot to ask.  Suggesting that we discuss replication, scalability, and incubation on a large scale when these leaders are attempting to launch individual schools can seem pretty daunting. Yet, the positive side is that in a mayor’s office, you have the power to convene; people come because the mayor asked.

How can CEE-Trust and its members be most helpful in your work?  

We’ve got a pretty good network of folks within CEE-Trust.  I feel very comfortable calling on the network, and I think the cities share amongst ourselves as well, whether from a CEE-Trust perspective or otherwise.  An important part of CEE-Trust is that we share issues and ideas with one another, because we often know what the issues are before they’re apparent to the masses.  I think that convening us for those targeted, deliberate meetings is also important.

The Latest in Economic Development – 1.25.12

This week’s blog entry uncovers the data behind “Made in China,” explores America’s ongoing competitiveness struggles, looks at a couple examples of entrepreneurial-minded cities, and expounds upon the SBA’s new program to support startups. Comment below or send to

Get last week’s blog here.

These days, most household items you use or clothes you wear or office supplies on your desk usually have a sticker that says “Made in China.” This visible evidence of the rise of China’s exporting prowess has made many citizens uneasy about the continual decline of America’s manufacturing base. Although it seems like everything we use comes from China, how much is it really? The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released a letter back in 2011 with the answers to this question and they are more interesting than you may think. It turns out that in 2010, goods and services from China “accounted for only 2.7% of U.S. personal consumption expenditures.” (FRBSF Economic Letter) via (Southern Compass News)

So we don’t consume as many goods and services from China as we think, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a competitiveness problem. Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin released their Survey on U.S. Competitiveness this month, and like many recent windows into the U.S. economy, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that urban employment continues to be weak and companies are losing the desire to be located in the U.S. The good news is that the conditions that are hampering investment can be improved upon; these conditions mostly focus on taxes, regulatory policy, labor costs, and immigration. (Initiative for a Competitive Inner City)

To improve upon the declining competitiveness of the U.S, cities are turning to entrepreneurs and startups to foster growth in their communities. Bill Fulton, fresh off his visit to the National League of Cities’ Congress of Cities Conference, explores two such examples of cities embracing the startup – Boston, Massachusetts and Scottsdale, Arizona. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino took a proactive role in creating an “innovation district” to redevelop a section of South Boston for entrepreneurial incubation. In Scottsdale, the city partnered with nearby Arizona State University to establish the SkySong business complex, which accelerates high-growth potential startups using university resources. ( For information on the Boston and Scottsdale programs, check out their presentations from the NLC Congress of Cities Conference.

Now that cities are embracing entrepreneurship, federal agencies are not far behind. The Small Business Administration, in cahoots with the Obama administration’s Startup America campaign, is getting ready to set in motion the $1 billion program introduced last December to “invest in young companies by loaning money to venture capital funds.” The new program, called the Early Stage Innovation Fund, is not without detractors, mostly due to the previous missteps of the SBA during the bursting of the tech bubble. Nevertheless, the SBA is planning to accept applications from investment firms in April and issue licenses by the end of September. (New York Times) via (Innovation Daily)

Cities Use Partnerships to Promote Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles Among Residents

For many of us, January is a month of pledges.  As the holidays wind down and we’ve tired of gifts, gossip, and gluttony, I find myself- and others around me- buckling down. By the first of the year, we’ve joined gyms, stacked our pantries with the healthiest foods available at the grocery store, and generally have vowed to do better this time around.  This all works quite well until right around March, when we get discouraged by the unaffordable gym memberships and exorbitant prices that buying healthy food costs us each week.  By the end of March, membership at the local gym dwindles until only the fitness fanatics (like my mother) are left, and “foodies” are the only ones who justify spending most of their paychecks on fresh fruits and veggies.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this issue- I feel that it’s vital to the health of our communities that we begin to normalize a culture of healthy eating and exercise within our cities.  What will it take to make an active lifestyle commonplace and healthy foods affordable?

I’ve found that some cities have in fact prioritized healthy eating and active living through the programs they financially and verbally support. These cities have engaged in unique partnerships in order to provide residents with options to sustainably incorporate healthy eating and exercise programs into their lives.

For example, Riverside, MO has the Riverside Healthy Citizens Initiative, where the city has worked with the local community centers in order to provide residents with a drastically reduced membership fee.  Residents only pay 25 % of the total membership fee (the city pays the remaining 75%). By partnering with the YMCA (which runs the community center), the city of Riverside is able to provide discounts on membership fees to residents since it does not have to pay to maintain a fitness facility.  Additionally, the city contracted with the YMCA to provide swim lessons for Riverside kids, which was 100% subsidized by the city.  The initiative has been wildly popular- as of June 2011, roughly 600 residents (20 % of the total population) are participating in Riverside’s Healthy Citizens Initiative.

In a similar vein, the city of Tupelo, MS started the “Health on a Shelf” program to provide healthy snack options at convenience stores.  The Healthy Tupelo Task force was created to provide residents with tools to make healthier lifestyle decisions. In order to execute the “Health on a Shelf” program, the Task Force partnered with local convenience stores to advertise and promote nutritious snacks that are less than 250 calories and 5 grams of fat.  Additionally, the Task Force has been active in educating local citizens whenever possible and providing eye-catching signage to the participating convenience stores. Also, by branding certain healthy items as approved by the Task Force, this program is catalyzing a gradual cultural change towards healthier eating habits in the city.

And of course there are cities such as San Antonio, TX that seem to have restructured their entire ethos around community wellness. For example, the city has partnered with the Harlandale Independent School District (HISD) to promote health and wellness to youth through school and out- of-school time programs.  Their efforts thus far include updating the health education curriculum; promoting healthy food policies for school lunches; and requiring afterschool programs to encourage physical activity, to name a few.  Also, through additional partnerships with organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other community organizations, the city and school district together have been able to effectively alter the type of access that the younger generation has to healthy foods and physical activities.

Several other cities have been equally active in providing healthier food and lifestyle choices for residents, namely through supporting farmers’ markets, community gardens, bike/car share programs, and safe routes to school programs. However, I think that the creative partnerships forged in order to successfully implement the programs in Riverside, Tupelo, and San Antonio provide a valuable lesson to all city leaders- in a time of fiscal austerity, public/ private partnerships are especially critical to build capacity and provide residents with access to healthier, affordable lifestyle choices.

We’ll see if 2012 is the magical year when I am able to stay healthy beyond March.  In the meantime, do let me know what your city is doing to make a healthy lifestyle affordable for its residents!


[The “Health on a Shelf” program was a 2011 NLC City Showcase Participant in Phoenix, AZ.. Click here for more information about City Showcase and to learn about other city programs that were represented in 2011.]

[In order to read more about San Antonio’s efforts, and to read examples of other cities doing similar work around city- school partnerships to reduce childhood obesity, check out this report, written by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.]

The Latest in Economic Development – 1.17.12

This week’s blog entry focuses on the friction between economic development incentives and demonstrated results, a trendy way to fund startups that is looking for an extra push, a green-tech cluster in an unlikely state, and the importance of a diverse, high(er) tech economy. Comment below or send to

Get last week’s blog here.

The high-tech race is currently at full throttle. And more cities are likely to join in. The Economist takes a look at two examples of governments attempting to diversify into high-tech; New York City’s well-funded entrepreneurial efforts and planned applied science campus and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s push to move away from gambling and prove that Nevada can nurture high-tech companies. (The Economist) According to (TechCrunch) via (Innovation Daily), more mayors are likely to follow suit, but success will be no easy feat.

Texas isn’t usually noted for progressive energy policies. But Austin is quickly becoming one of the major hubs of green energy technology. Austin isn’t stereotypical Texas; it’s a college town – an island of blue in a sea of red. And now, because conditions are ripe for success, entrepreneurial types are coming from all over the nation to build a green energy ecosystem. (Time)

Recently, and with good reason, economic development incentives are being more closely scrutinized. The hiring promises made by companies in return for tax incentives or credits are showing a mixed record of fulfillment. A recent Ohio Department of Development study found that the statewide compliance rate was only 48%. Also troubling, when companies don’t follow through, officials have been hesitant to recoup taxpayer monies lost. (Middletown Journal) via (Economic News from Ohio’s Regions)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is taking a new approach to economic development. In the past, Michigan focused heavily on tax incentive packages that had a tendency to pick winners and losers. Now, Snyder is reducing the amount of tax credits to individual companies in favor of lower taxes across the board. The new deal “will allow the state to invest in needs such as infrastructure and get repaid for those investments, creating a pool of money for other projects.” (Detroit Free Press)

Crowd funding by sites like has taken off in the last few years and has allowed entrepreneurs of all kinds to raise money online. The only problem is that crowd funding is unable to unleash its full potential – raising equity for startups – due to federal laws that prohibit investments from unaccredited investors. Both sides of the aisle, along with the White House, are working to amend the law; however a number of technical and practical barriers still remain. (Crain’s New York Business) via (Innovation Daily)

The Latest in Economic Development – 1.11.12

This week’s blog entry focuses on continuing trends in innovation, new international trade opportunities, a surprising university that churns out startups, and the implications of deficit reduction. Comment below or send to

Get last week’s blog here.

The harsh realities of deficit reduction are making themselves felt. Wichita, Kansas is feeling the pain after Boeing announced they would be closing a manufacturing plant due to the tight market for defense spending. Proposed cuts to defense have serious implications not just on industries that have direct ties to the weapons industry, but also on companies and startups that are spawned from the military’s research and development budget. CR Roberts from The News Tribune explains the Boeing closure, Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times explores the implications of defense cuts, and Matthew Yglesias of Slate responds to the New York Times article.

Are small or large firms the best catalysts of innovation? Economist extraordinaire Joseph Schumpeter first claimed that small companies were more inventive in 1909… then changed his mind years later. Currently, the collective needle has swung in the direction of smaller, nimbler firms that can navigate the murky waters of the global economy. Michael Mandel of the Progressive Policy Institute disputes the prevailing notion that small firms are more effective and claims that economic growth is driven by big ecosystems with large companies at the center. (The Economist)

No one can doubt the important role that universities play in incubating talented young companies. But would it surprise you that the school that produced the most startup companies for the second year in a row wasn’t MIT or Stanford or Harvard? In fact, the University of Utah was the undisputed leader. Perhaps more impressive, U of U gets more bang for their buck – it operates with a much smaller budget than traditional tech powerhouses. (Business News Daily) via (Innovation Daily)

Have the Republican candidates in the recent primary debates given any attention to the evolving 21st Century job market? Thomas Friedman thinks they are missing the mark entirely. Absent the tiresome campaign speak, the world is continuing to rapidly globalize with help from the latest “information technology revolution.” Techno-savvy citizens are becoming more integrated into innovative city ecosystems and according to Friedman, it seems as though our potential leaders are failing to take notice. (New York Times)

At the end of 2011, Congress passed three free-trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama. Now that the deals have been enacted, greater Atlanta, with help from state agencies, non-profits, universities, and chambers of commerce, is taking advantage of new opportunities to export products and services overseas. While increased exporting can potentially be a windfall for the region, there is still work to be done. (Global Atlanta)

The Latest in Economic Development – 1.3.12

A full Latest in Economic Development will return from its holiday hiatus next week, but in the meantime we wanted to briefly post about Mario Polèse’s City Journal article “Urban Development Legends.”  If you’re into economic development, it’s a must read.  The article offers a critique of the major economic development theories for the past 50 years and as the title suggest, the outlook isn’t too rosy. And while some of Polèse’s comments are not new to the field, the article provides an excellent summary and word of caution to those who think economic development problems can be solved by simply importing a strategy that worked somewhere else. Briefly, some of his critiques of major economic development theory’s are:

  • Branding: For a city’s brand to show results, it has to be believable.
  • Clusters : Today’s winning clusters may be tomorrow’s losing clusters.
  • Creative Cities: Do the cultural amenities of a “creative cities” attract prosperity and talent or are the product of it?

So is local economic development a hopeless pursuit?  To Polèse, not quite.  But instead of focusing on economic development fads and quick fixes, cities need to focus on good governance  and not hindering business.  To that, the folks on the NLC Economic Development team say AMEN!  Read the full article here.