This is the seventh post in NLC’s 90th Anniversary series.
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.