A New Education Playbook for City Leaders

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The YEF Council Education Playbook provides examples of 27 action steps taken by select U.S. cities to provide greater resources and opportunities for their communities and for youth from early childhood to postsecondary success.

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Most mayors and city councilmembers know that education is an essential asset for both the financial stability of families and the overall economic vitality of communities as a whole. (Getty Images)

In our globalized economy, the knowledge and skills acquired by completing high school and then pursuing some type of postsecondary education or training can be the key to family financial stability and local economic vitality. City leaders recognize the critical link between education and stability, but all too often they just don’t know how to push students towards success in this endeavor, particularly if they play no role in the governance of their public schools – which is usually the case.

A new “education playbook” for city leaders, released by the National League of Cities today, provides much-needed ideas and answers. Developed by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families in collaboration with the NLC Council on Youth, Education, and Families, the playbook is a web-based resource that provides local elected officials and city staff a menu of 27 action steps and city examples that any community (big or small) can use to expand learning opportunities for children and youth.

With the ideas put forward in the playbook, mayors and city councilmembers can take concrete steps to strengthen foundations for early learning, provide more and better learning time, and help all children succeed. Here are a few of the city examples highlighted in the playbook – a glimpse of the many ways that cities and towns are already promoting learning, from the first years of life all the way into young adulthood.

Boston’s Preschool Program:

Across the nation, city officials and community members understand that positive educational experiences in the earliest years of life are critical for children to achieve long-term success and grow into productive members of the community. This is backed up by research that demonstrates high-quality pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) education increases a child’s chances of succeeding in school and in life. Further down the road, quality universal Pre-K could mean higher test scores, lower dropout rates, and better educated citizens. Children who attend high quality early childhood programs tend to show higher rate of completing high school, above-average test scores, and positive attitudes toward school among children and parents. They also demonstrate higher rate of stable employment, family involvement, and educational attainment.

Boston is playing a lead role with partners in funding, highlighting, and supporting the importance of preschool. The city understands that expanding their Pre-K offerings improve education outcomes for children while also helping parents and caregivers balance the responsibilities of work and family. The city of Boston has established two initiatives, Thrive in 5 and Countdown to Kindergarten, both of which are citywide movements that help ensure children from families of all races, ethnicities, incomes, abilities, and languages have the opportunities and support they need for success in school and beyond.

Thrive in 5 is a public-private partnership, supported by philanthropic funders, among the City of Boston, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, and Merrimack Valley. Countdown to Kindergarten is led by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston School Committee, and Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang in a partnership with 28 local organizations; it implements a school readiness campaign that helps families participate actively in their children’s education right from the start, helping parents understand the value of kindergarten, learn how to choose schools, and register their children in the Boston Public Schools system.

Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center’s Alliance for Youth:

An increase in crime can be very damaging to a community’s economic growth because it can scare off potential new residents and hinder the establishment of new businesses. In Minnesota, two small communities have developed a dynamic answer to juvenile crime by created the Brooklyn Alliance for Youth, a governing board of top level decision-makers and stakeholders, bound together as one group, to address regional youth issues and create an action plan for positive youth development in the small cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

The Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth exists to give youth aged 10-19 a chance to thrive by connecting them to learning opportunities after school and during the summer. The Alliance created Brooklyns Connect, an online program locator that serves as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to find information on afterschool and summer programs in the Brooklyn communities. It is not a static resource guide, but a resource updated every quarter to help parents find up to date program information. By effectively coordinating their efforts, they have maximized their resources and streamlined their systems. The Alliance is a joint powers agreement among the two cities, Hennepin County, four area school districts, and two community colleges.

San Antonio Café College:

As city leaders focus on what educational supports their community needs, many realize that they have an essential role to play in connecting graduating seniors and adults to postsecondary and career opportunities. San Antonio has developed an actual brick and mortar location that provides an extensive array of services to families, youth and returning adult students all attempting to achieve a higher education. While Café College provides financial aid assistance, career exploration, college applications, and SAT & ACT preparation, this one-stop shop for college access, guidance and support holds three classrooms and a computer lab.

The Café College model has been replicated in multiple cities and endorsed by the Lumina Foundation, the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Program (TG), and the National College Access Network (NCAN), and is one of two statewide pilot programs for the Texas College Access Network (TxCAN).

Cities from across the nation are pooling their resources and working collectively with their school districts, local businesses, higher education institutions, and community partners to develop educational pathways for their citizens so they can be active participants in their communities’ economic growth and prosperity. The YEF Council Education Playbook illuminates the path forward. Check it out today!

Miles SandlerAbout the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at sandler@nlc.org.