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DOE dealt large portion of funds to narrow achievement gap

One of the largest pots of money in the city’s new initiative to aid black and Latino young men is going to the Department of Education.

Of the initiative’s $127 million price tag, $24 million will be used to study and develop the best practices of city high schools that have best prepared male minority students for college and work. Billionaire philanthropist George Soros will foot the bill for the three-year program, called the Expanded Success Initiative.

The funding will allow the Department of Education to hire a team of research consultants to study 40 high schools with a track record of bridging the achievement gap for black and Latino male students. Josh Thomases, the DOE’s deputy chief academic officer charged with coordinating the program, said the city had not yet identified the schools that would be studied.

“We’re looking for schools with a high concentration of black and Latino boys, with high poverty and Title I funding, but with an evidence of success,” Thomases said.

“We’re agnostic to what kind of school it is,” he added. “We’re looking at the schools that have had success graduating black and Latino boys at a high school level and expanding it to other schools.”

Thomases, citing a study published by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) last year, said that he would look particularly close at small high schools in New York City, which have shown higher rates of graduation and credit accumulation.

The high school program is part of a broader plan, the Young Men’s Initiative, unveiled by Mayor Bloomberg this morning that aims to help a segment of the city’s population that Bloomberg said were disadvantaged across the board.

“When we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates, and employment rates, one thing stands out: blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape,” Bloomberg said today.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation, which operates two city schools, served on the steering committee for the Young Men’s Initiative.

More than a third of the plan’s funding – $42 million – will go to education programs, which Walcott said was necessary to achieve the initiatives larger goals objective of lower poverty, less violent crime and higher employment.

“We’ve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” Walcott said in a statement. “But in order for all students to meet our highest expectations and have a chance at successful futures, we need to go a step further.”

The achievement gap, which measures the disparity in performance between white students and minority students, has narrowed according to some measures since 2005, but stark differences remain. Last year, white students graduated 18 percent more often than black students, and graduate 20 percent more often than Hispanic students, according to DOE graduation data.

The other education initiatives include a $3 million mentoring program for middle school boys and a $3 million literacy program for high school students who are well below reading proficiency standards. Neither program will be coordinated under the DOE, however.

The entire cross-agency initiative, which include job training and other social programs,  will be paid for with $67.5 million from city funding, $30 million from Soros’ Open Society Foundations, which has tackled similar problems in Baltimore, and $30 million from Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies.