study says...

A $24 million New York City program was supposed to prepare more black and Latino men for college. But a new study found it didn’t.

PHOTO: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the Expanded Success Initiative in 2012, he hoped to address a problem that had vexed policymakers: How can schools get more young black and Latino men not only to graduation — but also ready for college?

With just 10 percent of male students of color graduating “college ready” at the time, city officials hoped to boost that number by giving extra money and support to schools that already made strides getting those students to graduation. With extra resources, the theory went, those same schools might be able to nudge young men of color into college while the city studied and replicated their approaches.

But after four years and $24 million, the program has not lived up to its promise, according to a report released Wednesday by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Schools in the program turned out to be no better at preparing young men of color for college or helping them enroll than a group of similar schools that didn’t receive extra support.

“The aspirations were very high,” said Adriana Villavicencio, the lead author of the study, which, like the initiative itself, was funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. “[The initiative] was not able to move the needle on a number of student outcomes — in particular college readiness and college enrollment, which were the primary goals stated at the outset.”

The Expanded Success Initiative, launched as part of a broader effort to aid black and Latino young men across the city, included 40 high schools that had strong graduation rates among young men of color, but still struggled to meet the city’s new college readiness metrics.

Those schools received $250,000 in one-time funding, ramped up academics, added college counseling and career preparation programs, and were asked to implement some combination of mentoring, tutoring, and leadership opportunities. Schools were also encouraged to promote culturally responsive education — such as studying texts featuring protagonists of color — and less strict approaches to student misbehavior.

Exactly how the program was implemented at each school varied considerably: Some schools created small advisory groups for students to talk about academic challenges or offered SAT prep sessions. Others focused on expanding AP classes or offering workshops for parents on college financial aid.

About 16 percent of black and Latino male students at the participating schools were found to be college ready, compared to 18.6 percent of the same group of students at comparison schools, the report found, though the difference was not statistically significant.

So why didn’t the program lead to better academic outcomes for young men of color?

One possible reason, the study notes, is that the program looked different at every school that participated, making it difficult to hold schools accountable for completely buying in or picking high-quality programs (a frustration some of the program’s managers expressed).

Second, the effort included a broad range of initiatives designed to make schools more welcoming for students of color, including different approaches to discipline, but did not always drill deep into college preparation. (The program did not improve student attendance or reduce suspensions.)

“Those of us who have seen a lot of educational evaluations show essentially no effect — I think we were anticipating this would be really hard,” Villavicencio said.

The third potential reason the program fell short, researchers found, was the $250,000 funding boost was designed to phase out just after the halfway point of the four-year program, which made schools less faithful to the initiative.

At Manhattan’s New Design High School, for instance, Principal Scott Conti used the program to take students on a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit colleges and museums, add a counselor who helped students with academic or life issues, and train staff members in culturally responsive education. But after the funding dried up, Conti lost the counselor he had hired.

“It’s a great initiative,” he said. But, he added, “They opened up and tried to get to 100 miles per hour then closed very quickly.”

Despite some lackluster results in boosting academic outcomes, the effort has produced other significant benefits. Students at Expanded Success Initiative schools were more likely to receive college advising, go on college trips, and participate in mentoring programs.

And based on hundreds of interviews and surveys, the researchers found that students were more likely to feel a sense of “fair treatment” and belonging at school and were also likelier to talk with adults about their plans after graduation (though they were no more likely than students at similar schools to apply to college).

“Students can feel so alienated when they come into school buildings,” said Villavicencio, who helped conduct interviews at schools in the program. “To hear them talk about their schools in such a positive way signaled a shift in the school environment for boys of color.”

But the researchers point out that the improvements in school culture were supposed to also improve college access. “These patterns suggest that we cannot assume, as [the program’s] theory of action does, that greater participation in these activities, more college-focused support, and a greater sense of belonging in high school will promote college access and success — at least not on their own.”

Josh Thomases, a top education department official during the Bloomberg administration and one of the program’s architects, also pointed to other less tangible ways the Expanded Success Initiative has made an impact. He said the effort helped make boosting college readiness for black and Latino young men a higher priority that was “less siloed” in the education department.

It also helped raise awareness around culturally relevant education “in a way that was entirely absent five years ago,” he said.

Still, Thomases acknowledges the program didn’t pan out as he hoped.

“We never thought 40 schools were going to break the ceiling and figure it all out,” he said. “I’d be lying to say I wasn’t hoping for more.”

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”

Future of Schools

Four school leaders hope to bring innovative ideas to Indianapolis education

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Brandon Brown introduces four new innovation school fellows.

Hoping to jumpstart innovation in Indianapolis education, four experienced educators will spend a year or more developing new models for schools.

The educators were chosen from among 39 applicants for fellowships from the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that supports district-charter partnerships. This is the fifth round of innovation fellowships, which give leaders one to two years to prepare to launch or takeover schools in Indianapolis Public Schools.

The fellowship includes an annual salary of about $100,000, benefits, and support for creating new schools, such as visits to other schools, training, and legal assistance. The package for each fellow is worth approximately $200,000 per year.

The city has 16 innovation schools, and they enroll about 20 percent of the students in Indianapolis Public Schools. They are under the umbrella of the district, but they are managed by outside charter operators or nonprofits, and most of the teachers are not employed by the district nor do they belong to the teachers union. The Mind Trust has been instrumental in the creation of innovation schools, and the vast majority of the schools were founded with support from the nonprofit.

The innovation fellowship winners include two people from Indianapolis and two recruits from other cities. But in a sign that the nonprofit’s leaders have become more cautious in their choices, all four have years of experience in education.

Brandon Brown, CEO of the Mind Trust, said that’s by design. About four early innovation fellows never ended up opening innovation schools. But all of the recent winners have either opened schools or are on track to open them, he said.

Candidates are much more likely to be successful, he said, if they have the entrepreneurial spirit to create their own nonprofits and win community support — and have experience in education.

“There’s this notion that if you’re a great entrepreneur, you don’t have to have the unique skill set to know education and [yet] you can go operate a school,” Brown said. “We’ve learned that that’s a very rare thing to see.”

While the winners have all worked in established schools, however, Brown said they are trying new models.

Tihesha Henderson, principal of School 99, won a fellowship to develop a school designed to meet the social and emotional needs of students. She will take a yearlong leave from her current job and hopes to return and transform School 99 into an innovation school.

Henderson envisions a school that adjusts to meet student needs, whether through therapy, small classes, or classroom redesign. School 99 already has significant flexibility, but as an innovation school, Henderson would be able to change the school calendar and set teacher pay, she said.

“We don’t have to be the status quo,” she said. “We can branch out and do some things differently, but it all comes back to — are we meeting out kids needs?”

The other fellows are Alicia Hervey, dean of student development for Christel House Academies; Kim Neal, managing director of secondary education for the charter school network KIPP DC; and Brandy Williams, an expert in special education from New Orleans.

Although innovation schools are considered part of Indianapolis Public Schools, they also often have charters through the office of Mayor Joe Hogsett. The collaborative nature of the schools was on display at the announcement Thursday, where Hogsett, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and Brown all spoke.

The innovation schools, said Ferebee, are part of a broader district strategy to give principals more flexibility to run their schools.

“We hire great leaders, get out of their way and give them the space and agility to make decisions about academics [and] operations to better serve our students and our families,” he said.

The city’s reputation in the education community is helping it attract educators from across the country, said Hogsett.

“They know our city is one where they can make a difference,” he said. “Indianapolis welcomes their passion with open arms.”