In Focus

Aug 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

KIDS COUNT Report Underscores Need for Holistic Approach to Supporting Child Well-being

By Andrew Mulinge

The 25th edition of a key report tracking the well-being of children highlights the critical importance of taking a holistic approach to addressing the needs of children. The 2014 annual KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on 16 indicators of child well-being that fall under four categories: 1) economic well-being; 2) education; 3) health; and 4) family and community Each area of focus in the report complements the others. So, to implement change in the overall well-being of children and youth, there needs to be substantive efforts to address issues related to public health, socioeconomics, education, and community development. 

Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone have yielded positive results by using a holistic methodology that includes providing educational and social services, stabilizing families, preventing homelessness, and promoting healthy lifestyles throughout Harlem.  More cities and states across the country can benefit greatly from addressing their children’s well-being through a holistic lens.

Considering the disproportionate outcomes for children and youth across several racial backgrounds, it is also imperative to address the well-being of children and youth through a racial lens. Despite gains during recent decades for youth of color, African-Americans, Latinos and American Indian youth continue to experience negative outcomes that are at times much higher than the national average, and particularly higher than non-Hispanic Whites.

Those living in low-income communities consistently underperform in the classroom. The report highlighted categories such as eighth grade math proficiency, fourth grade reading proficiency and on-time graduation rates to measure academic performance. Those living in areas of higher poverty were more likely to have negative outcomes on academic measurements.

However, the report showed encouraging data over the course of the last several years on high school graduation, which can lead to higher paying jobs and a higher standard of living.  Today’s high school students are graduating on time at an 81 percent rate, which is an all-time high and also a significant 8 percent improvement from the 2005-2006 school year. Although these are encouraging numbers, the disproportion across racial groups is still explicitly shown in the data year after year.

Children whose parents lack high school diplomas and live in single-parent households are not as likely to have access to health insurance. The report, however, found another encouraging trend:  the education level of parents has been steadily increasing over the past several years. In 1990, 22 percent of children lived in families with parents who did not have a high school diploma; by 2012, the figure had declined to 15 percent.  

Although the report shows data that is discouraging and some data that signify areas of growth, the bottom-line is that more can still be done to circumvent the ongoing racial and socioeconomic disparities that contribute to children’s overall well-being. The more we as a nation invest in all areas of the community, the more we will begin to see the outcomes we desire for our children.  

Read more about the KIDS COUNT report here.

Aug 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Postsecondary Success Strategies for Opportunity Youth

By Andrea Barnes

In today’s economy, postsecondary credentials are essential to securing good jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage.  Whether it’s through college, vocational training, or a technical school, most youth want to obtain a postsecondary education. But for youth who have dropped out of high school, numerous barriers make it difficult or impossible for them to re-enter the education system. And even if they do obtain a high school diploma or GED, accessing and completing a postsecondary program is extremely challenging.  Youth may struggle to apply for financial aid, understand college culture, or secure counseling and academic support.  In response, many cities and states are now developing and implementing solutions that break down barriers and help youth achieve their dreams.

At a Congressional briefing last month, leaders of the Campaign for Youth, a coalition of national organizations, advocated for programs and policies to support postsecondary success for opportunity youth. Speakers included Terry Grobe (Jobs for the Future), Alan Melchior (Brandeis University), Scott Emerick (YouthBuild USA), Mala Thakur (National Youth Employment Coalition), Capri St. Vil (The Corps Network), H. Leigh Toney (Miami-Dade College), Alex Nock (Penn Hill Group), and Jennifer Brown Lerner (American Youth Policy Forum). Tyler Wilson (The Corps Network) moderated the briefing.

Jobs for the Future presented its Back on Track Through College model, aimed at creating more pathways for youth to achieve postsecondary credits and credentials. The framework is focused on three highly impactful interventions:

  1. Enriched preparation integrates high-quality college-ready instruction with strong academic and social supports.
  2. Postsecondary bridging builds college-ready skills and provides informed transition counseling.
  3. Support to completion offers appropriate supports to ensure postsecondary persistence and success, especially in the critical first year of postsecondary education.

Back on Track Through College has been implemented at 34 community-based sites in 17 states. Early data show promising results. An evaluation by the the Center for Youth and Communities at Brandeis University found that, across the three years of the pilot at National Youth Employment Coalition and YouthBuild sites, 73 percent of the students who entered college persisted two semesters or more. The Back on Track model is especially effective for court-involved youth, who must overcome social stigma, lack of access to resources, lack of employment opportunities, and unsupportive probation and parole requirements.

The key to the Back on Track model is partnership among secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and community-based organizations.  Each entity brings something different and valuable to the partnership. Strategic secondary-postsecondary partnerships create academic acceleration, while community-based organizations (such as YouthBuild and NYEC-affiliated schools and programs) provide academic and social supports, as well as youth leadership and development opportunities.

Taking the Back on Track model to scale and expanding it to other communities will require policy change at all levels of government. At the federal level, Jobs for the Future makes the following recommendations:

  • The High School Graduation Initiative within the ESEA should be modified to focus more intentionally on proven dropout recovery pathways.
  • Congress should invest in research and development around new school and program models to aid disconnected youth.
  • Within the Department of Education, School Improvement Grants and the High School Graduation Initiative should require further community collaboration around dropout prevention and recovery.
  • Reinstate the Disconnected Youth Opportunity Tax Credit, which came out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and expired in 2011. It provided a tax incentive for employers to hire disconnected youth.

Aug 12, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

New Legislation Introduced to Support Full-Service Community Schools

By Rhonda Bryant

On July 23, 2014, Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) introduced the Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2014. The full-service community school model co-locates education services and a range of vital health and social services, serving as a “one-stop shop” for students, families, and the community. This bipartisan bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to create a new competitive grant program, which would provide five-year grants to states, to implement statewide full-service community schools, as well as local partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations. A minimum of 10 percent of the funding would be designated for rural areas.

Proponents of the bill regard the community school model as a key strategy for increasing educational equity, narrowing achievement gaps, and graduating students who are college- and career-ready. This past April, the Coalition for Community Schools developed a framework to elevate community schools as a strategy to make our education system more equitable. The Coalition’s framework calls for three leadership structures:

  • Community-wide leadership groups comprised of school districts, government agencies, United Way chapters, businesses, community- and faith-based organizations are responsible for overall vision, policy, and resource alignment;
  • School-site leadership teams comprised of parents, residents, principals, teachers, community partners, and young people are responsible for planning, implementation, and continuous improvement; and
  • An intermediary entity provides planning, coordination, and management.

Through this integrated approach to partnerships, governance, and systems, communities can ensure everyone has a voice in planning and orchestrating a full-service community school model that meet their locale’s unique needs.

Legislation to fund full-service community schools was introduced in prior congressional sessions, but it has never been passed. However, through the appropriations process, a competitive grant program was created and administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Grants were awarded from 2008 through 2010, and a new competition to award $10 million in grants in FY 2014 is now underway.  While this funding from DOE is critical, the Full-Service Community Schools Act is essential codify the program and ensure its future availability.

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