In Focus

Jul 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Becomes Law; CLASP Looks toward Implementation

By Marcie Foster, Kisha Bird and Evelyn Ganzglass

On Tuesday, July 22, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), enacted by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate, after 11 years of debate to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.The White House is also releasing its Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity plan to expand pathways to the middle class. The plan includes expanding many effective strategies CLASP has promoted that better prepare disadvantaged adults and youth to be successful in the workplace.

At a time of sustained unemployment in many communities, the programs in WIOA are designed to help young people and adult workers prepare for work or further education, find jobs, and build the skills employers need. We applaud Congress for acting with near unanimity in taking this important step to create a workforce development system that better enables states and communities to connect low-income youth and adults to employment and training opportunities that lead to economic prosperity for themselves and their families. And we thank President Obama for moving so quickly to enact this law.

Key themes in the bill include:

  • An emphasis on the alignment of all core programs authorized in the bill, including a requirement for unified planning and reporting on a shared set of performance measures across these programs. These steps offer the potential for streamlining and significantly improving service delivery to participants, particularly low-income, low-skilled individuals.
  • A heightened focus on providing training and helping participants prepare for postsecondary education to improve their success in the labor market.
  • Greater focus on and new vehicles for addressing the needs of youth and adults who have significant barriers to employment.
  • Strong support for implementation of innovative adult education models such as integrated education and training, career pathways and sector strategies.
  • A recognition—through  the incorporation of measureable skill gains as an interim indicator of progress and required use of a performance adjustment model—that some workers will need more intensive assistance and additional time in the core programs.

CLASP will be releasing a detailed analysis of WIOA’s implications for low-income and low-skilled youth and adults in the coming weeks. We anticipate working closely with leaders and advocates in states and local communities over the coming year to support the implementation and expansion of workforce systems, policies, and practices that are grounded in research and experience, while also improving the education and employability of low-income people.  In addition, we will work to ensure that newly designed regulations fully implement the bill’s focus on serving America’s most vulnerable workers.

Specifically, we will work collectively to ensure that, through implementation:

  • States and localities leverage the unified planning requirement to partner with key education and human service systems to better address the needs of individuals with barriers to employment. 
  • Performance metrics will improve services to those with barriers rather than be a disincentive.
  • Effective employment and education strategies, such as integrated education, career pathways, and transitional jobs are implemented at scale.
  • Low-income individuals and out-of-school youth are a priority for the provision of services, as intended in the legislation.
  • The provision of youth services maximizes opportunities to better serve older youth ages 16 to 24 across Title I and Title II.

While the passage of WIOA is an historical and significant event, a key next step will be to increase the capacity of the workforce development and adult education systems to achieve the goals of WIOA. Congress should strengthen its commitment to the nation’s workers by providing adequate resources to ensure that improved services reach those who need them. Although modest increases in funding for core programs are authorized in the bill, programs suffered such damaging recent cuts that the FY2017 authorized funding levels in the bill would only restore funding to FY2010 levels. For workforce development programs to have a substantial impact on the country’s unemployed and low-skilled workers, Congress must take steps to eliminate sequestration and the budget caps, both of which are dampening the economic recovery.

Leading up to WIOA’s implementation date of July 2015, the Departments of Education and Labor will be developing regulations and guidance for states and local communities on how to implement the new law. CLASP commends Congress and the Congressional staffers who worked on this important bill and we look forward to working with federal officials, states and local communities to strengthen existing programs and take advantage of the opportunities set forth in the bill to better serve low-income and low-skilled workers. 

Jul 18, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Achieving Equity in Education Through Community Schools

By Andrea Barnes

In the Manhood Program, implemented in 14 schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), middle and high school boys learn the necessary life and social skills to become powerful adults. They explore their identity, learn to regulate their emotions and resolve conflict constructively, and build confidence to express their true selves.

Furthermore, the Manhood Program provides participants with the information and preparation to attain postsecondary credentials and careers. Part of the African American Male Achievement initiative, the Manhood Program works with Oakland’s full service community schools to engage community members, families, and school-based health centers to provide a comprehensive array of services and supports for young black males. The AAMA initiative connects with school-based health centers to prioritize outreach for boys, engages families to encourage academic success at home, and partners with community members and organizations to serve as mentors and instructors.

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. A community school serves as both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. The integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has revealed stark inequities in the education system. On a wide range of academic measures, low-income youth of color fare worse than their white counterparts. The barriers faced by low-income youth of color are complex and vast. Therefore, the responsibility cannot rest on the school system alone, which lacks the resources and expertise to ensure all these youths’ needs are met. Partnerships are key to solving this problem, which is what makes community schools different. A community school is an organizing force for many important resources, creating a sense of shared responsibility for supporting children and families.

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.
  • An intermediary entity provides planning, coordination, and management.

Effective community schools reduce grade retention and dropout rates while increasing attendance, math achievement, grade point average, and engagement in learning.  This modest investment prepares students to succeed in education and work—improving their long-term outcomes and strengthening our economy. To learn more about community schools and other strategies to achieve equity, policymakers can refer to the National Equity and Excellence Commission’s report For Each and Every Child.

Jul 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Engagement and Motivation: Key Factors for Student Achievement

By Andrew Mulinge

For the first time in U.S. history, the high school graduation rate has eclipsed 80 percent for all students. However, graduation rates remain lower for African American, Latino, and Native American students. The 2014 edition of Diplomas Count, Motivation Matters: Engaging Students, Creating Learners, focuses on innovative ways to engage and motivate students to achieve academic success and help them become critical thinkers outside the classroom.

To supplement the report’s data, Education Week Research Center conducted a national survey of more than 500 teachers and school administrators to identify key issues related to student success. The educators named a number of factors related to student success, such as teacher quality, community involvement, and disproportionate disciplinary actions; however, results indicate educators believe student engagement and motivation are among the most important. The challenge for teachers across the country is creating environments where students can feel stimulated both academically and socially. Teachers participating in the survey emphasized the importance of using innovative, hands-on practices in the classroom to motivate students and keep them engaged.

To impact engagement and motivation for low-income students and students of color, there are several key steps teachers and school leaders can take.

  1. Invest more resources in adult guidance and support of students. There are too few guidance counselors in low-income schools, where students need more support and assistance to be successful. Partnerships with community-based organizations also expand the schools’ capacity to address non-academic barriers to achievement.
  2. Provide greater access to employment opportunities as a part of the educational experience. For many low-income students, the burden of poverty and the need to earn money to help support themselves and their families pull them away from school. Integrating innovative educational options that provide opportunities to earn money while also teaching academic and career skills addresses this barrier.
  3. Improve pre-service and ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators to address successful methods of student engagement and motivation. Teachers surveyed noted that their academic training did not adequately prepare them to engage and motive students.
  4. Use culturally relevant course materials and teaching methods to engage students. Teachers and administrators need to better understand racial, ethnic, and gender norms, as well as methods of teaching and interacting. Proficiency in these areas will enable them to engage students authentically.
  5. Use technology more creatively to engage and motivate students. Over the past several years, investing in classroom technology has improved student engagement by addressing the diversity in student learning styles.

The survey demonstrates the importance of investments that improve student engagement and motivation. As we continue forward, new policies and initiatives must provide resources for districts, teachers, community members, and students that allow students to feel empowered—academically, economically, and socially.

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