As I ride my bike at dawn along the East River I must congratulate the mayor. Bike lanes, pedestrian malls, and parks have improved the quality of life for residents of Manhattan and the nearby areas of Brooklyn and Queens.
If you live in East New York, Brownsville or Rockaway or one of the other communities of poverty nothing has changed. In fact, quality of life has deteriorated, more foreclosed homes, boarded up stores, no super markets and no jobs.
There are two New Yorks.
A New York for the affluent that glitters and a few miles away a New York that has more in common with Afghanistan: clans and crime, generations tied to a neighborhood, struggling schools overshadowed by police cars prowling the mean streets.
William Julius Wilson, whose pioneering work boldly confronted ghetto life while focusing on economic explanations for persistent poverty, defines culture as the way “individuals in a community develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding.”
For some young black men, Professor Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, said, the world works like this: “If you don’t develop a tough demeanor, you won’t survive. If you have access to weapons, you get them, and if you get into a fight, you have to use them.” (NY Times)
The mayor has toyed with antipoverty programs but his efforts have been meager. It was surprising when the mayor announced a program to assist unemployed black and Hispanic males.
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.
Unfortunately it looks like the $24 million is not being well spent. The 40 highest performing small high schools with high concentrations of poor students will show:
* lower percentages of special education and English Language learners.
* entering classes that have higher attendance in middle schools as well as lower suspension rates.
* fewer student living in foster care and group homes.
* fewer students living in public housing projects.
We know that non-cognitive skills are closely related to success in cognitive skills.
Nobel Prize awardee James Heckman tells us,
Persistence pays, contends economist James Heckman, as do other non-cognitive skills—for both the individual and society.
Like persistence, dependability and other under-studied traits probably play as important a role in work and school success as do more easily measured skills, such as those recorded on achievement tests,
Study after study points to behaviors that can be identified in elementary school, reinforced in middle school that lead to poor academic performance and dropping out of high school. The Alliance for Excellent Education compiles a number of studies on, “Using Early Warning Data to Improve Graduation Rates: Closing Cracks in the Education System,” August 2008.
If you ask high school dropouts, the black and Latino youth who are without a diploma and without a job, they will recount experience after experience that drew them away from school.
Speak with the kids in the Alpha School, a GED program in East New York that gets excellent results with kids who dropped out, were thrown out or who returned from incarceration.
Wait a minute, we can’t ask Alpha, the State zero-ed out their funding and closed the school – due to a clerical error! Or, maybe, they just didn’t have enough political juice.
There are a few schools with challenging cohorts that do succeed.
Exemplary school leaders who pay attention to non-cognitive behaviors as well as demanding a rigorous curriculum and staffs that buy-in to the principal’s vision and work in a collaborative environment.
The Soros Foundation is putting up $24 million.
With $24 million we can fund mentors, an hour 3x a week, one-on-one for 5,000 kids!!!
Sit down with kids who quit school and can’t find a job and ask them what we can do to avoid the same fate for their younger brothers and sisters.
How about creating community schools with wrap-around services?
According to a Siena College Poll 53% of those polled in the former Weiner Congressional District (Brooklyn-Queens) give Mayor Bloomberg an “unfavorable” rating – only Weiner gets a worse rating.
I fear the Mayor is more interested in raising public opinion of his performance than actual policy initiatives.