A Return To The Promise?


By Patricia Melton

More than 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared — in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision — that state laws allowing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The ruling — which was unanimous — stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Yet American schools are more segregated this fall that at any time since 1968. To illustrate the point, the nation’s top five populous cities — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia — all have white populations of more than 40 percent. None of their public school systems, though, have white student bodies of more than 14 percent.

And in spite of the emerging trend of cities increasing its white population for the first time in years, Nikole Hannah-Jones — who writes investigative pieces for The New York Times Magazine — reports that “gentrification, it turns out, usually stops at the schoolhouse door.”

There are indications that this growing chasm is about to come under government scrutiny. Dr. John King — who has been picked to become the U.S. Secretary of Education after Arne Duncan’s recent departure — recently told attendees at a conference of the National Coalition on School Diversity, “I remain hopeful that there are opportunities in the reauthorization [of revised No Child Left Behind provisions] to specifically incentivize socioeconomic integration, to take steps that will improve the racial integration of our schools.”

“President Obama has been taking on issues toward the end of his term that he wouldn’t touch in earlier years. So to me, the moment is ripe for the administration to take some important steps on integration,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “You have a new secretary of education who is deeply committed to the issue. You have a president who appears willing to expend some political capital toward the end of his term to address issues that are important to him. And you have the backdrop of unrest in a number of segregated urban areas. There’s more focus on this issue than there has been in a long time.”

And all the metrics indicate that the time is just right.

Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise

A New Step — The Prep Pact?


Dr. Mike Richards, the President of the College of Southern Nevada, recently called the Promise movement “the most exciting thing happening in American higher education right now.”

Well, we happen to agree, but it is also the most innovative way to incentivize students to see a different path. And while the Promise movement has seen an array of funding options — from business, foundations, universities and even tax programs — there is a new one that is already here.

Take a look at the Phoenix Pact, which makes it possible for graduates of North Lawndale College Prep — a free, open-enrollment, public charter school located on Chicago’s Westside — to go to colleges where they are most likely to succeed, rather than colleges they can afford.

Starting with the class that graduated in the spring of 2015, the Phoenix Pact is, as President Barack Obama is fond of saying, “available for those who work for it.” Recipients must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average at NLCP, enroll full-time at an approved “Success College,” qualify for full Pell grant funding and meet satisfactory academic progress in college.

Officials at North Lawndale have been very committed to identify those “Success Colleges,” where students like the ones who graduate from NLCP have stronger chances of completion.

When the Phoenix Pact was announced this summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who helped open the school nearly two decades ago, came back and told the audience:

“If you guys can start to prove there’s not just one amazing young person or one amazing teacher but systemically dozens of dozens of young people every single year (who) can graduate, and cannot just go to college but graduate from college on the back end, you start to let the nation know what’s possible. If you can create a model, the national implications are pretty big.”

Pretty big indeed.

Heads Up America: The Focus On Affordability Just Got Real

It’s an audacious plan — to basically change K-12 public education to K-14 — but President Barack Obama doubled down on his Heads Up America proposal of free community college last week. He first broached the American College Promise in January in his State of the Union address, but it was clear that the odds of a successful Congressional act to address a new $60 billion educational investment would be long. A Hail Mary pass plus a two-point conversion long.

But at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., on Wednesday he called education “the secret sauce to America’s success,” referred to “a Movement going on,” and unveiled an advisory board of educators, business and non-profits leaders and politicians who will study different models and spread the word about free tuition. The advisory board — chaired by Dr. Jill Biden — is available here.

“I’ve been focused on community colleges,” Obama said in his speech. “They are at the heart of the American dream. For every young person willing to work hard, I want community college to be as free and universal as high school. It’s easy for politicians to say young people are the future. But you’ve got to walk the walk. No kid should be priced out of a college education. No hardworking young person should be denied just because of where they started. You don’t have to necessarily go to a four-year degree to get a good job, but you need to have some specialized skills.”

This initiative has recently been formalized in Tennessee and Oregon and is being piloted in Minnesota. It has also been established by community college systems in places like Miami, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia.

Threading the needle with an act of Congress is not required. Colleges, cities and states have already created incentives and motivations for students that are “willing to work for it” and there is significant federal money already out there. What’s needed is awareness, courage, will and additional funds to close the gaps.

President Obama and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be speaking about college access and affordability on Monday at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of Duncan’s annual back-to-school bus tour. Without question, one of the topics will be the Department of Education’s new College Scoreboard, which is a massive collection of data regarding success, debt and income of those receiving financial aid or loans from the federal government. Click here for a fascinating piece on how the data was collected and prepared for public consumption.

A Promise Restrained


By Brett Hoover

In early November the nation’s Promise programs will convene in Kalamazoo, Mich., for PromiseNet 2015 and among the events will be a 10th anniversary celebration gala of the ground-breaking Kalamazoo Promise.

But early November will also be the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which ushered in a national promise in the form of the forerunner to what would become known as the Pell Grant. That program — named for the late Claiborne Pell, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island — has been a major factor in the ability of students from lower-income households to attend and graduate from college.

Yet for the last 20 years the most at-risk haven’t been eligible to tap into the funds. The Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress in 1994 wiped out Pell Grants for the incarcerated. The early 1990s saw new spikes in violent crime in the U.S. and the comprehensive act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was a “get-tough-on-crime” reaction.

Vivian Nixon and Glenn Martin recently co-authored a plea for the Promise of Pell in our prison system. Published on the website of the Department of Education, Nixon and Martin wrote, “This research clearly demonstrates that access to higher education is actually a boon for public safety; it drives down recidivism rates, improves the lives of incarcerated students and returning citizens, and improves the lives of their families and communities.”

In an age when the U.S. has more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities, this deserves the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. All across the South, more people live behind bars than on campuses.

The Pell Grant — established to provide an opportunity — has made the country a better place. A promise provides greater outcomes than a penalty.

Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.