The Official Blog of the Youth Transition Funders Group

Hosted by Chris Sturgis, Strategic Advisor to YTFG

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Search of the Silver Strategy

Hi everyone -- In starting up this blog, Lisa McGill, Director of the YTFG signed up for a gaggle of online news feeds. Although this can be a random picture of what is going on in the United States, it certainly gives a picture.

One of the things I'm struck by is the number of articles on solving the dropout crisis that promotes one simply designed program.  Now I'm all for using well-designed programs in our effort to stem the tide of children prematurely leaving school.  But I worry about this silver bullet approach as it demoralizes staff, reinforces the image that the children are in fact the only agents of change....and wastes money we desperately need to be directed to effective strategies.

Case In Point:  This blogger is promoting the use of a time capsule to connect young people to their future and themselves.  I actually think this is a pretty clever activity.  And it may help to motivate some young people - no doubt. The questions remain: did the project involve the teens that needed motivating (and how did they know), how are the students that are missing credits going to catch up, and what about the kids who need to make some money....what is the district doing to make sure they don't have to pick between school and work.

Bottom line: Dropout programs alone can't solve the dropout crisis. Schools and districts have to become more responsive in how they deliver services and allocate resources. We've got to quit looking for silver bullets and look for silver strategies -- strategies that will help us leverage full system reforms.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Can't San Francisco Find Placements for their Children in Foster Care

Good Morning - So I've been reading and re-reading this article in the New York Times about the state budget crisis and its impact on the child welfare system. (More on the impact of the budget crisis later).  There are so many aspects to it to this story that made me just stop and wonder about what was really going on.

Part of the story is about how young boys are "outsourced" from around the state to the Excel Ranch in the Central Valley.  It goes on to say that in the south, the system is able to find placements for 90% of the children in the system within their own county. But that in Northern California...well it seems they just can't find placements.

San Francisco -- can only find 36% placements within the city. Then they have to go find placements elsewhere. They quote Trent Rhorer,  head of human services, as excusing the fact the city can't find placements for all of its 136 children because it is geographically small.  Seriously....have they even tried? 

Okay I know that the story goes that people in San Fran love their dogs more than their children.  Formerly from San Fran myself, I still find this embarrasing that a city awash in wealth can't find a way to care for the children in their foster care system.

Okay...back to writing about the impact of the budget crisis.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I3 Fund Seeking Reviewers

Hi all -- The US Dept of Education is looking for reviewers for it's I3 Fund competition. This is a great opportunity!  Reviewing federal proposals is a great thing to do as part of any leadership development plan. It takes a lot of time. In return you get a scan of what others are doing, meet some great folks, and learn just a bit more about how federal government operates.

I'm going to go prepare my application right now!

bye for now - chris

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mary Anne Raywid

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Mary Anne Raywid. I never had the pleasure of meeting her. But fifteen years ago while I was at the Mott Foundation,  I tried to get my hands on everything she had written as I came to terms with the fact that the youth employment system alone could not address the dropout crisis.  

Raywid's analysis of the different types of alternative education schools still holds firm as a way to understand the different levels of programming that are needed in any district portfolio of options.  This should be required reading for the policymakers in DC that are struggling with the technical issues involved in ESEA accountability system when thinking about how to measure effectiveness of high schools.

Although Raywid's works are not easily accessible on the web, the following are both overivews of alternative education that build on her work -- An Overview of Alternative Education and it's preceeding Towards a Typology of Alternative Education.

bye for now - chris

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Perfect Storm of Leadership and Vision

The decision by the Bloomberg administration to integrate its juvenile justice system into child welfare took me by surprise. But I suppose it shouldn't have. New York City is also one of the leading cities addressing the needs of over-age and under-credited students --- students that would never get their diploma without the high quality transfer schools, Young Adult Borough Centers and Learning to Work program.  There are even efforts to upgrade GED programming so that students are prepared for college. With Vinnie Schiraldi leading the charge to revamp the Department of Probation, NYC is definitely a place to watch and learn.  As I think about it, New York City is integrating youth development into the very core of its operations.

Using a more developmental, therapeutic approach for young people who have gotten in trouble is an enormous step forward.  And child welfare systems have thought a lot more and have a much better set of enabling policies that support the transition out of the system such as the Chafee Act and Fostering Connections. But both systems are going to have to do better in preparing young people for when they transition out of the systems.  In the outstanding paper Supporting Youth in Transition to Adulthood:Lessons Learned from Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice which describes how the two systems diverged in culture and policy over time,  the authors mention research findings that "within twelve months of their release from institutional placement, only 30 percent of delinquent young  were involved in either school or employment."

Maybe in a city with mayoral control, it can be done. Wouldn't it be incredible if in a few years we would see graduation rates of 70% or 80% for young people who had been in foster care or juvenile justice instead of the horrifying 30-50% rate our systems are producing today.

Okay, I'm getting too excited.  But I can't help thinking...what if juvenile justice policy was moved out of the Department of Justice into the Administration for Children and Families?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How did we do on Race to the Top?

In November I sent out emails to all the people I’ve worked with over the years asking them to take a moment to celebrate that we had gotten those young people referred to as “dropouts” into federal education policy.  Equally important, the constancy of our message that we need to pay attention to the children in public care  resulted in youth in foster care and juvenile justice system getting special attention in the Race to the Top application. In RTT, high-need students were defined as “students at risk of educational failure or otherwise in need of special assistance and support, such as students who are living in poverty, who attend high-minority schools (as defined in this notice), who are far below grade level, who have left school before receiving a regular high school diploma, who are at risk of not graduating with a diploma on time, who are homeless, who are in foster care, who have been incarcerated, who have disabilities, or who are English language learners.”

Yet we knew the challenge was to get the states to pay attention to the fact that they needed to incorporate the needs of students off-track to graduation, regardless if they were in or out of school into their strategies. It’s never easy to draw together “universal” reform efforts with targeted approaches to sub-populations. Yet, there were several clear areas where it made sense:
  • overall goal setting by clearly including goals for increases in the 4 year, the extended graduation rate and specific goals for sub-groups; 
  • improving low performing schools with complementary approach to meeting needs of students off-track to graduation; 
  • ensuring STEM was available to schools serving most vulnerable students (Priority 2); 
  • ensuring data systems are designed to monitor and improve services to high-need students including recuperation and recovery (Priority 4); and,
  • engaging child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, workforce development in horizontal alignment to ensure effective support services and educational safety nets (Priority 5). 

So how did the states do? I’ve done a quick read on a handful of RTT applications (Colorado, DC, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico) and I’d say we have a long way to go. Most states barely refer to the high-need students, if at all. Here are a couple of highlights.

Setting Clear High School Graduation Goals: Georgia and Florida set clear graduation goals including for sub-groups. I didn't see anyone refer to the extended graduation rate which worries me -- does that mean they aren't going to serve the kids who need that extra year? I sure would have liked to have seen them set goals for young people in foster care and juvenile justice as well.

Recuperation and Recovery: Georgia and DC by far have the strongest approaches of the applications I skimmed.  GA recognizes that credit recovery doesn’t work for all students and expands Performance Learning Centers. It's a small gesture...but it's a start.  DC addresses the importance of having the P-20 system guide adequate capacity of our educational safety net, alternative education. Both of these places have outstanding alternative schools...and it's clearly making a difference in the viability of recuperation and recovery as a state strategy.

Comprehensive Support Services: DC’s approach includes full service schools, intentional engagement strategies, wraparound services and increased learning opportunities including scheduling evening credit recovery and Saturday AP Academy,, summer school, and after-school “Power Hour”. Florida has a section on offering evidence-based programming to help those students at-risk of not graduating including  advanced classes and helping schools create positive behavior support systems (as compared to exclusionary policies that undermine learning by educators and students).

Competency-Based Pathways: Georgia is taking this seriously (NH and Oregon have already been carving the path for the rest of the country). Colorado and New Mexico mention it without any clarity about what they are going to do. Juvenile Justice and Foster Care: DC and FL have some references to creating educational access for young people returning from detention. Disappointingly, I haven't found anything more than a passing reference to children in foster care. Not one reference to Fostering Connections. However Colorado seems to be thinking strategically with their SchoolView information system will allow for the integration of data from the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Corrections. Bravo Colorado!

Lesson Learned!

It’s not enough to have it clearly defined that states and districts still have a responsibility to educate students that have “dropped out”. Next time we have to get it into the application so that there are points for incorporating high need students into the strategies. And no matter what, this tells us that we need to be helping our state leadership think through how to keep a focus on our young people while simultaneously reforming the overall education system. It’s not an either/or proposition, if we want to see rapid increases in our graduation rates.

How did your state address high needs students in your state? Any progress in getting state education policy to embrace the educational needs of students that have dropped out?

bye for now - chris

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Welcome to the Youth Transition Funders Group Blog

Welcome to the Youth Transition Funders Group Blog!

The members of the YTFG are always, always!, reflecting on how we can do better in our work as individual program officers and as a collective (think bees, not borg) effort to improve the lives of young people and the effectiveness of the systems that serve them.  We had an AHA! moment last year as realized that we were not taking full advantage of the network of foundations, grantees and wanna-be grantees. If we began to think of ourselves as one of the "hubs" in this enormous social network that included staff, board and young people themselves, we could accelerate the rate in which we generate influence.  

The trick was that we had to take two big steps forward:

#1 We had to learn the tricks of the Web 2.0 trade. We had to learn to blog, twit, link, friend and flickr. 
#2 We had to embrace greater transparency. Putting our names, opinions, ideas out there in the cyber world for people to react. 

This is not to say that each of our foundation members are taking these steps forward. One of the reasons we founded the YTFG is that we could do things as a network that we couldn't do as individual foundations.  

So let me explain what we are trying to do with this blog (and what we aren't). 

Constantly challenge our selves to do better by young people.  This will include sharing accomplishments, reflecting on our field and policies, sharing ideas for ways we might position ourselves to push for better federal and state policy. 

Create an avenue for new ideas to emerge. One of the challenges in both policymaking and grantmaking is that new ideas and new organizations have to find a way to get access. We are hoping that by creating multiple ways to share ideas and resources we can open up access.  One of the things we will be doing is having guest writers on this blog. So if you are interested just let us know. 

Focus on results. The YTFG uses a results framework with a focus on increasing impact (making a difference in young people's lives), influence (access/go-to-place for knowledge,networks and ideas) and leverage (dollars/policies).  We want to hear from you about campaigns, improvements in policies, evaluations of promising practices. Be clear: this is not a site to just vent about how badly we treat our young people. If there is something awful happening in your community let us know. But also let us know what you think should be done about it.  We are focusing on what we can do, not what we can't.

We also have sites at facebook and twitter to share information on events, reports, and news. Periodically, I'll try to pull related sets of information together here to make it easier for you to stay on top of trends and important resources. 

Now a disclaimer:
This blog will include writings from multiple authors. The views and opinions expressed in this blog represent only those of the particular author(s) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that may or may not be referenced. This blog includes links to other websites, media organizations, and blogs owned and operated by other independent parties. These are provided as a means of convenient access for you to the information/opinion contained therein. We are in no way responsible for the content of any other sites or any products or services that may be offered through other sites. Also, the site owner of this blog will not be held responsible in any way for the writings, opinions, points of view, offensive language, or other content furnished by other authors, including but not limited to those "commenting" authors who choose to leave such content in the comments sections of articles and posts to this blog. The persons leaving the comment is solely responsible for any writings and content contained in those comments. The site author(s) do not necessarily agree with the comments left in this blog. The authors of the main posts and the commenters are the sole owners of any writings they upload to this blog. The site owner(s) reserve the right to delete, and/or alter any comments and/or writings from any author in this blog, but shall not be held liable in any way for any unaltered (by site owner(s)) materials by such parties.

All of that said...we really want to hear from you. Let us know what you would like to see on this blog, feel free to comment (although please position your comments respectfully as we deeply believe that we can only learn from each other and work together when we have a foundation of respect), and again...if you'd like to be a guest writer we'd love to hear your thoughts. 

bye for now - chris