The Official Blog of the Youth Transition Funders Group

Hosted by Chris Sturgis, Strategic Advisor to YTFG

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Early Onset of Adulthood: Looking at the Transitions to Adulthood of Vulnerable Youth

Yesterday, I listened in to the webinar When One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Practices and Policy Implications for Subgroups of Transitioning Foster Youth sponsored by NGA and Chapin Hall.  The title caught my attention as I’m fascinated by the possibility of customization in the education and social service sectors that is becoming available through the awesome technological advancements. And equally awed by the challenges of doing so in when resources are tighter than ever before.

How do we think about equity when there is not enough resources for everyone and our customers need different types and intensity of services, thus requiring different amounts of money? As we get smarter about the segmented markets (yep business speak, but I think it is really helpful in cases like this) and begin to think through customized services, it’s obviously silly to just deliver one set of services to everyone regardless if it is meeting their need. Do we focus on equity of outcomes – we don’t have enough money to make sure all foster youth make a full transition to independent adulthood, so we are going to just make sure that none of you are homeless? That of course is silly as well.  But I am a firm believer that policy needs to take into account the limits of the resources as otherwise we let the bureaucracy and its tedious set of forms and rules allocate resources. And young people are left to try to navigate this maze on their own.

During the webinar Mark Courtney reviewed the findings of the Midwest Study. It’s the most comprehensive study of the transition of foster youth, starting with interviews with 700 interviews with young people in 2002. So far they have been able to follow about 80% of the participants and going back out in the field to interview them at age 26 in the coming year.  Mark outlined what the researchers saw as four types of transitions that the young people are making: 
  • Accelerated Adults (36%) - Most of this group were female, most likely to live on their own in stable living conditions, about half have children, half had been able to complete some college. 84% are connected to school or work. 
  • Struggling Parents (25%) – This group was named as 91% have children yet are barely making it economically. Most are living with someone or married, are the least likely to have any college experience, only 38% are connected to employment or school.
  • Emerging Adults (21%) – Mark described this group as young people that are delaying transition markers (a strange phrase as it suggests that they are making the choice to delay rather than making the assumption that they have tried unsuccessfully) but avoiding hardships. Over half are male; 2/3 have employment, most are living with friends and relatives. 
  • Troubled and Troubling (18%) – Indeed this group is troubling. Mostly male, most likely to have been incarcerated or homeless, 40% have not completed their diploma. Only 10% are employed and 30% connected to any type of school or education. And many had substance abuse or mental health issues. It broke my heart when Mark explained that this group indicated in earlier interviews that they didn’t feel ready to be on their own, and obviously they aren’t.  At what point do we listen to the young people and if they say they aren’t ready, then we keep helping them?
The policy discussion highlighted that all of the young people needed comprehensive supports for education and employment.  Yet, parents need different supports that are often overlooked. Mark pointed out that the Fostering Connections Act never even mentions the word “parent”. Finally, the young people labeled Troubled and Troubling need significant interventions to address their long-standing psycho-social problems. The issue of group homes was raised as so many of the Troubled and Troubling spent time in them. Mark pointed out that the residence in a group home may be a proxy for long-standing issues rather than the problem. Regardless, one thing we can do is strengthen our interventions for young people in group homes.

Although not raised in the webinar, I think we also need to pay attention to the growing belief that the transition to adulthood is being delayed or changing in our culture.  The New York Times highlighted the research in last week’s magazine in the cover article,  What Is It About 20-Somethings? Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? The article explores what some academics are calling “emerging adulthood”.  (FYI -- Much of the research driving this national discussion is from the Network on Transitions to Adulthood, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. )

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.”

My concern is that many vulnerable young people are challenged by “early onset of adulthood” in trying to generate income to support their families or take care of siblings or parents.  They simply cannot balance work, families and an inflexible school schedule.  There is little research into the group of students (30% of the dropout population according to Project U-Turn’s analysis )  that are doing okay in school and then dropout in 11th or 12th grade.  We need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of them, and figure out how to keep them connected to high school,  as our nation begins to shift its thinking about young people’s transition to adulthood.  Taking longer to become independent adults may be okay for children with families with enough income and assets to support them. But for many, a delay in connecting fully to the labor market means years and years of hardship.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Comments on Promise Neighborhoods

Jeffrey Butts
Hi all -- Jeffrey Butts commented on the What's an Officer to Do post about the evaluations of the Harlem Children's Zone.  It was such a great comment that I decided to raise it up to the blog. He reminds us that even when research is supportive of our favorite programs we still need to be honest with ourselves that there is still a lot more to the story.  I'm very busy right now reflecting as I'm not sure I've held myself fully to that standard and certainly know I can do better--- chris
-----------------
Jeffrey Butts said... I didn't see the original post on this, but I'm glad I noticed the revision. This is a terrific analysis. We should all remember that research and evaluation on social programs is a blunt instrument at best. When we see one of our favorite programs gored by an external evaluation, it is easy to find all sorts of reasons to reject the conclusions. Perhaps the researchers were biased. Maybe the measures were imperfect or the comparisons inappropriate. All evaluations are vulnerable to critical scrutiny. All studies, in fact, are only partial answers. We should be equally agnostic and restrained when a study confirms our beliefs and values. When I see advocates proclaim the findings of an imperfect study just because it fits the argument of the moment, I get queasy about the whole political movement called "evidence-based" policy and practice. As Chris suggests, policymakers like the world divided into simple categories like pro and con, good and bad, and works versus doesn't work. The world of social policy is not that simple, and the role of research is never that clean. Good researchers provide treatment for the policymaker's addiction to simple thinking; they don't try to feed it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Education Advocates: Is this the Best Solution

Hi - The National Center for Youth Law just released a report on Education Advocacy Systems for Foster Youth.  It is a good primer for any county and district trying to improve educational outcomes for foster youth by providing educational advocates.  It walks through a few different variations of the model which will help communities determine what might be best for them.

In reading the report I started wondering if this is the best we can do.  My wondering was triggered by two concerns:

A) At a time of budget constraints, it seems that in most cases education advocates are in general a new layer of support. A critically important set of supports, but still additional services to what has been provided before. Is it sustainable? Scalable? What is the cost if all foster youth were to be able to have access? Is there another way to design it for greater affordability?

B) From what I can tell there is nothing inherently designed in the education advocate model that pushes for systems change in the education system. We know that the challenge to increase educational outcomes for foster youth will require collaboration across the two systems, yet it feels that the educational advocates may actually reduce the immediate need for improving cross-system work by being a sort of glue that fills the gaps. 

The dilemma is that with the high turnover of case workers and the high degree of knowledge needed to advocate within education, including special education, it is very difficult to integrate this into standard practice in child welfare. For the school districts, foster youth by themselves is such a small population it does not demand a response when the entire systems are under pressure to improve. Thus we are left with creating a new cadre of staff providing a very important set of service.

I'd like to put forth a slightly different variation -

First, the model of educational advocates is entirely appropriate for young people in juvenile justice, without homes, or have interrupted education such as those that need to work or care for families, migrants, and those with illnesses.   If we expand the focus from solely on foster youth to youth with the greatest barriers, the numbers become large enough for the districts to pay attention and direct resources.  Of course, federal funding with its different parameters for each program may be a barrier to this type of streamlining of services.

Second, by aggregating the data across a larger number of students we may also be able to highlight the substantial gaps in services or bureaucratic barriers. The most significant one is the lack of alternatives for high school students to re-enroll in school.  Most high schools do not want to accept students after 9th grade or in mid-semester. But there needs to be a way for students to have access to education. My back of envelope estimates, supported by the limited research in this area, is that less than 10% of current need is being met.  Thus, you can add education advocates, but in some cases there are simply no places for young people to go.

I actually do think in the short-run that educational advocacy for foster youth is a meaningful method for moving forward. As large districts move towards a portfolio of schools, creating greater complexity, it is all the more important for students and their parents or guardians to have support in navigating the many choices.  Yet I think we could push ourselves to have a longer-term vision, learning from the educational advocates for foster youth, and innovating for more systemic responses to students in need of a helping hand.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's A Program Officer to Do? Revisiting Promise Neighborhoods



I am revisiting the issue of Promise Neighborhoods and the Harlem Children's Zone.  Many of you have sent comments that expanded my understanding of the dynamics around the discussion (or is it becoming a debate) about Promise Neighborhoods.  I thought it was worthwhile to revise my original post (I’m actually revising so you don’t have to bounce back and forth between two web pages) to capture the additional perspectives.

Diane Sierpina from the Tow Foundation just sent me the article in Youth Today on the new report from the Brookings Institute on the Harlem Children's Zone.  Brookings recently released a report The Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that calls into question the effectiveness of HCZ.  How can a program officer make sense of this when the previous evaluation by Dobbie and Fryer Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Bold Social Experiment in Harlem found that the " Harlem Children’s Zone is enormously effective at increasing the achievement of the poorest minority children. "          

So with the federal initiative for Promise Neighborhoods, practitioners advocating strongly for comprehensive support services, and common sense telling us that supports and opportunities are necessary for any child to succeed, how does a program officer make sense of this debate and make effective investments? This is our ultimate responsibility, to select among all the ideas, initiatives and organizations so that we are improving lives of children and families. Truly, what is a program officer to do?

Below are four issues I think are worth considering in sorting through this debate:

1) America's Fragmentation of Children:  First, it is really important to remember that these evaluations are looking for evidence of academic improvement. They are not evaluating on any other social, emotional or developmental outcomes.  I was actually a bit shocked by the Brookings Institute website on the report that actually re-creates history by stating, "The entire rationale and appeal of the HCZ is its holistic, neighborhood-based approach to the educational achievement of low-income students." This fails to recognize the original driving force behind the Rheedlen Center and the HCZ -- concerns that children in Harlem were facing violence, hunger, few places to play, and few safe places to go. It is only in our "academics trump all" environment that HCZ is being evaluated solely on its effectiveness in improving test scores. It reminds of the shift in purpose when 21st Century Learning Centers was placed in the Department of Education – suddenly prevention programs of all types, such as those aimed at violence or pregnancy, was re-purposed to improve academic achievement.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think education is absolutely essential to addressing just about every developmental milestone in a young person’s life. Yet, our country tries to break children into pieces and then assumes each of the pieces will be taken care of by different sectors: academics by school, socio-emotional by parents, communities, and programs such as after school; and spiritual by parents and faith institutions.  In discussions with educators in Singapore, they were shocked by how we break children into isolated building blocks rather than approaching them holistically. When we asked them how they select teachers they said, "The most important thing is that they love children." The national debate about education that positions accountability against services and opportunities is absolutely artificial, reflecting our deeply held factory model in which children are just widgets moving along on the academic assembly line.

For foundations, such as the members of the Youth Transition Funders Group, that hold a belief that positive development requires understanding and supporting young people holistically (as demonstrated by our commitment to five outcomes for youth), it is important to pay attention to what these evaluations are focused upon.  We simply do not know if the comprehensive services are producing other positive impacts in the lives of children and families.

2) Schools are Central to Producing Achievement Gains:  Although HCZ is primarily described as comprehensive wraparound services, the fact of the matter is that they also developed their own charter schools.  There are two elementary, one middle, and one high school recently started in 2008. The evaluations tell us more about the charter schools than the comprehensive services. Deeper in the Dobbie and Fryer report they try to break down the contribution of the community services to academic achievement:
We have provided some evidence that HCZ’s success is unlikely to be driven by the bundle of community services, either directly or indirectly, and that the effects of the student-family programs on test-scores are, at best, modest. This suggests that either the Promise Academy charter schools are the main driver of our results or the interaction of the schools and community investments is the impetus for such success.

Any program officer thinking about comprehensive wraparound services needs consider the quality of the school that students are attending.  If students are in a really low performing school, with low expectations, watered down curriculum, teachers walking though a textbook supported only by worksheets, it will simply be impossible to generate increased academic achievement no matter how much mentoring you provide.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to provide wraparound services but just don't expect test scores to increase.

Or as the evaluators note, it might be the positive interaction between school and community, the social capital, which is driving the achievement. So take a risk, fund a pretty-good school serving really poor kids, and see if engagement and achievement can rise. Even though the federal government is focusing on the lowest performing schools, that doesn’t mean it is always a good investment for a foundation to do so as well.

3) Engagement and Support Becomes More Important at Older Ages:  Third thing to remember is that both evaluations of the HCZ charter schools only focused up to 8th grade.  In the rough and tumble world of high school reform, it is very difficult for reformers to remember that efforts to improve academic achievement must be complemented by high engagement strategies.  Elementary school children go to school because their parents tell them to. Older students go because there is some meaning - peer, extracurricular, teachers that care, it's interesting, helps them make sense of their life, helps them prepare for their future.  And some older students with adult responsibilities to work and care for their families may need help trying to figure out how to manage both school and work. They may want to go to school but find other responsibilities interfering. So we essentially do not know the impact of the supports and opportunities of HCZ on older students. Nor will any one school meet the needs of all the high school age children in the HCZ.

4) Getting Smart about Evaluation
:  Our knowledge is shaped by the standards and opportunities for evaluation.  Much of this debate about the two different reports on HCZ is simply differences in the focus and techniques of each evaluation.  Dobbie and Fryer took advantage of the natural experiment of the charter school lottery to examine effectiveness. The Brookings Institute authors used a different technique comparing the HCZ charter school to other schools in their effort to determine whether this community-school model is more or less effective than other charter schools. Both of these evaluations are primarily insights into the importance and quality of schools, not the overall design of the HCZ.  (Honestly as I read the Brookings report I started thinking the authors had more interest in having a voice in the national education debate than helping us to really understand HCZ. The title of the report references one side of the national debate suggesting to me that there was more interest in getting a place on panels at policy meetings than improving the lives of children.  I try not to dis people in this blog, but the ruckus this report caused is a misdirection from the hard work we need to do to crack the challenges of concentrated areas of poverty). 

Truly, the emphasis on "what works" makes it sound like it is a simple yes/no -- programs work or they don't.  This focus on "does HCZ work" is a very distorted debate because the evaluators are using a very limited focus on what it means "to work." But each evaluation has its own limitations on what it can do -- because of funding, because of complexity, and simply because of the dynamics of each and every evaluation technique. (One of the speakers at the last YTFG meeting said "I'm starting to wonder if there is bias in random assignment that actually shapes the behavior of the control groups." This was in response to the career academy evaluation that had the control group achieving at higher levels than would be expected).

Finally, neither report helps us to understand the overarching questions that can help us understand the cost-effectiveness of the approach:

  • What benefits are being produced from the design and delivery of the HCZ in the short-and long-term? (developmental, health, academic, social capital)
  • How are all the children in the HCZ benefiting academically and developmentally, both those in charter schools as well as those down the block, based on the range and intensity of services utilized?    
So my conclusion: The jury is still out on understanding the impact of the HCZ. And it probably always will be because the cost and challenges involved in answering the questions above are too big.
 ----
On reflecting on our practices and our ability to shape the field, I would argue that program officers need a more nuanced framing that helps us use knowledge rather than stumbling down the chasm of "it works/it doesn't work" that leads us nowhere.  I think there are probably four simple questions to help us develop and use knowledge that we can integrate into our grantmaking:

    A) Boundaries of Knowledge: What were the boundaries of the program evaluated and the dynamics of the evaluation? We need to be clear about what it can tell us, and what it can't.  This needs to be written at the beginning of every evaluation report so that you don’t have to churn through the appendices to understand this.

   B) Light and Shadows: In what way did a program work? In what way didn't it? Let’s be clear about what we were measuring and what we aren’t.  Perhaps when funders invest in evaluation reports we should ask for two attachments: one from another evaluator that allows us to understand the focus and limits and another from those evaluated that can help us understand issues not rasied by the evaluators.  I would really love to hear with Geoffrey Canada would say about both of these evaluations. It’s worth thinking about how we might change practices so that when evaluations are released we make available the information people need to understand the context of the evaluation and its implications.

   C) Equity in Effectiveness: To what degree does the effectiveness of the program vary across sub-groups of children? This is particularly important as many evaluations show that a program may work differently for different children. We need to focus on those that work the best for the most under-served or improve the program so that it is effective for everyone. 

This requires also taking a look at whether services were in fact delivered in an equitable way. There are still concerns (unsubstantiated) that the JTPA evaluation, that pushed youth employment into the policy purgatory of  “nothing works”,  failed to raise the issue that young men of color disproportionately received in-class, job prep rather than actual occupational skills training that would lead them to a job.

    D) Continuous Improvement: What have we learned that can inform us how to improve the program so that it is more effective?  We spend large sums on trying to determine “what works” that do not actually help us get any better.  And at certain times we do need the evaluations that let us know if something is working. But we need to be really smart about it.  In the meantime let's start gathering whatever grains of insight we can from these comparative  evaluations to help us figure out how to get better.  And lets make room for discussion on the effectivness of programs to consider their own data-driven continuous improvement efforts.
-----
So even with all of this, what's a program officer to do to make sense of Promise Neighborhoods? Simply work with your community to make sure that the outcomes you are measuring are aligned with the target population and the intervention.  Stay focused on data-driven continuous improvement. Love your children, embrace their uniqueness, and create a culture of candidness and learning.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are We Creating Two Tiers of Quality in Online Learning?

 Today's guest blogger is Matt Mervis, DPNet Project Director at Diploma Plus. I asked Matt to give us some insights into the issues related to online learning and alternative education.   Online learning has incredible potential for improving high school graduation rates, responding to the needs of students that are balancing school and work, and addressing the mobility issues for students that are in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. 

Certainly as online learning is expanding it's often being used as credit recovery.  But I'm not convinced that the credit recovery is being offered under the same standards as regular online learning. Just a peek at Georgia's comparison between its Virtual School and its Credit Recovery program starts to raise questions. Why would you have a "teacherless" model for students that obviously had some problems in completing a course instead of using a blended model that draws on the best of teachers and online learning? Are we creating two tiers of quality in online learning?

On another note: I love how Matt refers to young people as "back-on-track" students rather than off-track. I'm embracing that immediately!~  --- Chris


Online Learning and a Changing Landscape
Schools and communities nationwide are experiencing nothing short of a revolution in learning. Two million of the nation’s 54 million students are already enrolled in virtual or online schooling, and another 12 million are expected to enter such programs over the next three years. As a result, schools, students, and families are increasingly shifting where and how learning takes place, on either a full- or part-time basis, with the latter referred to as blended or hybrid learning.

Why First Gen Blended Learning Does Not Meet the Needs of Back-on-Track Youth


At-risk or “back-on-track” high school youth are near the head of the line in sheer numbers of students engaged in blended or virtual school models. Yet while there are obvious benefits for older students who are behind in credit accumulation, many of the early virtual and blended school models reveal significant gaps, and are not meeting the needs of all students. First-generation blended models may have found the means to deliver discrete knowledge and corresponding multiple-choice assessments, but they are limited in their ability to meet the educational requirements of young people who need youth development, adult mentoring, wrap-around services, and hands-on learning supports.

Given the pace at which online learning options are being deployed, more mature school models like Diploma Plus have a responsibility to help define effective practices, particularly  as they relate to: (1) engaging students in rigorous problem-based investigations; (2) leveraging information technology tools to build enduring learning and understanding; (3) expanding 21st century skills to acquire content and demonstrate mastery; (4) providing venues for students to demonstrate learning via products and performances; and (5) supporting HS completion and effective post-secondary transitions by addressing the affective needs of back-on-track youth.

DP21 - DP's Next Generation Blended School Model

To meet these quickly evolving needs, Diploma Plus has been deeply engaged in school-based pilots and network-wide initiatives where people and technology are leveraged to create new pathways and improved outcomes for back-on-track youth.  These early efforts have included school-based pilots in each of six regional networks to blend brick-and-mortar teaching and learning with online content, tools and support.  Diploma Plus has built this foundation on a network-developed LMS (Learning Management System) called DPNet which has grown to host over 6 thousand teacher and student web pages, a wide array of cross-disciplinary learning tasks and a robust national social network for DP stakeholders to publish work, share ideas and make connections to support both the youth and adults in our community.

Based on the aforementioned pilots and school-based initiatives, Diploma Plus has formally launched Diploma Plus 21st Century (DP21).  DP21 represents an ambitious plan to accelerate work at Diploma Plus schools and forge a next-generation school model serving back-on-track youth across the country. Over a the next five years, Diploma Plus will partner with cities and school districts to leverage 21st century tools that increase student engagement, improve learning results, and forge new pathways to post-secondary success. DP21 will integrate innovative strategies and technologies to recast how high schools deliver results inside and outside of brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Through practices based on its framework of “Four Essentials”, DP develops hybrid learning not as a simple combination of classroom practice and courseware, but rather as a fusion of technologies with the innovative practices that work to meet the complex needs of back-on-track youth. DP21 explicitly connects the DP model's Four Essentials with innovative information and educational technology by: (1) delivering new open online course content designed to support learning and assessment through authentic challenge based investigations; (2) leveraging online content, tools, and experts designed to support 21st century college, work, and life readiness; (3) extending evidence-based brick-and-mortar youth development supports online so that youth form nurturing relationships with adults and peers in the school community; and (4) creating the conditions for anywhere / anytime learning through home-broadband access, virtual classrooms, and inventive models for credit accumulation made possible through next-generation learning management systems.

Building on What Works

By extending the Four Essentials in concert with new technologies, DP21 provides an exceptional approach to meeting the unique needs of back-on-track youth in a manner that has not been widely adopted to date. The innovations to be developed in DP's next-generation model offer the means to engage greater numbers of off-track youth, with better outcomes, in a reasonable timeframe, and using available funding and existing teacher capacity.  Diploma Plus is eager to continue this critical work and engage with an ever widening group of stakeholders.  We welcome feedback and input on our efforts and encourage

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I3 Awards: High Schools and Foster Youth - But Where Oh Where Is Dropout Recovery?

Hi -- I was just reviewing Ed Week's blog which included the list of the organizations that received the highest scores for the I3 awards. (My understanding is that by the end of today Dept of Ed will release the full list on their website) Forty-nine organizations were funded out of 1600 applicants. (Of course the awardees must raise matching funds equal to 20 percent of their grant). I've just skimmed the list to see which of the awardees might be in our networks, serving vulnerable young people.  In the scale-up models, older youth were pretty much invisible.

There are several grants focused on improving low performing high schools including Johns Hopkins University -- Center for Social Organization of Schools effort to validate the the Talent Development-Diplomas Now Secondary School Turnaround Model.  This is a collaborative effort that includes Communities in Schools and City Year. And guess what -- they already have the matching grant from PepsiCo Foundation!

For funders focusing on youth in foster care, it's worth watching the Education Pilot Project (EPP) a multi-sector partnership that will serve foster youth at 13 school sites in the Montebello and Pomona Unified School Districts in Los Angeles County with the goal of improving educational achievement and college enrollment.  Casey Family Programs is one of the partners in this exciting effort!

So far I haven't found any grant that is really focused on dropout recovery or multiple pathways.  So once again, the educational needs of 30% of high school students and 50% of our young people of color are ignored.

Now of course this was a competetive grant process so we need to do some hard reflection. Why didn't the organizations with innovative models serving older youth win?  Are we using our funds effectively to make sure that we are developing effective, validated, ready to scale approaches? Do the organizations that are leaders in our fields know how to put together a killer application? I honestly don't know ....  

There also may be ways that the I3 grant process shaped the outcomes.  Were there enough readers that had enough knowledge to understand the quality, approaches and status of the field of projects focused on students that are off-track?  I'm concerned that the concern over conflict of interest was so tightly managed that we might not have even been able to access the expertise that was available. I know that as a reviewer my ability to use my knowledge was constrained as I knew the people submitting grants focused on older youth (that's what happens when you've been working nationally for 18 years in the same field). So our team couldn't review those grants. So I ended up trying to guess at what innovation in STEM looked like, and not able to review the grants that I actually knew something about. I have deep respect for the administration's efforts to really take the ethical issues seriously. (Truly, I think our country would be a lot stronger if we built up our ethical muscle!) But I also think we need to figure out other ways to ensure that we can tap into the incredible knowledge of the reviewers. Perhaps the question about whether the projects were innovative and really adding meaning should be reviewed by people with expertise in the subject rather than the the general review? I'm going to noodle on this a bit...any ideas?

Finally, it's probably worth the YTFG's time to review the applications for older youth to see if there are any projects that private sector might be able to bring to life without the federal dollars. The projects would probably have to be scaled back a bit...but these folks have already thought long and hard about how to bring their efforts to the next stage of the innovation cycle. So there might be some really good investment opportunities among them.