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EXPANDED SUCCESS INITIATIVE: New York City Program Targets College Readiness for Young Men of Color

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Students in ESI schools are more likely than students in traditional schools to receive various college-related support, including preparation courses for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, and instruction on specific college-readiness skills, such as writing research papers.

Research shows that, compared to other groups, young men of color face higher rates of school dropout, unemployment, and incarceration, and a growing number of local and national initiatives are attempting to address these inequities. As part of these efforts, the New York City Department of Education launched the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) in August 2012 to improve college readiness among the city’s African American and Latino male students. After just two years of implementing ESI, educators in the forty participating schools have seen improvements in their schools’ cultures and student discipline, according to a report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (Research Alliance).

“There is strong evidence that these schools are doing something different as a result of ESI,” states Adriana Villavicencio, lead author of the report. “We are seeing important shifts in the tone and culture of the schools.”

ESI is the educational component of New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), a multi-agency program designed to address disparities in numerous outcomes related to education, health, employment, and the criminal justice system between young men of color and their peers. The Research Alliance is conducting a four-year evaluation of the implementation and impacts of ESI. Its latest report, Changing How High Schools Serve Black and Latino Young Men: A Report on New York City’s Expanded Success Initiative, focuses on ESI’s impact on tenth graders during the second year of the program, School Year 2013–14.

Results from the evaluation show that students in ESI schools are more likely than students in traditional schools to receive various college-related support, including preparation courses for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT, and instruction on specific college-readiness skills, such as writing research papers. Additionally, ESI students are more likely to participate in activities designed to encourage a college-going mindset, such as college visits, college advising workshops and information sessions, and mentoring programs.

ESI appears to affect school discipline practices as well. “While suspension rates for behaviors categorized as ‘violent’ and ‘aggressive’ remained constant in both ESI and comparison schools, there is evidence that ESI schools are reducing the number of suspensions related to ‘disruptive’ infractions, which include ‘minor altercations,’ vandalism, and academic dishonesty,” the report states. Many ESI schools have implemented alternative discipline practices, such as peer mediation and conflict resolution training; thirteen schools reported a decrease in student suspensions or discipline problems since implementing ESI, according to the report.

Each participating ESI school received professional development and $250,000 to create and/or expand programming designed to prepare African American and Latino young men for success in college and a career. ESI does not prescribe specific programs or strategies schools must follow; instead, it requires participating schools to implement their own programs in four focus areas:

  • strengthening academics;
  • supporting youth development and improving discipline;
  • creating a college- and career-focused school culture; and
  • incorporating culturally-relevant education that recognizes students’ perspectives in all aspects of their learning.

“The hope was that the ESI would spur innovation in these schools and improve outcomes for the students they serve—while also generating larger lessons about preparing young men of color for success in college and beyond,” the report states. “ESI expects schools to shift their mindset from dropout prevention to college and career readiness.”

The Research Alliance report evaluates how well each school’s programming aligns with ESI’s four focus areas (described as implementation “fidelity”) and also evaluates the frequency, duration, and number of programs offered (described as implementation “intensity”). Three-quarters of the ESI schools implemented the program with high fidelity, meaning their programs aligned with ESI’s tenets. Meanwhile, 85 percent of ESI schools implemented the program with high intensity, meaning they offered some ESI programs at least weekly to ninth- and tenth-grade male students during the school year. The Research Alliance report does not assess the quality of the programs; it simply documents the presence or absence of various programs and services.

Despite the high levels of implementation fidelity and intensity, ESI has not improved students’ access to rigorous academic content or improved student academic achievement. Although fifteen ESI schools reported adding Advanced Placement or other college-level classes to their course offerings, results from the study show limited evidence of schools increasing academic rigor in other ways. Additionally, the study did not find any impacts of ESI on students’ grade point averages, credit accumulation, or rates of passing the New York Regents exams. While it is possible that ESI’s focus areas may not influence student academic outcomes directly, the program simply may need more time to produce academic gains, the report notes. Additionally, the current report focuses exclusively on ESI’s impact on tenth graders and the researchers point out that “the most important measures of success—college readiness and enrollment—cannot be determined until students’ twelfth-grade year or later.”

Changing How High Schools Serve Black and Latino Young Men: A Report on New York City’s Expanded Success Initiative is available at http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/research_alliance/publications/esi_year2.

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