by Barbara Harman, Catalogue President and Editor
I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about a new initiative called RaiseDC and it’s something of which all of us should be aware. In its Baseline Report Card, the organization puts the problem succinctly: “Too many children are still entering school not fully ready to learn, are academically off-track, fail to graduate from high school on time, are inadequately prepared to succeed in the workforce and higher education, and are out of school and out of work.”
Quite a few Catalogue nonprofits (see list below) are already participants in this important initiative — as members of what RaiseDC calls its “change networks,” and others may wish to consider adding their voices and expertise to the cause. I’m planning to join myself as someone who cares deeply about the fate of our young people here in the District, and about educational outcomes in particular — both because research shows what a powerful impact they have on economic futures and because I believe that education is fundamental to full human development. Both should matter. RaiseDC wants to use data to establish benchmarks and track results, direct resources to the most effective programs, and coordinate work across academic and nonacademic programs. The focus is on what is now called the “cradle to career” continuum, so it begins with pre-kindergarten and ends with “disconnected” youth in the 20-24 age range.
In a city with one of the most highly educated populations in the country, educational outcomes for low income children are dismayingly poor — whether one looks at test results for 3rd and 8th graders, or high school completion rates, or college-going and college completion stats. The in-school and out-of-school services that might come to the aid of our young people and make it possible for them to succeed in school and in life — more effective schools, better enrichment programs, appropriate family support services — are often uncoordinated, dispersed, duplicative, or absent. Working to bring them together, and identifying specific targeted outcomes that will make it possible to track success in achieving them, are laudable goals.
One thing that I find interesting is that the higher education focus is on two years of post-graduate study. While this is clearly an improvement over zero years, it seems like a less ambitious goal than others (for example, raising the high school graduation rate to 75% by 2017). While many two-year programs, including credential and certificate programs, vastly improve the opportunities for employment, and while even two years of college can make a difference in a young person’s life, a 4-year college degree should still be the gold standard, at least for those who, though under-resourced, are eager and motivated. (The current four-year college completion rate in the District is 9%, so targeting even 25% would be a dramatic improvement; the national average is 55.5%.) Don’t get me wrong: increasing the percentage of students who complete four years of college is one of RaiseDC’s goals; it just doesn’t appear to be a central goal of the initiative. It should be.
I was also struck by the fact that data collection that informs the work of RaiseDC comes from “government agencies and national data sources,” and does not include information from community-based nonprofits who are working to address these cradle to career issues. RaiseDC is totally open about this, and eager to learn “how many out-of-school youth are served by community-based education and employment training programs,” and which ones are the most effective. But that is why Catalogue nonprofits should join the appropriate Change Network and make their voices heard. Perhaps there will emerge a method of collecting information and best practices that might inform the work of this initiative.
Even more, an excellent outcome would be a clear idea of how organizations, including community-based nonprofits like those in the Catalogue, might work more effectively together — sharing information about what works, collaborating across disciplines, partnering with each other to add value to the work they already do.
It is a daunting task, indeed. But there is a lot at stake — and we can’t afford not to take up the challenge. Let’s keep our eye on the work that RaiseDC is poised to do and let’s think together about how we can help make it happen. What’s the alternative?
Catalogue nonprofits currently participating in RaiseDC Change Networks: AppleTree Institute, DC Appleseed, Capital Partners for Education, College and Career Connections, College Bound, For Love of Children, Higher Achievement, Hope and a Home, Mentors Inc, New Community for Children, New Futures, The Next Step Public Charter School, Posse Foundation, Reach for College!, Urban Alliance, Youth Build Public Charter School