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Findings from the Early Implementation of the Expanded Success Initiative 

By Adriana Villavicencio, Sarah Klevan, Brandon Guidry and Suzanne Wulach (April 2014)

The Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) is working to boost college and career readiness and other key outcomes among Black and Latino male students in 40 NYC high schools. This report by the Research Alliance, evaluation of ESI,  presents a rich picture of ESI’s roll out and early implementation, drawing on more than 100 interviews and focus groups with educators in ESI schools and with members of the NYC Department of Education’s ESI team. The report examines challenges schools experienced during Year 1 of the initiative, as well as changes in school practice that hold promise for reaching ESI’s goals.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • The NYC DOE provided a wide array of resources, including funding, workshops and professional development sessions, planning meetings, and information about potential partners, to help ESI schools develop and expand programs for their Black and Latino male students.
  • ESI’s theory of action called on schools to increase supports in three specific domains—academics, youth development and school culture. Educators reported that, in fact, schools did enhance programming in these three areas. Specifically, they described:
    • Raising academic standards and benchmarks and increasing opportunities for students to take more rigorous coursework;
    • Improved relationships between students and their peers, as well as between students and teachers, as a result of a variety of youth development programs; and
    • An expansion of college supports, not only in terms of adding programs, but also by shifting the school culture to be more explicitly college focused, beginning in the 9th grade.
  • Culturally relevant education emerged as a central focus and organizing principle for individual ESI schools and the initiative as a whole. Staff in more than half of ESI schools reported that exposure to CRE had changed teachers' mindsets and beliefs, as well as school-wide practices, particularly around student discipline.
  • Educators also identified cohesion between ESI programs—and with the larger school culture—as important for successful implementation. The level of cohesion varied across schools. While some schools largely operated as if ESI were an add-on program, others made great efforts to weave ESI into existing school norms, programs, and structures.

The report explores each of these findings in depth, and considers their implications for policy and practice. The authors offer a number of recommendations for schools and the district about strategies that might be used to strengthen and enrich ESI as it evolves over the next two years.