The Expanded Success Initiative

Challenges and Progress in the Pursuit of College and Career Readiness for Black and Latino Young Men

Adriana Villavicencio, Sarah Klevan, and James Kemple (2018)

In 2012, New York City launched the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) in an effort to improve educational outcomes and increase college and career readiness among Black and Latino young men. ESI provided funding, professional development, and ongoing support to 40 NYC public high schools, to help them create or expand programming for young men of color in three core domains: academics, youth development and college-focused school culture. ESI also emphasized the principles of culturally relevant education (CRE) as a cross-cutting approach undergirding the three core domains. 

The Expanded Success Initiative: Challenges and Progress in the Pursuit of College and Career Readiness for Black and Latino Young Men synthesizes findings from the Research Alliance’s four-year evaluation of ESI. In this report, we draw on hundreds of interviews and focus groups with ESI school leaders, teachers, and students; annual questionnaires and rubrics to assess programming in ESI schools; a survey administered to over 5,000 students each year in ESI schools and a set of matched comparison schools; and administrative records for students in both sets of schools. Among our key findings:        

  • ESI Varied from School to School: ESI provided schools with considerable autonomy and flexibility to develop programs that would be responsive to their students’ needs. Not surprisingly, given this flexibility, we found a good deal of variation in the programs that schools chose to implement and the extent to which these programs aligned with ESI’s core tenets. Student participation rates also varied from school to school and year to year. The diversity of approaches made it difficult to design a standard way of measuring program quality.
  • ESI Substantially Increased Black and Latino Young Men’s Exposure to Key Activities and Supports: On average, across ESI schools, only about half of the Black and Latino male students reported participating in activities in all three of ESI’s domains. But compared to similar students in the comparison high schools, Black and Latino males in ESI schools were much more likely to report participating in these activities. This was true for college and career preparation activities (e.g., college trips, college advising, and work-based learning), youth development activities (e.g., mentoring programs, youth groups, and student advisory programs), and academic supports (e.g., tutoring programs, Regents prep services, and AP or IB classes). Black and Latino young men in ESI schools were also more likely to report encountering culturally relevant materials in their classes.
  • ESI Improved School Culture and Relationships: Educators and students in ESI schools reported meaningful changes to school culture and relationships as a result of the initiative. These changes included the development of a culturally relevant orientation to teaching and learning; a stronger schoolwide commitment to supporting students’ post-secondary goals; and improved relationships among students and between students and staff. In keeping with these findings, Black and Latino young men in ESI schools consistently reported a stronger sense of belonging and fair treatment than their counterparts in comparison schools. ESI students were also more likely to report engaging in discussions with adults in their lives about college and careers throughout high school. 
  • ESI Did Not Improve College Readiness: ESI had little or no impact on attendance, academic performance, or college readiness. Just over two thirds of the Black and Latino young men in both ESI and comparison schools graduated on time, and about a quarter immediately enrolled in a four-year college (rates that were higher than citywide averages for this demographic, but still lower than those of Black and Latino females and White and Asian males).

These and other findings examined in the report suggest that future ESI-like initiatives may benefit from more structured guidelines and rigorous standards for implementation and a focus on supports tied more directly to the specific goals of the initiative (in ESI’s case, college readiness and enrollment).

The report also underscores the importance of the gains in school culture and relationships that ESI produced—particularly given past research suggesting that high schools can be alienating for young men of color, and in the context of recent investments aimed at addressing bias in NYC schools. These benefits suggest that it may be valuable to continue studying ESI’s long-term effects as students' transition into college and the labor market.

Technical Appendices are forthcoming.