A new report released by NYU Steinhart’s Research Alliance for the New York City Schools finds that the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) led to notable improvements in school culture and support for Black and Latino young men, but it did not boost their academic performance or college readiness rates, the initiative’s ultimate goals.
Launched in 2012, ESI was an effort to improve educational opportunities and increase college and career readiness among Black and Latino male students. ESI inspired many components of former President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative and has served as a model for other MBK communities around the country. ESI provided funding, professional development, and ongoing support to 40 NYC public high schools. Each school was charged with creating or expanding services for male students of color in three broad domains: academics, youth development, and college-focused culture. ESI also emphasized the provision of culturally relevant curricula and instruction.
The Research Alliance’s four-year study found that:
ESI Looked Different 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, researchers found 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.
ESI Substantially Increased Black and Latino Young Men’s Exposure to Key Activities and Supports
On average, across ESI schools, only about half of Black and Latino male students reported participating in activities in all three of ESI’s domains. But compared to similar students in non-ESI high schools, Black and Latino males in ESI schools were much more likely to report participating in key activities. These included 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
Over the course of the initiative, researchers conducted hundreds of interviews with school leaders, teachers, and students in ESI schools. These interviews provided rich insights about ESI’s efforts to change school culture, including shifts in teacher mindsets and beliefs about their students and improved relationships (among students and between students and staff). In addition, based on annual surveys of more than 5000 students, researchers found that 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.
“Our study found that ESI produced powerful changes in school culture and relationships—and in the experiences of Black and Latino male students,” said Adriana Villavicencio, the Research Alliance’s Deputy Director and lead author of the new report. “These changes are particularly meaningful, given past research showing that high schools can be alienating or even hostile spaces for boys of color. The fact that ESI was successful in creating a supportive environment for so many of these students reflects the initiative’s commitment to and investment in confronting underlying inequities in schools and classrooms.”
ESI Did Not Improve College Readiness
Researchers examined student records and found that 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).
“It seems that we cannot assume, as ESI’s theory of action does, that participation in key activities and improvements in school culture and students’ perceptions of their school will necessarily lead to stronger performance in high school and increased access to college—at least not on their own,” said James Kemple, Research Alliance Executive Director and co-author of the report. “We need to know more about how best to combine ESI’s capacity to change school culture with stronger and more direct supports for the transition to college and career.”
The Research Alliance report suggests that future ESI-like initiatives might 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 notes that earlier investment in students’ lives—and involving systems beyond just schools—may be necessary to counter some of the root causes of educational inequality.
“In light of the deep, longstanding disparities in outcomes for Black and Latino male students,” said Villavicencio, “not to mention the City’s recent investment in addressing segregation and bias in NYC schools, it is incumbent upon us to learn from what did and did not work in this ambitious effort to confront biases and improve opportunities for young men of color.”
Read The Expanded Success Initiative: Challenges and Progress in the Pursuit of College and Career Readiness for Black and Latino Young Men on the Research Alliance website.