Mayor de Blasio, Don’t Forget About Older Youth

Apurva Mehrotra

Now that the political battle over funding for universal pre-K is over, Mayor de Blasio and his administration have begun the task of finding space for tens of thousands of children eligible for the full day pre-K program. At CSS, we have been supportive of Mayor de Blasio’s vision of universal pre-K.  In the effort to reduce income inequality, access to quality education at the earliest age possible is a crucial component.

However, amidst all of the attention being paid to de Blasio’s universal pre-K initiative, we must not forget about older kids, those who are well into their educational careers in a public school system that still leaves far too many young people behind.

CSS recently released our third in a series of reports spelling out recommendations for the new mayor, based on findings from The Unheard Third, our annual survey of New Yorkers.  With the spotlight of this report on education policy, we find that the Bloomberg administration, for all of its focus on improving the public schools, has left the new mayor with a system in need of major changes.

For every rosy statement about the state of public education in our city, there’s a murkier side to the equation. It is true that graduation rates are up.  It is also true that fewer than half of black and Latino males have enough credits to graduate at the end of their fourth year of high school. It is true that school choice policies allow students to attend programs and schools that appeal to them anywhere in the city.  It is also true that students in low-income communities – who ostensibly stand to benefit the most from school choice policies – are still not as likely to graduate from high school and be ready for college as their higher-income peers. To put it simply, for the students who need public education the most, the system is still broken.

For black and Latino students who do succeed in their early years, their chances of attending an elite public institution remain slim. This is in large part due to outdated admissions policies at the city’s eight specialized high schools, as well as at the City University of New York. The use of a single test to determine admissions is being rejected by a growing number of high schools and universities across the country. However, New York City seemed to not get the memo.  The numbers of black and Latino students at the specialized high schools, particularly the three most competitive schools, is, for lack of a better word, pathetic. Just nine black students were awarded admission to Stuyvesant High School as freshmen in Fall 2013, representing less than one percent of the incoming class.  And at CUNY, as the numbers of applications and admission standards have simultaneously risen, the number of black and Latino students who are able to start their college education at a four-year college has dwindled.  The share of freshman at CUNY senior colleges who are black or Latino has gone down from 53 in 2008 to 45 percent in 2012.

And then there are the more than 177,000 16- to 24-year-olds who are out of work and out of school, more than 53,000 of whom lack a high school diploma.  As a city, we cannot afford to give up on these young people.  Former Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged the wide disparity in outcomes between young black and Latino men of color and their peers when he announced the Young Men’s Initiative. That was a good first step, but the new mayor will have to turn that step into a leap to ensure that young people who have fallen off track are able to get back on course.

We’ve offered several concrete policy recommendations aimed at helping older youth—many of which Mayor de Blasio has already signaled he supports.    For example, de Blasio has stated that he is more interested in improving low-performing schools, rather than closing them.  As Public Advocate, de Blasio also voiced his support for opening new Career and Technical Education (CTE) high schools—which have been shown to boost graduation rates.  He has expressed concern over the admissions methods to the specialized high schools.  And there are already several programs in place – many that have proven to be effective – that the new administration should expand and baseline into the city budget as a way of helping young people who need a second chance to attain educational credentials and connect to the labor market.   

According to our Unheard Third survey, the public favors these approaches as well.  Not only that, a majority of New Yorkers are willing to pay more in taxes to fund expansion of career and technical education high schools and programs to connect out of school, out of work youth to training and jobs.  Across income levels, more than 7 out of 10 New Yorkers would be willing to pay more in taxes to fund CTE expansion, as well as job training for out of school, out of work youth. 

We are pleased that the mayor has prioritized his program to ensure that all four-year-olds have a chance to get their education started early and on the right foot.  We just hope that policies aimed at the 14-year-old about to start high school and the 24-year-old who needs a second chance at college and a career get their due as well.

If the new mayor is looking for solutions to help these young people get a better shot, this would be a good place to start.

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