Tag Archives: Enter the Young

Time to Change the “Outsider” Narrative in Education

The Outsiders

via http://www.angelfire.com/hi/SEHTheOutsiders/

Like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot about the radical changes in New Orleans’ education system since  Hurricane Katrina made landfall ten years ago. A subplot of nearly all of the stories is the “outsider” narrative. The narrative consists of two parts: 1) an influx of mostly young, white, and educated outsiders are largely responsible for the rapid academic progress that the new all-charter system produced and 2) the mostly-black native New Orleanian educators who weren’t thrust aside in a massive firing are routinely deprived of the recognition they deserve.  

There’s little to dispute on the facts underpinning this narrative.  In general, the number of young, white, educated professionals increased in New Orleans from 2000 to 2010, and the profile of the teaching workforce changed dramatically following the storm from a stable corps of experienced black locals to transient young white transplants. Additionally, thousands of Orleans Parish teachers were controversially dismissed following Katrina as a result of a scattered student population and transition to a decentralized system.

But, as Andy Rotherham points out, the reality is much more complex than a story of naive white interlopers descending upon a city to save schools from recalcitrant locals. There’s nuance in broad middle ground where most school reform actually takes place, where people debate productively, work collaboratively, and tackle new challenges that don’t have solutions.  Even so, this kind of rhetoric is pervasive in places like Newark and Memphis where dramatic interventions are being put in place. When the reality is portrayed as a simplistic outsider narrative, the “cities don’t need outsiders” response it often elicits is counterproductive to genuine efforts to ameliorate poverty and increase education opportunities for urban students.

Millions of American students are trapped in underperforming schools and the outsider narrative does nothing to help them. It’s time to change it.

Chief among the reasons to change the outsiders narrative is that young and educated professionals have been flocking to city centers nationwide for the last ten years, a trend that will likely continue. Depending on how we respond, these professionals can either be a force for good or contribute to gentrification, concentrated poverty, and inequitable economic benefits.

I wrote about this in a three part series and still believe that smart and proactive policies can take advantage of swelling numbers of young educated professionals in ways that protect local cultures, history, and jobs. The outside narrative does nothing toward this end.

Let’s move beyond the damaging dichotomy of “locals vs. outsiders”, acknowledge the demographic forces impacting our cities, and figure out ways that any willing person can contribute to improving schools.

Open Letter to 2015 Grad School Graduates: Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond.

Dear Soon-To-Be Masters in Education, Business, Policy, and Law:

While the education world is all atwitter about a potential reauthorization of ESEA, you are likely preoccupied with the question of where to begin your career as a system-level education leader. Having coached hundreds of graduate students through career transitions, I can tell you that most of your classmates will plant their flags in preeminent cities like New York, LA, Boston, or Chicago. But I encourage you to consider smaller cities that might be just off your radar which may be more beneficial as you look to put a new degree to work.

Being a big fish in a small pond can accelerate your career while adding vital skills and knowledge to a city’s education brain trust.

As a San Franciscan, I understand the pull toward top-tier cities. World-class food, entertainment, sports teams, and cultural attractions create an unending array of opportunities. The rich racial, ethnic, linguistic, and political diversity that one can witness on a cross town bus ride is at once humbling and stimulating. And a robust ecosystem of companies, government institutions, and nonprofit organizations provides an abundance of career advancement opportunities.

Not surprisingly, smaller cities struggle to attract people like you. Often perceived as isolated, less ambitious, or short on professional opportunity, they can be hastily canceled out from career equations. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Cincinnati area, for instance, is home to more Fortune 500 company headquarters per capita than New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago making for an economically vibrant region with a generous philanthropic community. Nashville is a hotbed for live music, home to two professional sports teams, and was ranked one of Outside Magazine’s Greatest Places to Live in the US in 2014.

On the education front, many smaller cities are undertaking ambitious efforts to dramatically increase the number of high-quality schools within their limits. The Cleveland Plan (part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — a current Bellwether client), for example, is deliberately pursuing a city-wide portfolio model that aims to increase the number of high-quality district and charter schools, close down underperforming schools, transfer authority and resources to schools, phase in high-leverage system supports, and create an entity to uphold quality and accountability. Few plans like it exist in the country, even among big cities.

As I work with leaders and organizations in smaller cities around the country, I’m starting to think that lasting reform may have more potential in urban areas where the need for gap-closing schools is just as great but the distance between an idea and impact is shorter.

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Enter the Young: Six City-Level Strategies to Harness Critical Talent for Education Reform (Part 3 of 3)

In my last two posts I cited a new report by Joe Cortright at City Observatory that describes an increase in the number of young and educated workers moving to America’s inner-cities over the last decade, the upside of this trend, and dangers of gentrification and segregation that it could bring. All in all, I think there’s a huge opportunity for city and education leaders to attract and retain young and educated workers in their city’s urban education reform movement while honoring long-time residents.

How might they do this? Here are six strategies they can employ:

  • Make your city a magnet. Macro-level demographic shifts emerge from millions of individuals making decisions. For college graduates, cities with good public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, diversity, culture, professional sports teams, and nightlife are important. Richard Florida has complementary posts on this here and here. In many cities, these attributes exist but aren’t known widely. Take entrepreneurial activity in Baltimore or the art scene in Detroit as examples. In these cases, there’s an opportunity for intermediary organizations and city governments to launch aggressive recruitment campaigns that highlight their assets. Where these urban assets aren’t present, education leaders should team up with city and business leaders to create policies that invest in walkability, affordable housing, nightlife, and entrepreneurial opportunity as a long-term talent strategy.
  • Source local talent and recapture diasporans. The focus of this series has been on young educated professionals moving into the inner city at a rapid rate, but every city has native talent and natives who’ve moved away. To create a talent strategy only around newcomers would be incomplete and insulting to a city’s long-time residents. State, cities, and universities could work together to market the professional and social benefits of living in inner cities to college juniors and seniors. Kansas provided loan forgiveness to recent college grads if they moved to rural areas. Why can’t states do the same for inner cities? Organizations like Challenge Detroit that run programs to identify native talent and provide them with career advancing opportunities can help establish local talent pipelines. Another valuable segment to pursue is diasporans, people from a city who have left, but still have an affinity for their hometown. Recapturing diasporans would likely take the form of marketing in targeted geographies coupled aggressive, high-touch recruiting from local organizations, and incentives like relocation stipends or loan forgiveness.
  • Build pipelines. Having talent pipeline organizations with expertise recruiting young professionals from across the country is critical. Teach for America, TNTP, New Leaders, Education Pioneers, The Strategic Data Project, and the Broad Residency are musts. The immediate benefit of having a steady stream of top talent is clear: organizations get skilled workers to execute their mission. But there’s more to it. When nationally recognized organizations put down roots in a city, it also signals to top-shelf school operators looking to expand that there will be enough quality principals and teachers to fuel their schools. City and education leaders should look to recruit such organizations, curry local support for their expansion, lower any barriers to entry, and fund startup costs to ensure a successful launch.
  • Introduce the neighbors.  Urban planner and blogger, Pete Saunders sees bringing these two populations together as an opportunity to introduce vital social, professional, and housing networks to low-income communities that need them. “Doing so, however, requires engagement by city newcomers in the neighborhoods they move into, and the companies they work for, in ways perhaps they had not imagined.” He has some great ideas on this; read them here. But it’s not a one-way street. Inner city communities can also help bridge differences that they might have with their neighbors by providing opportunities for newcomers to learn about local history in engaging, age-appropriate ways. For millennials, civic center lectures and walking history tours aren’t going to cut it. Instead, think along the lines of Nerd Nite where people give funny, alcohol-fueled, informative lectures at bars. Smart, compelling local media coverage like this and this, social media campaigns like Humans of New York, and public art installations can raise awareness as well. It’s likelier that someone will protect what is good and unique about a place if provided compelling opportunities to learn about its history.
  • Catch and DON’T release. Retaining young talent after they’ve migrated is an equally important but often neglected part of a long-term talent strategy. At the organization level, education organizations must strive to be talent-ready by building truly diverse teams as well as providing competitive compensation, autonomy, career development opportunities, recognition, effective management, and work-life balance – factors shown to increase retention. At the system level, local foundations and intermediaries must create a local ecosystem teeming with high-quality organizations so that young and highly mobile workers don’t feel constrained by a lack of options and flee to another city. Policy can play a role here too. Cities and states can offer incentives to individuals working for education organizations, such as low-interest home loans and student loan forgiveness.
  • Double down on dramatic reform efforts. As young professional age, start families, and look to put down roots, their desires shift from an active nightlife scene to things like single-family homes, open space, convenience, and (of course) schools. A looming question exists around whether there will be enough high-performing inner city schools to keep them from fleeing to the suburbs, what Mike Petrilli calls the diverse schools dilemma. Education reform is rarely considered a talent strategy, but access to good schools is a driving factor for relocation decisions which reinforces the importance of dramatic, swift, and cost effective city-wide reform efforts. Cities must work across all three sectors – district, charter, and private – to create a common vision for a dynamic system of schools and aggressively pursue strategies that deliver results quickly and cost efficiently.

In a country where the population of tier two and three cities fluctuate wildly over time, these tactics can help smaller cities compete in the war for talent and distinguish themselves from the rest.

I opened this series with a lyric from the song Enter the Young by The Association because it expresses a combination of energy, optimism, intelligence, caring, and daring that can invigorate urban education reform. It’s easy to envision deep racial and economic divides resulting from this trend, but that doesn’t make it inevitable. The work in front of us is to proactively mitigate risks and maximize benefits to urban communities through policy, planning, and practice.

But the influx of young, educated talent moving into America’s inner cities is a trend. And like all trends, it will change over time so acting on it with urgency is important. I’m convinced that coordinated policies, creativity, and a vigilant stance toward equity can capture this vital demographic and integrate them into communities so there’s mutual benefit.

Enter the Young: Complex Questions (Part 2 of 3)

In my last post, I cited a new report by Joe Cortright at City Observatory that describes an increase in the number of young and educated workers moving to America’s inner cities over the last decade. I argued that the influx of this critical demographic into areas with high concentrations of failing schools has the potential to be beneficial for education reform efforts.

But it doesn’t come without risks.

When a lot more young, educated, white people with expanding earning potential take up residence in areas historically populated by poor people of color, gentrification is likely to occur and create tension along race and class lines.

The dynamics behind gentrification are complex and far reaching. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the subject and my thoughts are evolving as I learn more, but I did find some through lines to education. Some see in it the potential for more diverse schools in an age of segregation while others view it as gutting neighborhood schools. For me, the issues mostly present in the form of vexing questions related to talent.

  • Can cities coordinate their economic, housing, social, and education policies to mitigate predictable situations like gentrification while attracting talent vital to economic and education improvement efforts?
  • Can long-time residents welcome “outsiders” and their new ideas while maintaining their community’s rich history and social capital?
  • What (if any) are the effects of droves of new, childless young professionals on a community’s schools? Can they be channeled into a force for good through tutoring or volunteering?
  • If these young and educated professionals stay in the inner cities and have kids, will where they decide to send their kids to school diversify or further segregate schools?

These are knotty issues for which there are no silver bullets. Still, I believe that great talent, whether native or from elsewhere, is a critical component of improving school systems that fail millions of low-income students every year. But any strategy city, education, and community leaders implement to court and retain young, educated professionals from outside their community must be done with circumspect.

What might this look like? Next week, I’ll explore six city-level strategies to harness critical talent for education reform.

Enter the Young: What the Influx of Young Talent to Inner Cities Means for Education Reform (Part 1 of 3)

Enter the young, yeah
Yeah, they’ve learned how to think
Enter the young, yeah
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare
Enter the young

The Association

According to a new report by Joe Cortright at City Observatory, the young and college educated are increasingly moving to inner cities, signaling an opportunity to accelerate education reform efforts in the areas that need them most while raising critical questions about race, class, and gentrification.

Cortright’s key finding is that the number of 25-34 year olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher moving to urban centers has increased an astounding 37 percent in the last decade, making this demographic more than twice as likely as all residents of metro areas to live in the inner city. Young and educated workers are vital to the private sector knowledge economy; they fuel entrepreneurial activity and, when they hit critical mass, attract companies that rely on their abilities.

The same is true in education. For successful national education nonprofits, access to talent is a driving factor in decisions to expand to new cities. During my tenure at Education Pioneers, the organization expanded from four sites to nine. We made expansion decisions based not only on if local talent was available, but also on whether we were confident that they’d prefer to work in a particular metro area.

Now, at Bellwether, I advise city-based education funds and intermediary organizations, and they all rank attracting the best organizations and brightest individuals as their top focus areas. Nearly every CEO, superintendent, or executive director that I’ve talked with has cited finding and keeping good people as a priority for executing his or her mission.

At the city level, efforts to build thriving and dynamic education ecosystems stand to benefit from this influx of new educated talent. These young people could help fuel the schools, school systems, and nonprofits that aim to improve academic outcomes for kids. Cities like New Orleans and Indianapolis are leading the way with city-based intermediary organizations that direct resources toward high-impact activities. New Schools for New Orleans and The Mind Trust smartly invest heavily in the recruitment and retention of talent as a critical component of their long-term success. Continue reading