GSE Partners With Cities in New Youth Education Equity Initiative

The Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has unveiled a new, youth education equity initiative that aims to tackle systemic inequalities preventing young students from academically succeeding.

Spanning six cities across the United States over several years, the program, dubbed “By All Means,” brings together community leaders, including health professionals, arts activists, superintendents, and each city’s mayor, in working groups to discuss and propose solutions on how to close “persistent achievement and opportunity gaps” for under-privileged youth, according to the official press release.

The participating cities—ranging from Oakland, California, to Somerville, Massachusetts—were selected based on their record of helping students achieve success. In addition to the working groups, numerous national gatherings at the Graduate School of Education will allow the initiative's participants to connect with leading education policy leaders to discuss the future of 21st-century schooling.

S. Paul Reville, founding director of the Education Redesign Lab, said he believes the program’s holistic approach—encompassing health and wellness, out-of-school learning opportunities, and more—is well suited to address the needs of underserved youth. The program diverges from previous initiatives at the lab which focused solely on addressing achievement gaps within the classroom.

“What we're basically saying is that the business of developing and educating children goes beyond what we’ve tasked the school system with doing, and it really becomes a community responsibility,” Reville said.

Reville also said this community-based approach aims to address a number of obstacles outside the classroom that limits the success of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For instance, he said some families lack resources to participate in “high-quality summer enrichment experiences.”

“If we only concentrate on reforming those things that happen in school, we’re only treating a portion of the children’s lives, or a portion of the problem,” he said.

Mary E. Skipper, Superintendent of Somerville Public Schools in Massachusetts and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the goals of the initiative closely align with her district’s own goals for closing the achievement gap between students of various background.

“I think what’s unique about this [program] is that first, it brings together the city and it brings together the school districts, recognizing that one without the other really can’t make a meaningful difference in performance gaps for students and addressing whole child needs,” Skipper said.

In Oakland, the initiative will support a preexisting program, called the “Oakland Promise,” that connects students and their families to educational resources in the city and provides financial incentives and support to continue education through college, according to David A. Silver, the newly appointed Director of Education in Oakland and a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“What we are doing here is we’re creating not just an initiative or a moment in time, but a movement, and it’s something that everybody can get behind,” Silver said. “We’re actually scaling a program that works, that’s been in existence for 13 years, has a college completion rate of four times the national average, and just making it for more kids across Oakland.”

If the rollout of the program is successful, Reville said the lab hopes to expand the project to more interested cities.

—Staff writer Jesper Ke can be reached at Follow him on twitter @jesper_ke.