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Investing in Education: Part I

Image of teacher assisting six students in a classroom. To help resident students succeed academically, public housing agencies across the country are partnering with schools, parents, and local stakeholders to implement educational initiatives.

Using housing as a platform to boost education, health, and other outcomes that contribute to quality of life is central to HUD's mission. HUD Secretary Ben Carson considers improving education outcomes to be integral to fostering self-sufficiency and upward mobility. With more than 750,000 children living in public housing in the United States, public housing agencies (PHAs) have a unique opportunity to improve the educational circumstances of a population that has traditionally faced challenges to academic success. The disparate educational outcomes between students from low-income households and those from middle- and high-income households, often called the achievement gap, begin early in a child’s education and persist even after graduating from high school. In 2014, 11.6 percent of students in the lowest income quartile dropped out of high school compared with 4.7 percent of students in the middle-high quartile. Of those students who successfully graduate from high school or complete a general educational development program, 64 percent of middle-income students and 84 percent of high-income students go on to college or trade school within two years compared with 58 percent of low-income students. Furthermore, low-income, first-generation students who do enter college are four times more likely than other students to leave after their first year.

Across the country, PHAs are implementing programs to help resident students overcome barriers to academic performance, graduate from high school, and go on to higher education. This two-part feature will describe how four PHAs are engaging parents and partnering with schools and other local stakeholders to prioritize education and improve outcomes for resident high school and college students.

Data-Driven Programming in the Denver Housing Authority’s Bridge Project

The Bridge Project, an afterschool and summer program based out of four learning centers on Denver Housing Authority (DHA) properties, offers tutoring, workshops and classes, individual education and career counseling, and other enrichment activities to resident students. The project, administered by the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work with support from DHA, was established in 1991 and is one of the few programs of its kind to operate out of a major university. Approximately 600 students from kindergarten to the sophomore year of college are enrolled each year. The program employs an evidence-based curriculum built around positive youth development, early literacy, and case management that serves as a comprehensive model addressing the multiple needs of each participant. Staff, many of whom are licensed educators or hold advanced degrees in social work, also attend to the students’ social and emotional development and refer families to support services when necessary.

Photograph of two students working on a laptop in class.Bridge Project students participate in tutoring, workshops and classes, individual education and career counseling, and enrichment activities such as the experimental robotics program depicted here. Credit: University of Denver

High school students can access a special program, Steps to Success, to prepare them for college, other postsecondary education, or a career. Each student in Steps creates a portfolio to use as a planning tool; meets regularly with a staff member; and attends weekly sessions consisting of career exploration, college tours, networking sessions, and other activities related to postsecondary readiness. All graduates from the Bridge Project are eligible for a supplemental scholarship to help them afford college or trade school.

Because the University of Denver has a data-sharing agreement with Denver Public Schools, the project’s evaluation team has been able to compare Bridge students with similar youth living in nearby public housing developments who do not receive afterschool support. The results of this evaluation show that, compared with their peers, Bridge Project students have substantially higher rates of school attendance, substantially fewer disciplinary referrals, better end-of-year achievement ratings in math and science, and greater gains in literacy skills. Graduation and college enrollment rates for Bridge Project students participating in the College and Career Readiness program far outstrip the average for their school district: in 2016, 100 percent of Bridge Project seniors graduated from high school compared with a district average of 46 percent, and every student in the program enrolled in college.

Seattle’s Youth Tutoring Program

Seattle’s Youth Tutoring Program (YTP), established in 1991, is based out of 6 low-income housing communities including 5 Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) properties and provides one-on-one summer and afterschool tutoring for students in grades 1 to 12. The nonprofit Catholic Community Services of King County conducts the program with financial and operational support from SHA, grants, and private donors. Roughly 500 volunteer tutors assist approximately 450 students from 50 schools as they navigate the educational system. The average student tenure is 30 months, and tutors frequently stay with their student for multiple years, serving as mentors. Parents, many of whom do not speak English as a first language, also receive support navigating the school system and advocating for their child. YTP enjoys a close partnership with Seattle Public Schools, sharing data, professional development training sessions, and relationships with individual teachers and staff to create tailored plans for specific students.

The YTP curriculum for high school students is highly individualized, centering on the bond between mentor and mentee. Tutors discuss their mentees’ needs, opportunities, and goals; use their access to the Seattle Public Schools’ online portal, the Source, to detect problems and intervene; and help students access opportunities related to their personal path. In addition to this individualized support, YTP provides SAT test preparation, college application support, assistance in applying for financial aid, and internship placements. YTP also participates in an annual scholarship program offered through SHA called Dream Big that offers $1,000 scholarships to public housing youth to help offset expenses related to higher education.

A quarter of those aged 6 to 17 living in SHA communities targeted by YTP participate in YTP each year, and in 2015, 92 percent of high school seniors enrolled in the program graduated. In 2016, 100 percent of YTP seniors graduated with clear plans for college and career training. Cicily Nordness, a supportive services coordinator at SHA, believes that one reason for the program’s success is its ability to work with families to provide youth with “wraparound support.” SHA considers YTP one of its primary youth services partners, and the curriculum for high school students is currently being expanded.

The discussion of PHAs’ efforts to improve high school graduation and college attendance rates will continue in the next issue of PD&R Edge with a look at two effective initiatives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Norwalk, Connecticut.

Yang Jiang, Maribel Granja, and Heather Koball. 2017. “Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Child Under 18 Years, 2015.” National Center for Children in Poverty. Accessed 21 March 2017; National Center for Education Statistics. 2016. “The Condition of Education: Status Dropout Rates.” Accessed 17 March 2017; National Center for Education Statistics. 2016. “The Condition of Education: Immediate College Enrollment Rate.” Accessed 17 March 2017; Jennifer Engle and Vincent Tinto. 2008. “Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students,” Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Accessed 17 March 2017.

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Christopher Tamborini, ChangHwan Kim, and Arthur Sakamoto. 2015. “Education and Lifetime Earnings in the United States,” Demography 52:4, 1383–1407. Accessed 29 March 2017; Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. 2012. “Bringing Education Home: Housing Authorities and Learning Initiatives.” Accessed 13 March 2017.

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Interview with Jesse Burne, executive director of the Bridge Project, University of Denver, 29 March 2017; Center for Housing Policy. 2011. “Using Public Housing to Strengthen Children’s Education: Case Study— The Bridge Project, Denver, Colorado.” Accessed 13 March 2017.

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Interview with Jesse Burne, executive director of the Bridge Project, University of Denver, 29 March 2017.

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Interview with Jesse Burne, executive director of the Bridge Project, University of Denver, 29 March 2017.

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Catholic Community Services of King County. n.d. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed 20 March 2017; Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. n.d. “Youth Tutoring Program (YTP) Homepage.” Accessed 20 March 2017; Correspondence from Cicily Nordness, Seattle Housing Authority, 14 April 2017.

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Correspondence from Cicily Nordness, Seattle Housing Authority, 14 April 2017.

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Correspondence from Cicily Nordness, 14 April 2017.

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