At Middlesex, talk on remedial education reform

This past Monday CAHS presented our latest report on remedial education “Transitional College Readiness Programs in Connecticut: Adult Educators as Partners” at Middlesex Community College, in Middletown.

This new report focuses on an innovative new model to address remedial education for transitional students, those that test at 8th grade or below in their placement test. A set of new programs have brought together community colleges and adult education providers to work together to provide remedial education, using a variety of new strategies that combine support services, personalized instruction, software-based solutions and innovative teaching tools. Ren Brockmeyer and Roger Senserrich, the main authors of the report, were at hand to present the findings (slides on their presentation here).

After discussing the report, a panel with Dr. Steve Minkler, Dean of Academic Affairs at Middlesex, Dr. Diane Clare-Kearney, Director of Manchester Adult and Continuing Education, and Fred Silbermann, Program Facilitator for Meriden Adult Education, joined the authors to discuss their experiences implementing the new programs. Following the panel, the attendees participated in table discussions on how Connecticut can create new pathways to success for non-conventional students.

The main conclusion of both experts and attendees is that the new reform has shown some very promising results where community colleges and adult education providers worked together to deliver remedial classes. Building new partnerships, however, has proved challenging.

The full report is available for download here.

CAHS´workshop: Behavioral Economics and asset building

On January 29th join the Connecticut Asset Building Collaborative in New Haven for the second event in our peer learning series:

Behavioral Economics:  Practical Strategies for Financial Successmoney1

Join us on  Thursday January 29rd, from 9 am to 12.00 pm,  at the United Way of Greater New Haven for an open discussion on best practices on program work.

We will hear from Julia Brown, from Innovations for Poverty Action and Yale´s Household Finance Initiative on how behavioral economics can inform and improve asset building programs, and learn how front line staff can apply these lessons to become more effective. We will cover:

  • What is Behavioral Economics, and how hidden incentives can help or hamper our work.
  • How to take into account loss aversion, selection bias and information overload to make our programs more effective.
  • How to pursue successful outreach strategies to  attract clients each year, responding to their perceived needs and providing the right incentives.
  • How to track and monitor data and outcomes in asset building, and use the data to inform our strategies and improve outcomes.
  • How to use VITA and other gateway services as a launchpad for financial education and asset building programs, building a successful referral network.

We will discuss these issues, and many more, in an open , freewheeling discussion with economists and program managers, all expert on this field. They will give an open, comprehensive look at best practices, good ideas and the (occasional) missteps running an asset building program.

Seating is limited, and filling up rapidly – please RSVP here  as soon as possible if you want to attend.

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Student loans and public service

Last Friday CAHS participated on a round table with Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Chris Murphy at the Hartford YWCA. The main topic was student debt, and more specifically, on how student loans hinder the graduate’s capacity to pursue public services careers.

Although there is currently a Federal loan forgiveness program for students pursuing public services jobs, the current rules are clunky and inflexible: an individual is required to remain ten years on these occupations without interruption or face stiff penalties. Both Connecticut US Senators are sponsoring a bill to improve this program. In 2012 the average student finished college with $29,400 in debt.

On Friday’s round table many care givers, non profit advocates, teachers and other public servants shared their stories (you can read some of them here) about struggling with debt and having to postpone major life decisions (having a kid, buying a house, saving for retirement) as they face their loan payments. Pictures from the event after the jump.

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Bold ideas for early childhood

What if we paid our most at risk parents a minimum wage to go back to school to gain a high school diploma or gain employability skills while their children are in preschool?  During the September Early Childhood Alliance meeting Governor Malloy floated this very idea.  Some might find this idea absurd, but Connecticut is at a poverty crossroad and maybe it’s time to consider bold initiatives. ZGov

Poverty in Connecticut is reaching epidemic proportions. Despite various strategies and valiant efforts we are going backwards. In fact, over the past 25 years, childhood poverty has increased by 50%. Today, in Connecticut, almost 30% of the children are living in poverty or near poverty. For many of the most in need parents,  a lack of education and the problem of illiteracy obstruct their personal and economic success, limit the pre-literacy skills of their children and contribute to a  cycle of poverty that repeats through generations. This is not a small problem.  Recent census data show that about 4,000 children are born in Connecticut each year to a mother that has not completed high school. Additionally 5,000 more children are born to a mother who has no education past high school.

When a parent does not have a high school diploma or career skills training then the chances of the family rising out of poverty are slim. In Connecticut 58% of mothers who did not complete high school are not securely employed. A large percentage of these families are living in poverty and receiving state assistance.  The stresses of living in poverty have an effect on family, children and community. With today’s highly skilled workforce, there is little opportunity for career.

What is more disconcerting is that the chances for the children of undereducated parents to be successful in school are significantly impacted. Connecticut eighth grade proficiency tests show that of those children with a mother lacking high school, only 22 % demonstrate reading proficiency and only 14% demonstrate proficiency in math.  40% of these children don’t graduate from high school on time. The cycle of intergenerational poverty continues.

Yet parents living in poverty do not have the means to go back to school.  Their only option is to work minimum wage unskilled jobs.  They are often part time, include odd hours and have work schedules that vary from week to week.  This does not allow for educational opportunity or workforce training that could lead to secure employment and financial independence, hardly a recipe for state prosperity.

So what if we recognize that all parents want their children to thrive and be successful.  What if we take a leap of faith and encourage new thinking to help families navigate a way up and out of poverty?

We can turn a blind eye to our neighbors who have been born into poverty or we can stare families straight in the face and like Governor Malloy, imagine bold solutions.

New Britain : Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Family Enrichment Center Gives Teen Parents a Voice

Five teenage parents sit in folding chairs at the front of the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) Community Room in New Britain.  Each is the son or daughter of a teen parent; some are third generation teen parents.  Several have graduated from high school; others will be graduating this year. Sitting with them are program facilitators, Jennifer and Troy.  Both were themselves teen parents and now they are using their knowledge and experience to guide and mentor these students.

photo 1aFor the past five weeks these young parents have been participating in a communications and public speaking class at the Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Family Enrichment Center in collaboration with New Britain OIC.  Jennifer Hernandez, Program Manager at the Family Enrichment Center taught the course.  This is the culminating event.   Their final presentations are based on a lifetime of understanding about the issues and concerns facing teen parents.

One by one each young parent stands at the microphone, introduces him or herself and eloquently speaks of the difficulties faced when juggling parenting, school and work as a teen.  Not one asks for sympathy or expects others to approve of their circumstances.  Instead, each voices the reality of being a teen with all of the responsibilities of an adult.

Their messages came from two places, appreciation and advocacy.

Each in their own voice expressed appreciation for the support and mentoring offered by the OIC and the Family Enrichment Center.   From these programs they have found a helpful, supportive community that cares about them and cares about their children.  They have learned about child development, the importance of early literacy, children’s developmental stages and behavior and the value of good nutritional habits. Several spoke of New Britain’s low third grade reading scores and the connection between their own responsibility as parent and the success of their children. The awareness of how their actions impact the well being of their children is far beyond that of a typical teenager.

There was also a call to the audience to advocate for needed supports, especially quality childcare for parents who need to complete their education.  Without childcare, none of these young parents would have the ability to complete their high school education.  Of course, without high school it is nearly impossible to secure employment that would support a family.

As each parents spoke, it became clear that the experiences these teens have had with adults have not always been positive.  They explained the pain when educators and other adults in their lives do not understand their situation.   Whether through comments, actions or just expressions, all of these students have experienced the sting of being judged by adults.  Several parents asked that training be provided for educators, focusing on the circumstances of becoming and being a teen parent.  They hope that this education for school staff would lead to a greater understanding of their situation.

Through it all they show resilience.  What is clear is how much they love their children and how committed they are to ending the generational cycle of teen pregnancy in their family.  They have dreams for their futures and the future of their children.

As parents, educators and advocates, it is our responsibility to listen to their voices, understand their circumstances and provide direction and hope.

In their own Words:

“We must end the cycle of teen pregnancy and take the path less traveled. “

“When I graduate I want to go to art school.”

“We as parents must learn the proper way to take care of ourselves and our children.”

I want to go to college to learn to work with young children.”

“I want to be a beautician. That is my dream”

“Just because we have a hard time juggling between parenting , going to school, working…  it doesn’t mean we are being lazy.”

In the words of Jennifer Hernandez:

“What I would want others to understand is that once our teen parents have decided to parent, the discussion, the interactions…. need to promote success. There is no turning back. The decision has been made and we as a society need to support encourage and motivate these young people to be all they can be. Continuing to place our values, thoughts and beliefs about the morality of teen parenting is senseless once the child is here.  I am not saying to promote teen parenting, I am saying once the decision is made they are not only teens; they are parents who are parenting our future.”

For more information, you can check their website here.

Helping parents and kids together (CAHS on the radio!)

We will be on the radio this Tuesday, July 15th! Tune in WICC600 in Bridgeport / Fairfield County to hear us discuss two-generation programs live on air. You can listen live through their website here, or using the Rdio app on your smartphone or tablet.  What are two-generation programs, you might ask? See below!5560050395_abe6a15eed-1-390x285

Parents are a key component of children success. We know that kids are more likely to succeed when parents are involved, but their influence goes beyond that their direct support. More educated parents, for instance, for their kids, motivate them, and help them navigate the education system, while creating an expectation for success.

The data is very clear in this regard. A recent study by the Foundation for Children Development analyzing student outcomes for low income kids found that children of parents who have not graduated from high school are much less likely to be proficient on reading and math. In Connecticut, only 22% of kids are proficient by 8th grade, and just 14% are in math. This numbers are borne in part from the support that those kids can receive, but poverty also pays a role: 52% of households where the mother did not graduate from high school are poor, and 58% are not securely employed.

This has prompted many advocates to advocate for a two-generation strategy regarding children´s education. We know that better educated parents can provide a more support to kids in school. We know better educated adults are more likely to have good jobs and provide the stable environments that children need to thrive, specially at a very early age. As a result, programs that focus their work both on the adults and kids of a household are considerably more effective: they are able to provide better learning experiences for the children, while helping parents to move up to better jobs, empowering them. This report from CLASP provides an excellent overview of this approach.

Again – CAHS has been advocating for this kind of policy solutions as well. We will actually be talking about these programs tomorrow July 15th on WICC600 Bridgeport – tune in!

Background Research: Paying for College

Going to college is expensive – and looks to be getting pricier and pricier, with students accumulating more and more debt. Higher-Education

  • Although it is important to keep in mind than students with six figure debt burdens are relatively rare, this does not mean that the issue is not important.
  • The total amount of student debt out there is enormous, enough to become a real drag for the economy.
  • To make them worse, they are incredibly hard to shake off, even in bankruptcy.
  • There are some studies pointing out that college grads with a debt burden are delaying marriage, moving out from their parent´s place or getting a mortgage.
  • Above all, a reminder: the students that are the most burdened with loans are those that have a fairly small amount. Sure, a lawyer or doctor might have a huge bill, but community college dropouts will often have a lot more trouble paying back their loans with their much smaller income.

Right now there are two interesting proposals to improve how we pay for college:

  • “Pay it forward”, or income based repayment. We covered this system in the past, in a blog post. Basically, students can attend college for free, but pay a fixed percentage of their income over a period of time (say, 15 years) upon graduation. As Sara Goldrick-Rab explains in this article, however, the system sounds good on paper, but it is much less progressive that it sounds. “Pay it forward” plans focus on tuition, but this is only a small percentage of the cost of attending to college – room and board and books are an even larger barrier. Implementation would only work if it is universal; without it we will only see a regressive market segmentation. The article is well worth a read – as we often say, there is not such a thing as a magical solution, and “pay it forward” would only work under very specific conditions.
  • What is the alternative, then? Sara Golrick-Rab has a bold alternative: a free two year college option. Basically, have public institutions offer the first two years of college for no cost. In a way, we would extend the K-12 system to K-14. You can read her proposal here.

There is, as usual, an often forgotten policy tool that has a lot of potential: work study. Working Poor Families Project just released a new report on how work study is often underused, and how it could play a major role in making college more affordable. You can read their study here.

Of parent education, kids, and starting points

We want all children to succeed in school. We all say that, but we know that achieving this is not easy – although Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the country, disparities in test scores between towns and racial groups are by many measures the among the biggest in the country. We want to make sure that all kids, however, are able to thrive: if we want responsible, productive taxpayers down the road, it makes sense that everyone in our communities, parents, educators, schools, work together to do so.

Research shows that one of the main drivers in school achievement is the level of education of the parents. College-educated partents are more likely to read to them, encourage them to go to college, and help them with homework. The more educated they are, the more likely it is that their children will do well in school and graduate. For groups that are traditionally less educated, consequently, we have kids that start school with a build in disadvantage, even if their parents are fully committed to their children.

The obvious question, then, is which children are more likely to face this barrier. Sheryl Horowitz, here at CAHS, has used ACS data through IPUMS to anwer this with a graph:


The numbers are pretty clear – 66% of white parents in Connecticut have a post secondary credential; 27% African American and 32% Hispanic parents do so. These numbers can and do become a source of disparities in education.

We want all children to succeed, but not all children begin their education at the same place. As Connecticut moves to close the achievement gap, we need to include common sense measures aimed at helping both children and parents succeed. Our school and pre-K system needs to look beyond just children, and start thinking on both kids and parents.

Kids, Low-Income Families Big Winners in 2014 Legislative Session

Wednesday evening marked the end of the very unpredictable 2014 Legislative Session, and Connecticut’s low-income children and families have much to celebrate! The past few months have seen an increase to the minimum wage, a partial Capitolrestoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a major expansion of the state’s early childhood care and education programs. The budget also included a substantial increase in funding for remedial education at the state’s higher education institutions and protected resources that go to the state’s legal aid clinics – both investments being critical for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Below we have highlighted a few of the “good”, “bad” and “ugly” legislative developments. Our full breakdown of all the bills we had been watching that affect low-income children and families is available here.

The Good

  • Connecticut is First State to Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10. Public Act 14-1 increases the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. This increase will directly help 140,000 workers, many of whom are women leading single parent families, move out of poverty. A higher minimum wages means greater financial stability for vulnerable parents and children, reduced need for government safety net programs, and higher earnings for students who are working to pay for college.
  • Budget Agreement Restores CT’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 27.5% of the federal EITC. In 2012, Connecticut implemented a state EITC equal to 30% of the federal EITC. This was reduced in the last legislative session to 25% of the federal EITC for 2014. Despite late session concerns about the budget and available resources, the legislature restored the EITC to 27.5% for 2015, as called for in the biennial budget. Research shows that the EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs that are directly targeted to low-income working families.
  • Full Establishment of the Office of Early Childhood. Governor Malloy created the Office of Early Childhood by Executive Order in 2013, to help ensure a strong and effective system of care and education for young children. Previously personnel and programs that made up the state’s early care and education “non-system” were scattered across five agencies – creating confusion and inconsistency. The legislature brought much needed stability by enacting HB 5562, which puts the Office of Early Childhood in law.

The Bad

  • Senate Fails to Pass Legislation Tackling the Issue of Chronic Absence. Both national and state-level research demonstrates that when children miss more than 10% of the school year, regardless of the reason, they fall behind and almost never catch up. Legislation that would define the problem of chronic absence, and provide school resources to help families with frequently absent children, was never called by the Senate after passing the House, 93-44.
  • “Pay It Forward” College Payment Study Does Not Garner Enough Support. A bill that would have the state study the feasibility of having students attend public universities for free, in exchange for a portion of future earnings, failed to be voted on the Senate before the close of session.

The Ugly

  • A Shaky Budget. After the legislature unveiled their budget on Saturday, critics expressed concerns with some of the measures used to balance it. Particularly troubling was a $75 million line item that relied on the collection of back taxes, with few details about how this funding would be recovered. While we applaud the legislature for its support for low-income families in this budget, it is equally important that we are honest about the state’s finances to ensure the CT is able to continue funding our safety net programs for years to come.
  • Remedial Education Reform Delayed. Connecticut approved an ambitious reform for remedial education in 2012. For the past two years, the Board of Regents has worked with state universities and community colleges to implement the changes. As some institutions have struggled to meet the fall 2014 deadline to fully roll out the reform, the legislature has decided to give the option to community colleges to delay its implementation until 2015. This may postpone some much needed changes in the system, but the legislation opens the door for those colleges that are ready to roll out the reform.

We want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your support through out this session — these successes would have been impossible without you! We look forward to building on this momentum, and to continue the fight for policies that allow all children and families thrive, regardless of income, in 2015.

The Face of Adult Education

“Act as if what you say and what you do makes a difference, because it does.”

On April 3rd and 4th adult educators from all corners of Connecticut gathered in Mystic for the 2014 Connecticut Association of Adult and Continuing Education Conference.  (CAACE) In Connecticut approximately 11% of the population does not have high school equivalency. In addition, 7% of the population of our population is not proficient in English.  Adult Education programs address the educational needs of these learners, providing the expertise and support necessary to guide students toward their educational goals.

With the implementation of higher educational standards and Connecticut’s changing workforce needs, the importance of adult education as a bridge to success is becoming even more necessary. During the conference, conversations amongst educators centered around increasingly difficult educational standards, the revised and more challenging GED credential and the role of adult educators in transitioning students toward post-secondary education and workforce success.

The highlight and most compelling portion of the conference was the student award ceremony.  This year four students were acknowledged as a 2014 Student of the Year.  For each of them, success was only realized by overcoming great obstacles:  This is the Face of Adult Education.

Dane Scates from Stamford Adult Education “wowed” the audience with her strong rendition of the National Anthem.  Dane lost her mother as a teenager and battled debilitating asthma that eventually caused her to drop out of high school.  Years later, despite ongoing struggles Dane persevered and worked towards completing her High School Diploma.  Now looking forward, Dane states, “I want a career where I can make difference.  I have a mission and that is to create change for the better in our children’s lives, as they are our future.”

Luz Santana moved to Holyoke Massachusetts when she was just fourteen years old.  Language barriers made it difficult for her to be successful in school.  Years later she moved to Connecticut and while working full time began ESL classes in West Hartford.  She not only progressed in her ESL classes, but also completed her high school requirements through the National External Diploma Program.  The NEDP allows working adults to complete their high school requirements through the completion of a personal educational portfolio. This route to high school completion is challenging and ultimately proves mastery of high school concepts and knowledge. Her positive attitude not only led her to success but inspired others to do the same.

Aicha Kalapo has been attending Vernon Regional Adult Education.  Aicha was born in Sierra Leone and raised in Mali.  Her schooling ended at age ten so that she could help at home with her younger siblings.  At nineteen she arrived in the US with her young son. With the help of her sponsor family she began ESL classes.  Aicha worked two jobs and became proficient in English.  With persistence and determination she eventually earned her high school equivalency.  In the fall of 2014 she will be attending Manchester Community College with the hope of a bright future for herself and her son.

Jessica Ortiz attends East Hartford Adult and Continuing Education.  Jessica left high school at age 17 with just 6.5 credits left to complete.  After 15 years of raising children and working full time Jessica went back to school at East Hartford Adult Education. Her teachers describe her as always prepared and motivated.  Jessica not only works through her own learning challenges but is also an inspiration and cheerleader for others.  She is on track to graduate in June of this year!  But that is not the end.  She would like to continue her education so that one day she might become a social worker and continue to be a guiding light for others.

Each of these students represents hundreds more all over the state.  Many are also working one or two jobs, while going to school so that their American Dream can come true.  Many have faced overwhelming obstacles as children and adults. Behind each success is the persistence, dedication and support of adult educators!

As stated by Christine Bjork, one of the 2014 CAACE Adult Educators of the Year, “The one thing that all students are seeking is acceptance, respect and success.”  Congratulations to these students and all the adult educators who practice these words each day!