Changing the Narrative for Youth

“A zip code should not determine someone’s fate.” Those words echoed as Leticia James, New York City Public Advocate provided remarks at the New York City Young Men’s Initiative’s (YMI) My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Community Convening. “It’s the power of government and education to transform, and that’s what our work is about,” she added. And that’s why President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative last year, to help bridge gaps and expand opportunity for young people, particularly boys and young men of color – regardless of who they are, where they come from or the circumstances into which they are born.

Held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem on February 27, the convening brought together representatives from the community – as well as public and private sector leaders in the areas of philanthropy, education, mentoring, community development and others – who are all unified in their commitment to advancing life outcomes and opportunities for young men of color.

After a dynamic youth discussion between Urban Ambassador and YMI Youth Advisor Lionel Kiki and David Banks, President and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation,  the first panel focused on education. Among the many ideas that were shared during the education panel, three themes set the tone – including the need for every young person to have access to a mentor, whether that is a caring adult or peer mentor. And particularly for young men of color, male mentors are crucial. “A student without a mentor is like an explorer without a map,” said a participant. The second theme was about changing the narrative about young men of color. “We should start talking about assets, as opposed to deficiencies,” was a key point made by various participants. Third, was the emphasis on culturally appropriate education, including programs and staff.

Sheena Wright, President and CEO of the United Way of New York City, moderated and panelists included Deputy Mayor of New York Richard Buery, Grace Bonilla, President and CEO of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc., Paul Forbes, Director of the Expanded Success Initiative, and U.S. Department of Education Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin.

Since the launch of MBK, cities, counties, and tribal nations were called on to implement “cradle to college and career” strategies for improving the outcomes for young people – known as the MBK Community Challenge. Since then, cities, businesses, and foundations are taking steps to connect young to the mentorship, networks, and the skills they need to find a good job, or go to college. During our trip to New York, we saw first-hand what several neighborhoods in New York are doing to improve the outcomes of youth and young men of color in particular. We visited three programs that are part of the Young Men’s Initiative. We had the opportunity to meet with several inspiring youth and adults participating in the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), Jobs-Plus and Young Adult Internship Program, initiatives of YMI’s efforts to address disparities faced by young men of color. While on a tour of EPIC North High School – a part of ESI – the students shared inspiring and deeply personal testimonies about how EPIC has provided leadership and life skills while enabling them to earn their high school diploma and get ready for college.

Panelists in discussion

Acting Assistant Secretary Johan E. Uvin, Grace Bonilla, Sheena Wright, Deputy Mayor of New York Richard Buery, and Paul Forbes discuss innovative practices and tools that should be considered when planning to increase college access for Black and Latino young men.

New York City is one of the larger cities that responded to the President’s powerful call to action on February 27th last year.  Along with New York City, nearly 200 mayors, tribal leaders, and county executives across 43 states and the District of Columbia have accepted the MBK Community Challenge in partnership with more than 2,000 individual community-based allies. These “MBK Communities” are working with leading experts in youth and community development to design and implement cradle-to-college-and-career action plans. Within six months of accepting the Challenge, MBK Communities commit to review local public policy, host action summits, and start implementing their locally tailored action plans to address opportunity gaps. MBK Communities are provided with technical assistance to develop, implement and track plans of action from both federal agencies and independent organizations with related expertise.

Last week, a report was released that provided an update on three areas of focus based on the goals laid out in the MBK Presidential Memorandum: state and local engagement, private sector action – independent nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate action; and public policy review.

We encourage you to read the report and learn more about the Young Men’s Initiative in New York City. We also encourage you to get involved in your community and join efforts to improve policies and programs to improve the outcomes for all youth but particularly for young men of color.

Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education and represents the Department on the Entering the Workforce work team of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Carmen Drummond is the Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary and advises on interagency issues and strategic Administration initiatives.

Career Pathways On the Move!

The Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Labor (DOL) continue our exciting work together around career pathways – both systems building and programs.  In April of 2014, we issued a joint Request for Information (RFI) to get information and recommendations about career pathways from stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

A diverse group of 141 respondents from across the nation commented.  We received information about existing career pathways systems, roles and responsibilities of career pathways partners, connections to economic development strategies, how pathways systems are funded, how participant outcomes are measured, and how providers ensure that pathways stay current with labor market trends.

CP RFI report image

Career Pathways Summary of Responses to a Request for Information

An interagency team has been reviewing and analyzing the responses and is pleased to share a summary report with overarching themes from the RFI.  The report includes facilitators and barriers to career pathway(s) development and implementation.  It also includes promising practices and recommendations for what federal, state, tribal, and local agencies can do to support the successful development of career pathways systems in light of recent developments such as the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  The report concludes with an overview of key opportunities, including:

  • Service to Diverse Populations
  • Increased Funding
  • Technical Assistance
  • Greater Flexibility
  • Support for Research

Career pathways are a required activity for state and local workforce development boards, and WIOA encourages their implementation throughout the new law.  This increased support for career pathways is guiding a comprehensive update and enhancement to the existing career pathways framework and Career Pathways Toolkit.

Yesterday, as part of the enhancement process, DOL, in partnership with the interagency team, hosted a Champions meeting, with those recognized as a champion in the implementation of a Career Pathways System in their state, locality, or tribe, to get valuable input on draft revisions to the Career Pathways Toolkit.  The champions provided their feedback as well as any innovations, creative approaches, and evidence-based practices they have developed since the publication of the last version of the Toolkit in 2011.

Please know that the information shared through the RFI and yesterday’s Champions meeting will be used to inform technical assistance efforts, funding opportunities, policy discussions, and other activities to support the development of career pathways systems.   So, stay tuned by staying engaged with the Moving Forward with Career Pathways project.

Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business: Report Launch

OCTAE Announces the Release of Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States

UPDATE: See an Homeroom blog post by Undersecretary Ted Mitchell and Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin about The Importance of Transforming Adult Learning.

Data from the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies’ Survey of Adult Skills, which tested adult skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments, found that 36 million Americans have low literacy skills, nearly 24 million of whom are part of the workforce. In addition, nearly 46 million Americans struggle with numeracy. These skills issues have significant negative impacts on individuals, their families, and their communities. In contrast, higher skills are linked to improved economic and social outcomes, such as better employment, earnings, and health; social mobility; and greater civic engagement. To address the need to connect so many Americans with learning opportunities, OCTAE has released the report Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States.

See the recorded video announcement about the report from Acting Assistant Secretary Johan E. Uvin.

Opening image of Uvin Video Message

Recorded Video Message by Johan E. Uvin

Grounded in evidence and informed by effective and emerging practices, Making Skills Everyone’s Business offers seven strategies that hold great promise for improving the conditions that create and perpetuate poor literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. These strategies do not distinguish between public and private obligation, nor do they compartmentalize actions at the federal, state, regional, tribal, or local levels. Instead, they are based on the principle of shared responsibility and acknowledge that America’s skills challenge is too large to address by any stakeholder group independently.

Many OCTAE stakeholders contributed to the development of this report through attending engagement events or hosting roundtables on adult skills in their own communities. OCTAE greatly appreciates all of the input we received and the ongoing commitment to excellent services for youth and adult students.

Please spread the word about this new report by forwarding the link and accompanying video to your community stakeholders. Together, we can empower teachers, tutors, workforce development specialists, librarians, and other practitioners serving adult learners to develop collective strategies that provide all U.S. adults the opportunity to improve their foundation skills and access middle-class careers.

This report is just one of OCTAE’s ongoing efforts to promote adult learning. For continually updated news about our work, visit OCTAE Connection, the OCTAE blog, and the page.


Restoring the Promise of Education for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Young students who are expelled or suspended are 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. Sadly, a significant number of students are removed from class each year — even for minor infractions of school rules. One study found that 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect.

Exclusionary discipline practices tend to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities (see more). Nationwide, data collected by our Office for Civil Rights show that African-American students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.

Gender matters, too.  While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys. And when looking at disabilities, disparities persist, as well. Although students who receive special education services represent 12 percent of students in the country, they make up 23 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 23 percent of students receiving a school-related arrest.

Read More

photo of Johan Uvin
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Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Job-Driven Training: Next Steps

“This [work] is really about the future of the middle class.” That is how U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez framed the work of The Skills Working Group (Work Group), earlier this week. Secretary Perez brought Cabinet members together to talk about how the Administration can make sure that everyone has the skills they need to get a job or get ahead. Members of the Work Group identified priorities and projects to focus their joint work. They discussed how best to maintain a national focus on skills and maintain interagency collaboration on skills beyond 2016.

In November 2014, Perez launched the Work Group, an effort to keep the momentum of the Job-Driven Training Initiative. This initiative is making sure that youth and adults leaving our education and training programs have the skills businesses need. Thirteen federal agencies, the White House National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget make up the Work Group including the departments of Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Energy, Defense, Justice, Interior, and the Social Security Administration. The Work Group coordinates activities across these various agencies.

Overview of Job-Driven Training Milestones:

Jan. 2014 State of the Union: President Obama announces Job-Driven Training initiative and asks Vice President Biden to lead a federal government wide review of job training programs.

Feb-Jun 2014 Job-Driven Training Review: White House and agencies develop job-driven checklist and review job-training programs across 13 agencies.

July 2014 Ready to Work Job Driven Training Initiative Report: White House releases job-driven training report with the results of the job-driven review and an action plan for moving forward, including:

  • Steps to make competitive and formula program more “job-driven”
  • Collaborative efforts across agencies to better align systems, braid funding, and enhance coordination
  • A call to action around long-term unemployment, upskilling, and tech hiring

Nov. 2014 Skills Working Group Launched: Launch of the interagency Skills Working Group in November 2014 to maintain focus and attention around interagency, collaborative efforts component of job-driven training initiative, as well as emerging opportunities around cross-agency skills coordination.

Dec. 2014 Sub-Committees Meet: Skills Working Group deputies establish sub-committees that met in December and over the holidays to develop initial project work plans.

Jan. 2015 State of the Union: President Obama acknowledges the success of Vice President Biden’s job-driven training initiative and highlights apprenticeship and upskilling.

Members presented the goals, objectives, activities, and expected outcomes developed by interagency work teams focused on four topics. Secretary Perez presented on apprenticeship. Secretary Moniz discussed possible pilots for better coordination around skills in targeted communities. Secretary Pritzker introduced technology innovations. And we discussed efforts to increase the skills of 24 million front-line workers so they can advance to higher-paying jobs. We also talked about ways to get more states involved in creating career pathway programs.

Following these mini-presentations, we spoke about what we are already doing and about what more we can do together.

We left the meeting with a clear sense of direction to develop and implement together a comprehensive strategy to solve America’s skills challenge.

Guest Bloggers: Johan E. Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Carmen Drummond is a Special Assistant and Policy Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary. Uvin and Drummond are facilitating the career pathways and upskilling work stream of The Skills Working Group.

USCIS Listening Sessions on New Americans Announced

The President’s Task Force on New Americans and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invite you to participate in three listening sessions to discuss federal strategies to strengthen the economic, linguistic, and civic integration of new Americans. Three sessions are planned:

  • Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)

On Nov. 21, 2014, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum establishing a White House Task Force on New Americans, an interagency effort to develop a coordinated federal strategy to better integrate new Americans into communities. Read more about the Task Force and the call for feedback.

During these listening sessions, Task Force members, including OCTAE leaders, and USCIS officials will provide an overview of the Task Force on New Americans and seek your feedback on best practices or strategies for successfully integrating immigrants and refugees into local communities.

To register for these sessions, please follow the steps below:

  • Visit the USCIS registration page to confirm your participation
    • Click here to register for the January 29th session focusing on receiving communities
    • Click here to register for the February 3rd session focusing on economic and linguistic integration
    • Click here to register for the February 5th session focusing on civic integration
  • Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  • Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  • Select the “Event Registration” tab
  • Provide your full name and organization
  • Complete the questions and select “Submit”

Once USCIS processes your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details. If you have any questions about the registration process, or if you do not receive a confirmation email within two business days, please email

Note to the media: This engagement is not for press purposes. Please contact the USCIS Press Office at (202) 272-1200 for any media inquiries. If you have questions regarding the engagement or other stakeholder matters, please email

It’s FAFSA Time – Be Sure to Submit Yours

Don’t leave $150 billion on the table! On January 1, the 2015-16 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) became available, and if you’re a student who will be going to college, a parent of a college-bound student, or a counselor, you should know that filling out the FAFSA is key to getting access to $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds. 

See these helpful tools compiled by the Department in a series of Mythbusters about the FAFSA.

Call for Ideas to Help Shape Federal Immigrant and Refugee Integration Strategy

Contribute to this Call for Ideas from the White House Task Force on New Americans!  The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

OCTAE’s programs are often the first educational stop for many immigrant and refugee families. Our practitioners can inform the Task Force with real-life stories and examples of specific actions and supports that could help immigrants and refugees integrate into their communities and for their communities to welcome them. The Task Force needs to hear from you.

In a White House blog post, the Task Force posted this Call for Ideas to help shape the focus of the federal immigration and refugee integration strategy and created a specific email account,, for gathering stakeholder ideas.  Please send your ideas, big or small, to this email by February 9, 2015


Serving English Language Learners

OCTAE is proud that our CTE, adult education, and community college programs serve many English language learners and help them achieve academic, career, and community integration success. We also recognize the important role that improving English proficiency plays in immigrant and refugee families, contributing to the academic and career success of two or more generations. We encourage all of our providers to make use of these new tools and guidance.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance reminding states, school districts, and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.

In addition to the guidance, the Departments also released additional tools and resources to help schools in serving English learner students and parents with limited English proficiency:

*   A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in school.

*   A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand.

*   A toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students, prepared by the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the first chapter in a series of chapters to help state education agencies and school districts meet their obligations to English learner students.

This is the first time that a single piece of guidance has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners. The guidance recognizes the recent milestone 40th anniversaries of Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), as well as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The EEOA, similar to Lau, requires public schools to take appropriate action to help English learner students overcome language barriers and ensure their ability to participate equally in school.

The guidance explains schools’ obligations to:

*   identify English learner students in a timely, valid and reliable manner;

*   offer all English learner students an educationally sound language assistance program;

*   provide qualified staff and sufficient resources for instructing English learner students;

*   ensure English learner students have equitable access to school programs and activities

*   avoid unnecessary segregation of English learner students from other students;

*   monitor students’ progress in learning English and doing grade-level classwork;

*   remedy any academic deficits English learner students incurred while in a language assistance program;

*   move students out of language assistance programs when they are proficient in English and monitor those students to ensure they were not prematurely removed;

*   evaluate the effectiveness of English learner programs; and

*   provide limited English proficient parents with information about school programs, services, and activities in a language they understand.