The Challenge and Opportunity Ahead for our Criminal Justice System

In 2014, the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States, Exploring Causes and Consequences,” which pointed out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. It noted the staggering racial disparities in incarceration, and called for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment saying that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.”

This report didn’t make a huge splash in the press, but it cemented an emerging recognition that our criminal justice policies – our school discipline, “war on drugs,” “truth in sentencing,” and “three strikes and you’re out” policies – of recent decades resulted in unprecedented and costly U.S. incarceration rates that are both ineffective as a crime reduction strategy and harmful to our social fabric. It is safe to say that this is not how we want to be known in the world community. Instead, we should be known for how we engage at-risk populations, how we reinvest in people who deserve a second chance, and how we support the successful transition of justice-involved individuals back into our communities.

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Intern Perspectives: Richard Miller

I am glad that I chose to intern at OCTAE this summer. It was a rewarding experience. OCTAE welcomed me into their office  with open arms, and I was privileged to work with great people fighting for an important cause. I believe in the work that OCTAE does to assist and  promote career, technical, and adult education programs, and I am inspired by all of the dedicated public servants at OCTAE who work to expand access to education in our nation.   I wish I never had to leave!

I also learned a lot in my work at OCTAE. I improved my knowledge of education policy, worked on interesting projects, and gained important employability skills. Coincidentally, my primary project at OCTAE focused on employability skills. The project was to conduct  an environmental scan of educational technology tools whose curricula focused on the employability skills defined in the Employability Skills Framework. I was particularly interested in tools targeted toward disconnected youth. I am glad that OCTAE worked with me to create this meaningful project, and I am happy that I was able to contribute to OCTAE’s efforts during my short time in DC.

My experience with OCTAE helped me to grow professionally and inspired me to make a difference. I would strongly recommend this internship to anybody who is both passionate about education and driven to fight for change. You would be in good company at OCTAE.

Richard Miller is an undergraduate student at Davidson College in North Carolina. This summer, he interned with Strategic Partnerships in OCTAE. Prospective interns apply during the semester preceding their internship term and are encouraged to select three offices within the Department in which they would prefer to work. The Department of Education accepts applications from all students 16 and older enrolled in classes at least half-time at an accredited educational institution. For more information about internships at the Department of Education, please click here.

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.

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.

In Case You Missed It: CTE and STEM Conference on Marginalized Girls

Cross-posted from the White House Blog | The recorded webcast may be viewed here.

President Obama believes in the innate curiosity of every child, and our responsibility to ensure that every young woman and girl has the opportunity to achieve her dreams, regardless of what zip code she is born in.

This week, as part of the President’s commitment to equal opportunity for all students, the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Education, and the Georgetown University Law Center on Poverty and Inequality highlighted programs that focus on developing the talent of girls of color and low-income girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and career technical education (CTE) careers. We heard from the educators, innovators, researchers, scientists, and marginalized girls themselves who are dedicated to increasing the participation of low-income girls and girls of color in post-secondary education and in-demand careers within high-growth industry sectors.  

According to a recent National Science Foundation study, today, more women graduate from college and participate in graduate programs than men. As the White House Council on Women and Girls noted in our November 2014 report, Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity, since 2009, both fourth- and eighth-grade math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the largest nationwide assessment, have improved for all girls of color, and since 2009 the high school dropout rate has fallen by 16 percent for black girls and 30 percent for Hispanic girls.

From 2009 to 2012, the graduation rate at four-year colleges and universities increased by 0.9 percentage points for black women, 3.1 percentage points for Hispanic women, 2.7 percentage points for American Indian/Alaska Native women, and 2.1 percentage points for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women. Despite this progress, barriers still exist for girls and women in STEM and CTE fields. In 2010, just 10.6 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 7.9 percent of master’s degrees, and 3.9 percent of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to women of color, and fewer than 1 in 10 employed engineers were women of color.

Many of these girls and young women continue to demonstrate an interest in STEM/CTE education, and we know that they bring new ideas, perspectives, and a passion for innovation and discovery. However, a dearth of resources effectively focused on marginalized girls, inaccurate stereotypes and implicit bias, and a lack of research informing evidence-based programs have combined to discourage many from pursuing and advancing in STEM and CTE careers. We simply cannot afford to allow these unfair and unnecessary barriers to prevent our nation from benefitting from the talents of the best and brightest Americans without regard to race, ethnicity, income, or gender.

We are proud to announce that the Administration is working with non-profit partners to expand access to STEM and CTE for marginalized girls, including low-income and girls of color:

  • Expanding Access to STEM and CTE Programs that Work: With funding support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Girls Collaborative Project, in coordination with non-profits like COMPUGIRLS and educators from around the country, will create a new STEM/CTE portal that will centralize resources on expanding marginalized girls’ access to STEM and CTE, including curriculum, research, and promising practices. The new project will also implement educator professional development at the local level.
  • Guidance to Ensure All Students Have Access to CTE and Non-Traditional Careers: The Department of Education is developing policy guidance designed to ensure that all students have equal access to CTE programs. The guidance to high schools, community colleges, and other CTE providers will underscore that gender bias has no place in American schools and that Title IX prohibits schools from relying on sex stereotypes in directing students towards certain fields. The guidance will also help state education agencies as they think about ways to improve women’s representation in non-traditional fields as part of their Perkins Act obligations.
  • Building Public-Private Partnerships and Strong Mentoring Programs: The Departments of Energy and Education will announce the expansion of a mentoring program that connects federal government employees who are STEM professionals with teachers and middle school students to share their passion, including some of the most marginalized students. This program will expand to additional cities around the country, with a focus on students living in public housing.

To learn more about what the Administration is doing now to expand opportunity for all with respect to STEM and CTE careers, please visit the Office of Science and Technology Policy and previous White House blogs on the topic.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

After Finals, Foster Youth Students Face a Much More Difficult Test

As winter break unwinds and college students are at home for the holidays, many homeless and foster care students find themselves scrambling for somewhere to live until classes resume in January. College campuses traditionally close down for winter break. For these vulnerable students their college campus is their home, their community and a primary source of security. While their peers are headed home to see family and catch up with old friends, many of these young people are faced with bleak prospects for the holiday season.

These vulnerable youth face the same struggles as other young people trying to maintain good grades, navigating social peer groups, and planning their futures, but they face the additional burdens associated with little to no adult guidance or support. Fortunately, higher education professionals across our nation have begun to tackle the unique issues faced by homeless and foster care students. They are developing comprehensive strategies to address the most persistent barriers these students face; not just during the holiday season, but all year long.

“Higher education can be the silver bullet to achieving long-term health, housing, and economic security. And for young people who have already overcome so much adversity just to earn a seat in a college classroom, they should have every opportunity—inside and outside of the classroom—to succeed” says Jasmine Hayes, Policy Director for the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Ensuring these youth have a safe, stable place to call home in-between semesters is critical. Keeping student housing open and available for youth experiencing homelessness during semester breaks is an effective approach.”

Programs in states like Colorado and North Carolina have implemented Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in their postsecondary institutions which provide these students access to designated college administrators who are committed to helping them to successfully navigate the college-going process. States and higher education institutions across the country are also working to address the issues these students face, including

  • access to higher education opportunities and financial support;
  • navigation of the college-going process, including financial aid and service referral processes; and
  • basic needs like employment, housing and food.

These efforts are ensuring these most vulnerable students reach their highest potential.

Colleges can play a pivotal role in supporting the academic success of these students. Just ask for foster youth, Alain Datcher. “Entering college as a first time student was a daunting experience. It was a mixture of culture shock, academic rigor and rapid growth. I don’t believe I would have succeeded without the support network I had in one woman – Tamara Malone. She was a mentor, academic advisor, dean and more in one caring, compassionate woman.” When asked how he thought his experience could translate for other students who are homeless or in foster care he replied, “Proximity will define opportunity for these young people. Having a close, approachable, and tangible support network will make the difference. It did in my college education at Biola University. I’ll be earning a Master’s of Public Policy degree in April. Having one caring, single point of contact in Tamra is a big reason why I will.”

When educators act, they change lives. If you know of a foster youth student in your institution, be proactive and reach out. It can make all the difference. Find out more at

Guest bloggers: Annie Blackledge, Casey Family Programs Senior Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education, and Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCTAE.

Webinar: Performance Partnership Pilots

A second webinar will be held Wednesday, December 17, 2014 to answer questions about evaluation for the Performance Partnership Pilots (P3) for Disconnected Youth. The P3 program offers a unique opportunity to test innovative, cost-effective, and outcome-focused strategies for improving results for disconnected youth.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 provides authority to the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and related agencies to enter into up to ten Performance Partnership agreements with states, regions, localities, or tribal communities that give them additional flexibility in using discretionary funds across multiple Federal programs.

This webinar will address questions such as:

  • What are the requirements for all pilots related to evaluation?
  • What evaluation activities are optional but will make my proposal more competitive?
  • How do the competitive preferences relate to evaluation work?
  • If I want to propose an evaluation, what standards should my evaluation design meet?
  • What’s the difference between the national P3 evaluation and a site-specific P3 evaluation ?
  • What issues should I consider when planning evaluation activities?
  • What resources are available to help with the evaluation components of the application?

You can find more information and register for the webinar here.

Recap: Performance Partnership Pilots (P3) Webinars with Tribal Leaders

by Johan E. Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, OCTAE, U.S. Department of Education

On Thursday, August 21st and Tuesday, August 26th, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Corporation for National and Community Services, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education co-hosted tribal outreach webinars on Performance Partnership Pilots (P3). These national calls had attendance from various tribal leaders and provided an opportunity for the tribal communities serving disconnected youth to learn about the goals of P3 and current activities to launch the program this fall.

It is essential that we develop solutions to reconnect the more than 5 million youth, nationwide, who are not employed nor in school to help them on a path to post-secondary education and careers, and to ensure we have a skilled and talented workforce that can meet the needs of employers both now and in the future. We know that for many American Indian & Alaska Native youth, the challenges they face are great. American Indian and Alaska Native students continue to lag behind their peers on national assessments, account for the highest dropout rate of any racial or ethnic population, and hold a dramatically lower share of baccalaureate degrees than the rest of the population.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, over 40 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people are under the age of 24. The P3 tribal outreach calls are an extension of the Administration’s commitment to strengthen the nation to nation relationship with tribal governments in order to improve the quality of life for all American Indians and Alaska Natives. In partnership with tribal nations, the Administration continues to identify and promote critical reforms that prepare American Indian and Alaska Native students for leadership in their communities and success in the 21st century.

About Performance Partnership Pilots

The 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Bill provides authority to the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, to enter into up to 10 Performance Partnership agreements with state, local, or Federally-recognized tribal governments that give them additional flexibility in using discretionary funds across multiple Federal programs. States, localities, and Federally-recognized tribal governments that seek to participate in these pilots will commit to achieve significant improvements for disconnected youth in educational, employment, and other key outcomes in exchange for this new flexibility.

The primary focus of the pilots will be providing disconnected youth with more effective supports to climb ladders of opportunity. The pilots will support innovative partnerships across local governments, non-profits, businesses and other sectors. In some cases, pilots will help propel collaborative and evidence-based work that jurisdictions already have underway. Finally, the pilots as a group will provide a valuable opportunity to learn whether this model for Federal partnership improves outcomes on the ground, and how it could be extended to other Federal programs.

Additional information on P3 can be found by visiting this link. Questions regarding P3 can be sent to



Federal Collaboration to Support Educational Stability

For many children experiencing foster care, a new school year can represent a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Research clearly shows students in foster care face enormous barriers to academic success, including frequent placement and school changes, delayed enrollment, and credits that don’t transfer from school to school. You can find more information about the collaboration between the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and read the full article by OCTAE Acting Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin on the Children’s Bureau Express blog hosted by HHS.

Addressing the Opportunity Gap: Reengaging Out-Of-School Youth

Last month, as a part of OVAE’s work with the Interagency Forum on Disconnected Youth, I had the opportunity to attend a national Reengagement Plus convening in Los Angeles, California. I return from that event renewed and inspired by the work going on across the country to reengage youth back into education and employment. In recent years, efforts to prevent students from dropping out have significantly improved graduation rates both nationally and locally. Unfortunately, there are still approximately 1.8 million young adults ages 16-21 that are not enrolled in school or have not finished their high school education. Research shows that many out-of-school youth want to return to school, but are uncertain how to do so and are fearful they will not succeed once they get there. Helping these young people find alternative pathways to graduation and meaningful employment opportunities is a critical challenge facing municipal leaders today.

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