In first annual report, Raise D.C. offers snapshot of D.C. youth

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post - Anacostia High School graduates applaud during commencement. According to a report that will be released on Monday, about six in 10 D.C. students graduate from high school within four years.

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Only four in 10 third-graders in the District can read proficiently, and only about four out of 10 young adults in the city have a full-time job.

Those sobering statistics are part of a snapshot of D.C. youths to be released Monday by Raise D.C., a coalition of public, private and nonprofit groups Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) convened last year with the aim of improving the lives of the District’s neediest residents from birth through age 24.

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Preparing District youth for careers
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Preparing District youth for careers

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In its first annual report, the partnership has assembled baseline data describing how the city’s young people are faring in five targeted areas: kindergarten readiness; high school graduation; college completion; full-time employment; and reconnection with either education or job-training opportunities after dropping out of school.

The baseline numbers will be used in coming years to judge whether Raise D.C. — which operates on the principle that stubborn social ills can be addressed with more collaboration among city leaders — succeeds in making measurable changes.

“If you look at some of the challenges we’re facing, there’s no way you can solve them without getting people out of their silos and working together,” Gray said. “It’s not that people haven’t talked about collaboration before. But it never gets down to this level of specificity.”

Raise D.C. involves nearly three dozen leaders from the business sector, social service organizations and all corners of city government, including Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, United Way executive Bill Hanbury, PNC Bank Regional President Mike Harreld and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Bebe Otero.

Leaders also include philanthropists such as Terri Lee Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, who said she believes that Raise D.C.’s clear goals will focus citywide efforts, helping nonprofits and city agencies make more efficient and effective use of donations.

“It’s not just pulling stuff out of the air, but looking at data to determine how should we use resources in the public school system, and in the community, to move young people to the points where we want them to be,” Freeman said.

The numbers in the group’s report offer a stark picture of the challenge.

About six in 10 students graduate from high school within four years, a number Raise D.C. aims to lift to 75 percent by 2017.

Nearly 10,000 low-income youths ages 16 to 24 are neither working nor in school. Raise D.C. wants to see that number shrink to 7,000 by next year.

And only 42 percent of youths ages 20 to 24 are employed full-time. Raise D.C. wants to raise that to two-thirds of that population by 2017.

They are ambitious goals, and skeptics wonder whether collaboration, data-gathering and planning are really enough to make a difference for kids.

“The jury’s out,” said Kim Y. Jones, executive director of Advocates for Justice and Education, a nonprofit that works on behalf of children with disabilities. “There’s been a lot of work put forth, a lot of people planning. There’s been a lot of research and data collection. That’s great, but what I want to see is kids achieving meaningful outcomes and goals.”

The city has spent about $159,000 to create Raise D.C., which includes $40,000 in private donations.

The District developed the partnership in consultation with the Strive Network, which has helped cities around the country establish similar “cradle to career” initiatives. The first of those initiatives launched in Cincinnati in 2005.

Mary Ronan, superintendent of Cincinnati public schools, said she has appreciated help dealing with issues that cause difficulties for students but over which teachers and principals have no control.

“Suddenly the community is taking ownership of some of our issues,” Ronan said, pointing to Cincinnati’s efforts to improve the quality of private preschools by pushing for a preschool rating system.

Since 2005, the proportion of 5-year-olds who arrive ready for kindergarten in Cincinnati has risen from about 40 percent to about 55 percent, Ronan said. Kindergarten readiness is one of several data points that Raise D.C. identified as important for the District to track, but currently missing. City officials are working on an assessment that would measure it.

Kindergarten readiness is one of several data points that Raise D.C. identified as important for the District to track, and city officials are working on an assessment that would measure it.

In Washington, proponents of Raise D.C. said they are hopeful that the partnership will shine a particularly bright light on teens who have dropped out of school and aren’t working — kids who have effectively become invisible to the government, but who nonprofits, health-care providers and others can still reach.

Working with those partners, the District can start to give disconnected youths a way back to education and job-training opportunities, said Lucretia Murphy, co-chair of Raise D.C.’s leadership council and executive director of the foundation that runs the city’s Maya Angelou alternative charter schools.

“We can start to have an idea of where they are and start to reconnect them,” Murphy said. “What Raise D.C. says is, it’s everybody’s responsibility to help these kids.”

 
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