Mayoral Education Advisors Discuss Local Challenges with Federal Leaders

David Johns and Alejandra Ceja
June 26, 2013

By Sam Weinstock

Mayoral education advisors from more than 30 cities had the opportunity to exchange ideas with federal officials and national experts at last week's annual meeting of the Mayors' Education Policy Advisors Network (EPAN), which took place in Washington, D.C.

Hosted by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, this year's EPAN meeting enabled network members to discuss federal education initiatives with leaders in the Obama Administration, learn about the Administration's goals and priorities, and provide feedback on how federal policies can enhance local efforts to improve education.

Federal-Local Partnership

In a discussion with EPAN members, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education James Shelton stressed the importance of working together across local, state and federal government to increase educational achievement.

"The power of networks is completely underestimated - we have many examples of almost everything we're looking for," said Shelton, adding that sharing in the right way "can change the field." He also emphasized the crucial role that mayors and other city leaders have to play in that network, especially with regard to informing federal policy. "We are very interested in bringing mayors into the conversation," Shelton said.

EPAN members were also joined by David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Johns and Ceja emphasized the critical need for city leadership in promoting educational opportunity for African-American and Latino youth. "Our country is changing," Ceja said. "We need a majority-minority population that is skilled and prepared for the workforce."

Focus on Postsecondary Success

The EPAN meeting was the culmination of nearly a week of convenings designed to provide senior city staff and their local partners with helpful information, innovative strategies, and the opportunity to share ideas with each other. It was preceded by a cross-site meeting for NLC's new Cities Advancing Postsecondary Success initiative, a two-year technical assistance project supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education. Through this project, NLC is providing assistance to five cities - Berkeley, Louisville, Memphis, Salt Lake City and San Antonio - that are working to increase postsecondary completion rates for low-income students.

Also with support from the Lumina Foundation, NLC convened a meeting of the Postsecondary Success City Action Network, a subgroup of EPAN members and community-based partners from 19 U.S. cities who are working to promote college access and success.

K-12 Strategies

While EPAN members are increasingly focused on student outcomes at the postsecondary level, they also had the opportunity to learn about innovations and trends in K-12 education. Dr. Angela Duckworth, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, presented research on the role - largely unnoticed, until recently - that non-cognitive skills play in determining whether children will succeed in school. She explained the significance of "deliberate practice" as a learning process and challenged leaders to rethink traditional forms of evaluation in school, as well as how that evaluation is traditionally communicated, as KIPP public charter schools have done in some cities.

National experts led sessions on other high-priority issues for city education leaders, such as digital learning, the common core standards and assessments, career readiness, school closures, and summer learning.

Cradle-to-Career Pipeline

A recurring topic of discussion among education advisors centered on how city governments can facilitate the development of a strong "cradle-to-career pipeline" that supports children and youth throughout their educational journey. Mary Anne Schmitt Carey, president of Say Yes to Education, led a panel discussion of YEF Institute staff on city roles in preparing students for success in school through early learning, afterschool programming, health and nutrition, family financial stability, and strategies to reengage disconnected youth.

In many of the meeting's discussions, early care and education was cited as an especially important stepping stone along the "cradle-to-career" pathway.

"We will continue to have conversations about problems in our education system until we address early learning," Shelton said.

Details: To learn more about EPAN, contact Marjorie Cohen at (202) 626-3052 or cohen@nlc.org.