Two-Generation Approach to Equity and Excellence

On Wednesday September 16, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his administration's plans for new reforms for the City's public schools. At the core of his vision were two words, "equity and excellence." In his speech, the Mayor outlined a ten-year, $186 million annual commitment to raise student achievement. This commitment builds on programs already initiated by the administration such as Universal Pre-K. The Mayor's plan to reduce inequity among New York City's students and encourage a college-going culture is admirable. We at Educational Alliance applaud his efforts and vision and hope the Mayor extends this commitment beyond the classroom and explores two-generation strategies that educate parents and children at the same time.

Two-generation initiatives are based on a belief that underscores much of the Mayor's efforts, that parents and families are a child's first teacher. Indeed, numerous research studies suggest that parent participation in education is strongly linked to greater growth in children's cognitive skills. Family engagement is critical to children's academic success and healthy development. Further, we know that when parents hold higher educational expectations for their children they tend to raise children who attain more education. This is true across diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. In other words, for New York City's youth, the Mayor's goal of a college-going culture will likely start at home.

At Educational Alliance, we have seen first-hand the impact and potential of a two-generation approach. Since 1889, the Alliance has been a leader in the field of education, home to one of the nation's first Head Start and Early Head Start programs and a founder of one of the first adult education institutions in New York City. Educational Alliance has incubated a two-generation approach to family economic stability within its Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Our program combines our well-established early childhood programs with adult education for parents and wrap-around social services to strengthen entire families. The program is remarkably cost-effective, roughly 4% above and beyond the agency's Head Start and Early Head Start budget. Our two-generation approach is based on the understanding that when we make it possible for low-income adults to increase their education, we help them to better support and encourage the education of their children, and at the same time, enhance their own earning potential, breaking the cycle of poverty and introducing a cycle of success. When parents understand the value of education and the expectations that schools have for their children, they can provide the necessary academic supports at home, furthering student achievement in the long-run. By helping parents gain English proficiency we can make it possible for them to read with their children, communicate with their child's teacher or doctor and obtain higher-paying, benefits-eligible jobs. By encouraging parents to work towards a college degree we can instill the value of education throughout generations of families and make college an expectation, not an exception. Without strong supports at home, low-income students will continue to struggle academically, falling behind their more affluent peers.

Throughout the country, thought-leaders and policy-makers are beginning to take notice. Our program has garnered national attention from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which selected it as one of just four national, two-generation sites, to participate in an evaluation project assessing the immediate and ongoing impact of two-generational programs. The Foundation is working in partnership with Ascend at the Aspen Institute, the National Governor's Association, the Center for Law and Social Policy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others to explore ways to implement two-generation innovations nationally.

The Mayor's commitment is admirable though without a stronger focus on parent education and parent engagement, it may not be enough. Two-generation initiatives like ours have the potential to launch whole families into the middle class and encourage lasting achievement among children and their parents. With an incremental investment in schools and community-based organizations, funding staff positions to develop educational plans for parents and children, the Mayor can create a framework of support for New York City's learners that will help to ensure that his goals for 2026 are met and exceeded. We hope that the administration will consider making a two-generation commitment to students and their parents, empowering whole families to build their own bright future and realize their dreams. With hope!