Author: Grace Peter, Program Associate, GreenLight Bay Area
GreenLight Fund Bay Area is in the midst of its fourth selection cycle, but it is the first focused solely on unmet needs of low-income families in Oakland, CA. In order to make a successful investment in Oakland, GreenLight has done immense diligence on the city over the past 6 months. The growing ESL population, surge of gentrification, and increase in traumatic experiences as well as changes in government and school leadership have marked a shift in the needs of low-income families in Oakland. In order to determine which issue areas GreenLight can most effectively invest in for deep outcomes, we are executing the GreenLight Method, through which we:
● Discover unmet needs of low-income families
● Scout for innovative solutions across the country
● Select an organization that will meet the needs of our geography
● Invest our money, time, and passion into our selected investment
● Measure our investment’s impact to ensure our effectiveness
Currently in the discovery and scouting phase, we have identified two issue areas with the help of our local advisory council that we are considering for investment into Oakland: middle school math preparedness and early childhood care.
Middle School Math Preparedness
Math skills are an important predictor of future academic success for children of all ages. Studies show that early math skills represent potential in not only future math performance, but overall academic achievement. If a child falls behind in their math performance, it is extremely challenging for them to catch up. Success in math is a vital component to success in middle school, high school and beyond.
In Oakland, student test scores decrease in proficiency from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. The system is failing students of color, who fall far behind their white peers in both literacy and math scoring. In 2014, only 38% of OUSD middle school students tested as proficient or better on the CST Math Test. For Latino students, that percentage dips to 25%. African American middle school students have the lowest proficiency at 14%.
While looking for innovative models in the middle school math space, we will be particularly focusing on the needs of ESL and low-income students, who face huge barriers to success.
In order to improve middle school math preparedness in Oakland, we will be looking for models that work specifically to shrink this achievement gap and have had success in urban environments similar to Oakland. Additionally, we will be looking for organizations that may introduce technology, blended learning, and personalized instruction into the classroom so that each child is met where they are.
Early Childhood Care
High quality early childhood care is critical for the successful development of children and economic stability of families in our communities. Research indicates that high-quality early childhood care and education can have long-lasting positive effects, such as higher levels of behavioral/emotional functioning, school readiness, academic achievement, and educational attainment. It has also been found that low-income children who attend intensive, high-quality early education programs have greater long-term outcomes than their peers.
Studies conservatively estimate that high quality preschool programs save taxpayers approximately $2.50 for every dollar invested, by reducing future costs for special education. As we look at this critical issue through a local lens, we know that there are over 26,000 children ages 0-5 in Oakland, with over 28% in poverty.
There is a lack of licensed early childhood care providers in Oakland and more broadly in Alameda County, particularly for infants and toddlers. An estimated 41% of children ages 3-4 in Alameda County are not enrolled in a preschool or a child development center.
Whether in unlicensed or licensed early childhood care, many Oakland children are entering kindergarten unready. Additionally, demographics are shifting to a larger population of English language learners in Oakland with many early childhood professionals lacking training or expertise in serving these students. Only 63% of Oakland kindergarten students were meeting or exceeding teachers’ expected proficiency levels for overall readiness for kindergarten.
GreenLight Fund hopes to improve the status of early childhood care in Oakland by looking at models that will either increase the quantity of early childhood care providers in Oakland and/or improve the quality of providers that already exist. Additionally, we will be looking for organizations that introduce trauma-informed care into their models and include the entire family in the early childhood education experience.
Timeline for Investment
From now until September, GreenLight will continue to scout for national, evidence-based models that address either middle school math preparedness or early childhood care. These organizations will be heavily vetted by GreenLight staff and our local advisory council so that by Spring 2016, one organization will be chosen to enter the GreenLight Bay Area portfolio and work in partnership with local organizations to serve low-income families and children of Oakland next year.