More than 70 middle school students showcased what they learned during their semester-long apprenticeships at the annual Google MegaWOW!, presented by Citizen Schools and hosted at Google in New York City. Googlers had the opportunity to play with student-developed video games and robots. Congressman Adriano Espaillat gave closing remarks, noting the need for programs such as Citizen Schools to increase student achievement and close the opportunity gap in education.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION has announced its first full budget, which calls for the elimination of federal funding for after-school and summer programs for low-income communities, known as 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
This cut would have drastic effects for working families. Federal funding for after-school programming supports 1.1 million students nationwide. An overwhelming body of evidence says that these programs help to close the opportunity gap in education, increase student academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.
These programs are often a lifeline for working parents, especially working mothers. As Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently observed, programs that enable women to balance work and family life help foster greater workforce participation, which has real economic consequences: Increases in women’s workforce participation from 1948-1990 expanded the potential growth rate of real GDP by a half percentage point per year.
Federal investments in after-school programs yield a significant return on investment. The total cost of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is only $1.2 billion, approximately 0.2 percent of total federal spending, and only one-20th the expected cost of Trump’s border wall. Unlike the wall, federal investments in after-school programs yield a 3-to-1 return, according to state and national reports, by increasing students’ earning potential and reducing crime and other social safety net expenses.
At Citizen Schools, a national after-school organization that serves 5,000 students in five states, we have seen firsthand the difference that these programs make in young people’s lives. Consider a student named Nelson, who attends Joseph A. Browne Middle School in Chelsea. Nelson has struggled during the traditional school day. His mother works two jobs. She couldn’t afford the academic and extracurricular supports that Citizen Schools makes possible, so she relies on federal funding to ensure that Nelson is in a safe, enriching space after school. That matters, because these supports help change a student’s academic trajectory: On average, students at Citizen Schools are 25 percent more likely to go to college and twice as likely to graduate with a four-year college degree, as compared with their peers. At Citizen Schools, Nelson has thrived.
Even for those of us not currently juggling the demands of our children’s education with the obligations of work, we need to ask ourselves, as a society: Do we have a responsibility to help educate our neighbor’s children? Among those members of Congress who ultimately will be responsible for accepting or rejecting the administration’s proposal, we hope that the answer is a resounding “yes.”
We need to recognize as a nation that education is about more than the school day and school year. It is about what happens before children are ready to enter school, what happens during half the days in the year they are not in school, what happens after school ends and before a parent comes home, and about how students transition from school to work. Yes, school reform is essential. But it is not enough to meet the challenge of opportunity for the next generation. We must work more broadly to assure adequate education for all our kids.
The reality is that a significant majority of Americans support federal funding for after-school programs because those programs measurably benefit students, working families, and the broader economy — and that’s good for all of us.
Lawrence H. Summers is president emeritus of Harvard University and former secretary of the US Treasury. He chairs the Board of Citizen Schools. Emily McCann is the CEO of Citizen Schools.
By 2022, the U.S. will need more than nine million professionals in science, technology, engineering and math. But last year, there were eleven states where not a single African-American student took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science — and fewer than twenty percent of all test takers were female.
Gender and ethnic inequality in tech is, by now, well documented. The question is what can we do about it?
Last month, I had a chance to meet the next generation of tech superstars at The White House Science Fair, a gathering of America’s brightest young minds and a demonstration that there’s nothing inevitable about tech’s diversity crisis. These students had made important discoveries in cybersecurity and cancer research. They had won regional and national competitions with lofty affiliations: Intel Science Talent Search, FIRST Robotics Competition and the Google Science Fair.
Among this crowd, Ruchi Pandya, a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, was typically extraordinary. She shook my hand, her palms a little sweaty from what had already been a long morning of presentations, and told me what she’d just invented: “This is a nanotechnology-based biosensor for cardiac health diagnostics.”
Essentially, her design would detect your risk for heart failure with a single drop of blood, much like diabetics can now test their blood sugar. “This device is 250 times more sensitive than what’s conventionally used,” Ruchi said. “That means we can detect both acute and chronic cardiac illness.”
For a country famously lagging in math and science, how did we produce students like these — and how can we produce more of them? I found two key themes in the many dozens of well-rehearsed presentations:
1. For young people, science is not just inherently interesting. It’s a tool to solve the world’s most important problems. I was struck by how much innovation at The White House Science Fair was grounded in empathy. There was Lily Born, only eleven years old, who created the Kangaroo Cup because she saw her grandfather struggling with Parkinson’s. Her design would help people with muscular control issues to not spill their coffee. And there was Harry Paul, now a freshman at Tufts University. As a child, Harry suffered through a dozen spinal surgeries due to congenital scoliosis. He designed a new type of spinal implant that expands with a young person’s growing spine, reducing by half the number of surgeries someone with his condition would need.
2. Young scientists need mentors. As much as anything else, what separates students like Ruchi Pandya and Harry Paul is not what happens during the traditional school day, but who they spend time with afterward. Behind every future tech entrepreneur is a mentor. Ruchi, for example, attended Lynbrook High School, which has an afterschool science program notorious for producing Intel Science Talent Search winners. She also had mentors at NASA’s Ames Research Center to help guide her project.
Learning what works for students at The White House Science Fair provides a blueprint for educating an entire generation of science and tech wunderkinds: We need to provide hands-on math and science education in a way that makes real-world connections. As the President said: “There are huge challenges that we have to solve in how we develop clean energy, how we clean up our environment, and how we solve crippling diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. And when we give students the inspiration.. they rise to the challenge.”
We also need to step up in our own communities. In addition to showcasing students, the 2015 White House Science Fair was an opportunity to announce new commitments by leaders of the STEM mentoring movement. TCS and Chevron have partnered with us to sponsor the STEM Mentoring Awards, a platform to build recognition for STEM mentoring as an important tool in education reform.
The country’s STEM workforce remains three-quarters male and overwhelmingly (85%) white and Asian. Addressing this diversity gap is not only a social justice issue, but an economic imperative.
To get more girls and boys engaged in science, technology, engineering and math, we must reimagine the school day. We must find mentorship opportunities in our own communities and invest in programs that connect low-income and underrepresented students with professionals in STEM — because what is the likelihood that a young person will become an engineer if she’s never met one?