Opinion
People walk around the Princeton University campus in New Jersey, Nov. 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz) People walk around the Princeton University campus in New Jersey, Nov. 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)  

DC’s College Bound Program Is Worth Repeating

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If there is any issue that stumps liberals and conservatives alike, it is what to do about the crisis in public education in our high schools, especially in urban neighborhoods. If the now-famous campaign theme “It’s the economy, stupid” worked in 1992, then in 2016, the related slogan could be “it’s about education, stupid.”

Data show a correlation between graduation rates in high schools and colleges and improved job and economic opportunities. For example, Labor Department data show the unemployment rate drops as educational level increases, starting with 12.4 percent with less than a high school diploma, 8.3 percent among those with high school degrees and 4.5 percent for those with a college degree. Regarding educational achievement and future wages, the correlation is equally clear: a typical worker with at least a four-year college degree earns about $50,000/year, compared with the median income of $30,000/year among those with a two-year degree and about $18,500/year for those with no more than a high school diploma.

If you are looking for one simple, common-sense approach that has delivered miraculous results on high school graduation and college admission rates for inner-city kids, you should look at the College Bound program in the District of Columbia.

The centerpiece of College Bound is its “Academic Mentoring Program,” which matches each student in the eighth through 12th grades with a college-educated professional, who becomes their academic mentor, or “partner,” and engages one-on-one with them for the duration of the program. Students in the program must meet with their partner once a week for two hours at one of six local, community-based sites. Partners are also required to spend personal time during the month to develop a relationship with the student.

The program began in 1991 with 12 students and 15 volunteers at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, with the goal of making college a reality for underserved eighth- through 12th-grade students. Today, some 23 years later, led by its inspirational executive director Kenneth Ward, who is a former D.C. school teacher and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College Bound offers an array of programs focusing on college admission preparation to more than 500 D.C. high school students — 95 percent of whom are African-Americans. Its total budget is just slightly over $600,000 — all private, no government, funds, drawn from individual and business community and nonprofit contributions in D.C.

The challenge of helping inner-city kids graduate high school, much less get admitted to a quality college and have a good chance of graduating, can seem daunting. About 69 percent of all students in the United States graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years, but in the District, this number drops to 49 percent. In Wards 7 and 8, among the city’s poorest neighborhoods with the lowest graduation rates, only one-third of students graduate from high school and one in 20 receive a college degree.

Yet in the last four years, 100 percent of all seniors who participated in the College Bound program graduate from high school, and 100 percent are accepted into the college or university of their choice. Among the colleges that this year’s senior class was accepted at were Cornell, Drexel, Penn State, Rutgers, Simpson, St. John’s, The George Washington University, the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania.