Honoring a Lifetime of GEAR UP Achievement


At the 2017 GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop, California GEAR UP director Shelley Davis was presented with a lifetime achievement award. These are her remarks.
As the director of the California State GEAR UP program over the past 17 years, I have had the distinct pleasure to learn from and support a wonderful team of professionals in service to thousands of educators, students, families, and communities throughout the state of California. Our work has been driven by a deep commitment to social justice and equity for ALL in the pursuit of academic success. This is clearly demonstrated by the testimonials of those we serve, the positive outcomes of our efforts, the many lessons learned and contributions to the statewide and national school reform agenda.  While we have had a significant impact in this important work, there is still much to do.
Since 2001 I have worked alongside individuals and organizations that place a high value on educational equity and access which provided the foundation for true collaboration and meaningful relationships.
In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama: “I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong; so don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear.”
I live and work by these principles, which I believe are more important now than ever before. To my GEAR UP family and friends out there, know that there are moments every day that you have the opportunity to impact a students life. Seize these moments, work tirelessly to fight for those who don’t have a voice, and know that you will be on the right side of history.

California Partnership Initiative Registration Open

Logo CPI bigger

The California Partnership Initiative (CPI) is a project of the California State GEAR UP Program. Since 1999, the California State program has enjoyed working in collaboration with GEAR UP partnership projects to reach our mutual goals:  increasing college and career readiness for low income students and improving the college going culture in schools.   CPI was formalized at the National GEAR UP conference in Washington, DC in July 2014.  The CPI planning committee was formed and representatives from the partnership projects met again at the NCCEP CBW in Philadelphia in February 2015.  This initiative brings together the 16 active partnership projects and the state grant to strengthen our efforts for ALL students throughout California.

2017 California Partnership Initiative Conference REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!

Please click the link below to register your team:



The Racial Gap in Education Is Slowly Shrinking


(from CityLab)

In the long fight to close achievement gaps in America’s public schools, some troubling trends are holding strong. The gap between higher- and lower-income students persists, and race, income, and segregation remain deeply connected when it comes to academic performance. But new research shows that the racial gap, though stubborn, appears to be slowly closing.

That’s a finding from a study released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute that lends hard data to the progress and continued struggles to put students of different demographic groups on equal footing.

The good news from the report: African American and Hispanic students are continuing to catch up to their white counterparts. The gender gap is also gradually narrowing in math and reading: Female students lag males in math by a smaller margin than they did 10 years ago, and male students are catching up in reading, though not quite as quickly.

The bad news: the gap in achievement between poor and wealthy students is as wide as ever, and the proportion of poor students increased significantly over the period of study. Also bad: the gap has actually grown between students who are still learning English (in this study, that was limited to Hispanic and Asian children) and those who are fluent.

“We are going to have to really understand why the social-class gap is not closing. And that’s for whites as well,” says Martin Carnoy, an author of the report. “Poor kids are not making gains relative to non-poor kids. The average lower social class kid is not making gains. The schools have to put much more effort into this.”

Although test scores are rising overall for every demographic, the gains aren’t uniform across all states. An earlier study showed that many states that posted the lowest gains were ones with minimal minority populations. Others, like Michigan and Wisconsin, were states with “long histories of promoting vouchers and charter schools to stimulate privately managed education, to no avail.” The problem for students in these states, most of whom are white, isn’t that second- and third-generation Hispanics are catching up, or that Asian students are pulling further ahead. “The white students in these states are making lower gains,” Carnoy and García write “because their state governments are not making the kinds of public school reforms made by other states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, and, in the 1990s, North Carolina”—reforms like strengthening math curriculum and training teachers.

On a national level, Hispanic and African American students in the United States are making headway despite the odds stacked against them. Hispanic and African American students are more likely to be poor and live in low-income, racially segregated neighborhoods or areas of concentrated poverty. And even when these students aren’t poor themselves, they’re more likely to attend schools with large proportions of poor students. More than 40 percent of black and Hispanic students were in high-poverty schools by 2013, compared to only 7 percent of white students, according to the study.


“These kids, on average, are going to the schools which allegedly should not be very helpful to them to do well, according to what we know about these schools,” Carnoy says. “That means that somehow either our judgment of these schools is incorrect, these high-minority, high-poverty schools, or there’s something happening outside getting them to do better.”

That fact, he says, should temper the condemnation of public schools that has come from many politicians, including President-elect Donald Trump and education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. It could also be a case for not making radical changes based on the idea that schools are uniformly failing their students and communities.

“In terms of these ethnic gaps closing, and kids of color doing well in the system, the public schools should keep doing what they’re doing, making the kind of reforms they’re making, whether it’s trying to improve the curriculum, or as in some states, like California, assigning more money to poor kids, trying to do a better job of getting good teachers into these high-minority, high-poverty schools,” Carnoy says.

But language programs still need to make more progress to help English-learners, and the fact that schools are generally becoming poorer also raises some red flags. Among the eighth-graders they sampled for mathematics performance, the share of schools classified as high-poverty rose from 15.7 percent in 1996 to 24.1 percent in 2013. In that same time, the number of schools with more than half of their students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch rose from 31.2 percent to 48.3 percent.

To reach their findings, Carnoy and García examined fourth and eighth graders in reading and mathematics from 2003 to 2013, and eighth graders in mathematics from 1996 to 2013. They used individual students’ microdata from the National Assessment of Education Progress, which allowed them to separately analyze the influence of English language ability on the academic performance of Hispanic and Asian American students.

Their report is more silver lining than cloud: the racial achievement gap has long been one of the more damning symptoms of inequity in education, and it’s getting better. Economic inequality, however, is not—and its consequences on children will shape the future.

The study concludes with some concrete policy recommendations: investing in early childhood education (particularly by strengthening the math curriculum), strengthening public education, and investing in afterschool and summer enrichment programs. These steps aren’t enough to solve social divisions in the United States, but, the authors write, “neither is doing nothing or implementing policies that don’t work for anyone.”


GEAR UP Government Relations Update


(this updated provided in part by NCCEP in Washington DC)

The last week has been incredibly busy on Capitol Hill. Congress passed a resolution to set the 2017 budget and decide funding levels for 2018-2026. This means that Congress wants to create a budget that won’t have to be approved by the Administration and help speed up the process of creating the budget. The primary target of budget discussions has been the Affordable Care Act and not education funding levels.

With the election of President Trump, we’ve been working hard to shore up support for GEAR UP among our Congressional stakeholders, while trying to acquaint the Trump transition team with the importance of the GEAR UP program to communities all over the nation. In December, we submitted a transition memo to key players on the incoming administration’s education transition team, including Robert Goad, who is widely expected to have a key role on the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

This week, the Senate HELP committee held Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing for the role of Secretary of Education. The hearing was exceptionally partisan and short on policy specifics. Republicans came out in support for with DeVos’s general approach to increasing school choice, whereas Democrats questioned DeVos’s lack of approval through the ethics process, the amount of money she has donated to political campaigns, and her inexperience with the complexities of federal education policy. While her passion for low-income students certainly came through, much of the beltway chatter this morning is focused on her refusal to commit to not privatizing public school, her relative silence on some of the most pressing education issues of the day, and the need for her to be surrounded by a strong team while leading the Department of Education. There’s certainly enough votes on the Committee to approve her appointment, so we’ll be working hard with her and her team to ensure that GEAR UP remains a deeply valued program.

Finally, committee assignments are coming together in the House and the Senate. So far, in the House we know that Diane Black (WI) is likely to chair the House Budget Committee; Rodney Felinghuseng (NJ) will chair the House Appropriations Committee; Virginia Foxx (NC) will chair the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Tom Cole (OK) will chair the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Service. In the Senate, Bernie Sanders (VT) will be the ranking member for the Senate Budget Committee; Patrick Leahy (VT) will be the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and Patty Murray (WA) will be the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. We are waiting to hear more from House Democrats and Senate Republicans on leadership assignments.

UPDATED 2/2/17

Yesterday, the Senate HELP Committee voted on Betsy DeVos’s nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education. With the public weighing in at an unprecedented level, DeVos was narrowly approved by the committee along a party-line vote (12 for and 11 against). While the nomination will make its way to the Senate floor, two Republicans who supported her in the committee have not committed to supporting her on the floor vote. This is becoming the most contested vote of all of the President’s cabinet nominees so far; Democrats only need three Republicans to vote “no” to succeed in blocking her appointment.

While this committee is somewhat unique in their bipartisan collaboration, Chairman Alexander’s (R-TN) refusal to postpone the vote to allow for deeper inquiry into DeVos’s ethics filing and questionnaire responses sparked an unusually strong rebuke from Ranking Member Patty Murry (D-WA). In addressing the Chairman, she said that the process has dramatically impacted their “ability to work together in good faith moving forward”.

As we shared in a previous Digest, we asked the Senate HELP committee to pose GEAR UP-related questions during DeVos’s hearing. While the hearing itself did not include many program-specific questions, a modified version of our questions were included in the follow-up questionnaire, which required the nominee to submit written responses to the committee.

The questions posed by committee members communicated that GEAR UP and TRIO enjoy “strong bipartisan support” and “play a critical role”. This is a crucial message for them to send to the potential Secretary, and we welcome their sentiment. However, her generic responses to the questions signal very little specifics about where she stands relative to the programs. To her suggestions that she will be “reviewing the effectiveness” and “strengthening” the programs if need be – that is a meeting that we are very eager to have. We have the evidence demonstrating that GEAR UP works and have a reauthorization package to make the program even better!

When given the opportunity, we have no doubt that the GEAR UP and TRIO communities will make an impassioned, evidence-driven case for expanding the modest federal investment in our students, families, and communities. We have included the pertinent questions and her answers below in full.

Senate HELP Committee Questions for DeVos Related to GEAR UP

Question #53 (P.38)
According to a recent report, racial gaps in college completion between white and African American and Hispanic students have widened significantly since 2007. At the same time, the face of the American college student is changing. Students from low income backgrounds, as well as older students and students with children, are increasingly enrolling in colleges across the country. Yet, retention and graduation rates are low for these students compared with so-called “traditional college” students.
  1. With 65 percent of jobs by 2020 requiring education beyond high school, how will you as Secretary help ensure that our historically disadvantaged students are able to access and complete college at a rate comparable to their white classmates, in order to ensure that students from all backgrounds have a fair shot of getting the jobs they need to be successful in a 21st century economy?
  2. Given that creating a highly skilled, competitive American workforce increasingly requires a college degree, what will you do to ensure that traditionally underserved students are able to enter and succeed in college?

ANSWER: The goal of the federal student aid programs is to ensure access to postsecondary education for traditionally underserved populations. These programs are supported by college access programs like TRIO and GEAR UP. If confirmed, I will review these and other programs to ensure they are operating as effectively as they can be. Should these programs need reform because they are not producing appropriate outcomes, I look forward to working with you and your colleagues to strengthen them during the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Question #87 (P.52)
The TRIO and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) are competitive grant programs that identify and seek to increase the number of low-income students who are successful in K-12 and higher education. These programs have strong bipartisan support and play a critical role in ensuring that promising students from low-income families have the resources and the community that they need to be successful. Do you think that students who face greater barriers to success in their education, such as the students who participate in TRIO/GEAR UP, need additional resources such as tutoring and financial assistance to be successful in K-12 and higher education? If so, do you think the federal government has any role in providing those services?

ANSWER: The Higher Education Act (HEA) has several programs designed to help underserved students gain access to higher education and be successful in their pursuits. If confirmed, I look forward to reviewing the effectiveness of these programs and working with you and your colleagues to strengthen programs with a demonstrated track record of success in the HEA reauthorization.

Now possible: a family night of coding in every elementary school


(previously published on EdSource)

When they check their email today, every elementary school in California will find a tool to bring families together for a fun introduction to computer coding.

Through a corporate grant, more than 6,000 principals in the state will receive a free digital kit today from MV GATE, a small Mill Valley nonprofit, enabling them to easily organize and stage “Family Code Night.” The program uses coding puzzles developed by Code.org, a national evangelist for computer education in schools.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy cited the project, which will also distribute the kits to schools in Chicago, among new initiatives it announced Monday to kick off Computer Science Education Week. Many schools will make time this week for Hour of Code, which introduces students to computer science through a choice of 100 one-hour entertaining coding activities covering a range of grades and coding knowledge.

On Family Code Night, parents and children participate in an introductory hour-long activity together. That can be a transformative experience, says John Pearce, director and CEO of MV GATE, which developed the Family Code Night program. “Parents can have a defining influence in celebrating their children’s progress in computer science learning. You see break-through moments. A 3rd-grader and her mom do simple puzzles and realize together that they can code and that they like it.” (A parents-oriented version of the kit can be downloaded from familycodenight.org)

It’s important to reach kids early, Pearce said, because “by middle school, kids have already decided if math and science are for them.”


(By assembling blocks of instructions, students and parents can create lines of code that move the Angry Bird on the game board.)

Hour of Code and Family Code Night are part of a fast-growing national computer-science movement encouraged by the Obama administration’s Computer Science For All initiative. With partnerships with Silicon Valley companies like Salesforce and Intel, San Francisco and Oakland unified school districts are developing K-12 computer science curriculums; Google opened a coding lab in one of Oakland’s low-income neighborhoods. The San Jose charter school group Alpha Public Schools is requiring high school students to take at least  two years of computer science.

Proponents say understanding the fundamentals of computing is becoming a requisite part of a student’s core knowledge and a key to career opportunities beyond programming and computer science. At a recent computer science forum sponsored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Kaustav Mitra, vice president of Innovation Ecosystems at the Infosys Foundation, drove home that point. “We’re not teaching computer science to create programmers, just as we don’t teach English to produce more novelists.”

Family Code Night requires internet access and a computer for each parent-student pair. The kit provides everything else: forms for parent invitations, an event timeline, to-do lists and instructions, an event script, handouts and badges for student coaches. Several hours of preparation by three people – the principal, an event organizer and a presenter – should be all that’s needed, Pearce said.

The puzzles and tutorials by Code.org teach the basics of computer logic; they ask parents and students to create lines of code by dragging and dropping commands like move forward or turn left to move pieces on a game board. In one of the challenges, for example, the code enables an Angry Bird to corral a Bad Pig.

Three months ago, White House officials invited Pearce to describe Family Code Night at a conference on computer education. That visibility led to a connection with Capital One Bank’s corporate foundation, whose $40,000 grant is funding the kit distribution.

Last month, the Disney Company, working with Code.org, announced the launch of “Moana: Wayfinding with Code,” a coding tutorial coinciding with its new animated movie; it will be the second of a series of Family Code Night programs, Pearce said. The third program, using the popular free Scratch programdeveloped by MIT for kids, is in the works.

Pearce is partnering with the Association of California School Administrators to distribute the Family Code Night kit. The leaders of ACSA’s Elementary Education Council’s 19 regions endorsed the promotion, said Scott Borba, council president and principal of Alice Stroud Elementary in Modesto.

“The kit is user-friendly and a Family Night of Code will be easy to throw together,” he said. “I think this is going to catch on.”

Borba will include the event as part of a STEM night in February and hopes it will attract close to a majority of parents in the nearly 500-student K-6 school. Since his school already does Hour of Code events, many of the students will be familiar with simple coding concepts and language and will be helping their parents. That process can reinforce kids’ confidence and enthusiasm, he said, adding, “Can you imagine a kindergartner showing a parent how to code?”


GEAR UP for College Summer Program At MiraCosta College

A record number of high school students in Oceanside took part in an intensive summer college preparatory program at MiraCosta College as part of a partnership between MCC GEAR UP and the Student Equity Department to increase the number of participating students who are prepared for and succeed in college.

MiraCosta College is located in north San Diego County and serves approximately 15,000 students. MCC’s GEAR UP partnership with Oceanside Unified School district focuses on these objectives: Summer Program Application and Essay, College Online Application & Concurrent Enrollment, Mandatory Parent-Student Orientation, Monday-Thursday 4 week College Courses, Full day IA support in college class and academic support, and Graduation Ceremony including family, MCC/OUSD/GEAR UP partners.

img_1830GEAR UP for College is an innovative, four-week program that offers college-level courses, tutoring, textbooks, meals and more for participating juniors and seniors at Oceanside and El Camino high schools. It is part of GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, which is aimed at increasing the number of low-income students who are prepared to enroll at and succeed in college.

Fifty-eight students from Oceanside and El Camino high schools took part in GEAR UP for College at MiraCosta College in 2015. This year, that number nearly doubled to 115 students.

“MiraCosta College and the Oceanside Unified School District are committed to ensuring all students have access to a quality higher education, and we are pleased to see a record number of high school students taking part in the GEAR UP for College program this summer,” said Julie Johnson, who directs the GEAR UP program at MiraCosta College.

This year’s four week program began in June and ran Monday through Thursday. The 115 high school students are spending their mornings in Communication 101 (Public Speaking) and Sociology 101, both of which are transferable to colleges and universities. Afternoons are spent working with instructional assistants to make sure students understand their morning lessons. In addition, eight guest speakers from throughout the community are invited to talk about their life experiences with the students during the 16-day program.

Success of this program include: 

  • 115 participated in the four week program.
  • 97% of participating, low GPA students, received college credit 
  • 114 students passed their college class, achieving a 99% success rate
  • Students reported that they felt more confident in their voice and to speak in situations
  • Significant increase of participating students’ involvement in GEAR UP activities, programs, events, and services
  • Increased of GEAR UP parent involvement in workshops

Despite their young age, the high schoolers are treated no differently than college students, and course content is exactly the same as offered to traditional college-aged students.

GEAR UP for College, had a profound impact on students who took part when it was introduced for the first time last year at the Oceanside Campus. Luis Flores, then a high school junior, was among the participants who enrolled in a college communications course last summer.

“I knew nothing about communication and was terrified because it was a college level course,” he said at the time. “Now I realize it’s not that difficult, especially if we use all the resources available to us like academic support.”

GEAR UP is funded through a seven-year, $7-million grant awarded to MiraCosta College to work with Oceanside Unified School District in serving students in the classes of 2017 and 2018 when they were at Chavez Middle School and Jefferson Middle School beginning in 2011. The program last year earned the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce’s Innovator Award.

GEAR UP for College is also funded through the MiraCosta College Student Equity program.

img_1792“GEAR UP for College is an innovative way to get young students excited about and prepared for college,” said Dr. Sunny Cooke, superintendent/president of MiraCosta College. “The results have been impressive and it only made sense to expand the program this year.”

The outreach necessary to achieve such a high level of success was not easy. GEAR UP staff had to go out to the high schools and register each student for the program, and focused on students who would benefit most from exposure to college material and experiences the most, not just the students who were already college bound. Connecting with families and parents was key in making sure the support for the enrolled students were there, as was the tutoring and mentor support provided by GEAR UP and MCC.

A holistic approach to preparing students for college is what works, and is exactly what GEAR UP 4 College did.

“GEAR UP for College is an incredible program developed to provide college access and success for our GEAR UP students while still in high school.”
Julie M. Johnson
Director, GEAR UP Partnership
MiraCosta College/Oceanside Unified School District
For more information on MCC GEAR UP, check out their website. MCC GEAR UP is a participant and founding organization of the California Partnership Initiative.

Partnership Success: Palomar AP Academy


The 2016 Palomar College GEAR UP for Advanced Placement (AP) Academy provided 152 students the opportunity to study advanced materials in-depth and at an accelerated pace, ultimately giving students a head start on the rigorous coursework they will face in the 2016-17 school year.  The academy allowed students to familiarize themselves with AP standards and motivate and prepare them to enroll in future AP courses. Students experienced challenging classes and glimpsed college life through our weekly local college visits.

apacademyvisitplnuThese college bound students collaborated with teachers, administrators, and previous AP students to be better prepared for college level coursework.  Students who successfully completed the AP Academy earned five elective credits and one paid AP exam by the Palomar College GEAR UP program.



California GEAR UP Completes Statewide School Institutes


To support the California GEAR UP model, regional leadership and professional development events were created for each of the 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools. The purpose is to develop regional support networks to provide opportunities for GEAR UP schools to learn from each other and problem solve together about common concerns and issues.

These events are facilitated by Whole School Services Coaches with content based on advice from School Leadership Team members.  Events are customized to meet the needs of participating schools within each region and in alignment with target areas of growth identified in the GEAR UP School Self Assessment Rubric.img_96951

September 22, 2016 7:30AM-3:30PM  Southern California Riverside Fall Regional Institute

Theme: GEAR UP Leadership Teams, What is your Bigger Purpose? 

Mission Inn Hotel** Riverside, CA


 September 29, 2016 


Southern California Anaheim Fall Regional Institute Theme: GEAR UP Leadership Teams, What is your Bigger Purpose?  Marriott Suites Anaheim,
 November 2, 2016 8:30AM-3:00PM  Northern California Fall Institute

Theme: Focus on the Whole Child—Academics, Social-Emotional Health, Parent and Community Connections 

Courtyard by Marriott —Midtown** Sacramento, CA


UC along with 200 universities supports deportation relief policy


university_of_california-berkeley_5686897_i1In line with numerous campus efforts to promote inclusivity in wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, UC Berkeley and other UC campuses joined colleges across the country in signing a statement supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

DACA is an immigration policy implemented by President Barack Obama through an executive order in 2012 that aims to protect eligible youth from deportation who first entered the United States before their sixteenth birthday among other guidelines. As of Tuesday, more than 200 college leaders across the country signed a statement in support of the DACA, which President-elect Trump opposes.

“UC Berkeley firmly supports DACA, its beneficiaries and all of our undocumented students. We are doing everything in our power to provide our undocumented students with the services and support they need,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in an email. “Diversity is central to our mission, and we are committed to maintaining a campus culture where every member of the community feels safe, welcome, and respected.”

DACA beneficiaries are entitled to a work permit, a social security number and have the freedom to return back to the United States in certain circumstances.

The policy can have significant fiscal impacts for eligible students because it classifies them as California residents for purposes such as admission and financial aid, opening eligibility for grants, work-study and scholarships, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“Without DACA, a Berkeley education would be out of reach for many,” Mogulof said in an email.

Apart from chancellors at other UC schools such as Irvine, San Diego, Davis and Los Angeles, signatories include Ivy League colleges like Yale and Harvard.

Juan A. Prieto, an undocumented campus senior, said he was grateful for DACA because it eased his anxiety over possible deportation.

“I think now that DACA is being threatened it’s like some folks are sort of being reminded that we are undocumented again,” Prieto said. “It gave a lot of student’s opportunities … but I think the flaw in it was that we did not use those opportunities to uplift all of our community.”

According to Prerna Lal, an immigration attorney at the Undocumented Student Program on campus, DACA has been a vital resource for undocumented students to participate in campus life and graduate on time.

“Ending DACA would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. GDP cumulatively over 10 years,” Lal said in an email.

In light of uncertainty regarding the new government’s immigration policies, UC President Janet Napolitano has convened a task force to strategize policies to protect undocumented students. Additionally, UC officials have been in talks with undocumented students about establishing sanctuary status for the university.

“The campus also looks forward to working with President Napolitano’s task force that will be strategizing on how, in the future, to best protect undocumented students across the UC system,” Dirks said in an email.

Contact Parth Vohra at pvohra@dailycal.org and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.