Poor student attendance. Low scores on state standardized tests. Large achievement gap. Violence. What do these issues have in common? They are the diseases that currently infect the United States public educational system and drain the possibilities of academic success from our students. Although previous presidential administrations have sought to obtain remedies for these problems, it is the current administration who has prompted not only school districts, but entire states, to dig in their heels and find a solution to these problems so that American students can achieve academic success and compete in a global market.
The Obama administration created the Race to the Top Fund as a way to motivate states to develop creative ways in which to address the achievement gap and to reform their schools. With an expected $4 billion price tag, the Race to the Top Fund has been quite competitive and controversial. Even though the majority of the funds have already been awarded to Delaware and Tennessee during the first round, it is expected that the remaining funds will be awarded to at least thirteen states. This means that local districts looking to implement school reform need to find alternative routes for funding.
Enter Promise Neighborhoods. Promise Neighborhoods is a secondary plan that the Obama administration has hatched in order to combat not only the achievement gap and low academic scores of students, but to also address the issue of child poverty. In fact, President Obama is asking Congress to approve a $210 million proposal that would give federal funding to non-profit groups, as well as institutions of higher education, to develop Promise Neighborhoods. The proposed amount is included in the 2011 Education Department budget whereas $10 million was already approved for the Promised Neighborhoods initiative in the 2010 budget. The proposed increased funding would award 15-20 communities with federal funds to provide educational interventions for children beginning the day they are born and seeing them through school until they enter college.
The policy framework for Promise Neighborhoods is based upon the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) model where creator Geoffrey Canada currently implements a holistic approach to eliminating child poverty and increasing academic performance. The basis for the HCZ model is that children can only succeed if they have supportive environments, thus Canada offers parenting classes to teens to train them to be effective, caring, and nurturing parents. Likewise, the HCZ model provides health and social services as well as educational support services to all of their families in the Harlem Children’s Zone from birth until college. Thus far, the HCZ model has posted significant accomplishments which is why the federal government wishes to tap into those successes and see them replicated elsewhere.
Problems such as the achievement gap and low performing scores on state standardized tests, coupled with child poverty and violence, has painted a dim picture of success for American students. It is obvious that school reform is needed and for now it seems that the only hope of increasing student academic performance is via the Promise Neighborhoods initiative.
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Harlem Children’s Zone