Obama Developing Baby Colleges to Combat Poverty

Obama Developing 'Baby Colleges' to Combat Poverty

An Education Department official working on Promise Neighborhoods for Obama has told me that the federal government will begin taking grant applications in 2010 with the goal of giving out implementation grants in 2011. What should the Obama administration look for in someone who wants to start a Promise Neighborhood?

"There are a couple principles that we think are very important. The first is that the entity that applies ought to have some demonstrated capacity to do a very complex kind of planning. The second is that there has to be the ability to raise private dollars over a sustained period of time because in the end you are doing something that is going to take years to really deliver the kind of results that I think the president wants and you've got to make sure that you've got the capacity to continue to support the federal dollars. The third thing is that the programs have to be committed to data and evaluation. Fourth, there has to be a really committed board or management structure to ensure that the dollars are appropriated and accounted for accurately."

The Obama administration official with whom I spoke told me that there will be local discretion on the exact mix of services offered in a Promise Neighborhood. I was told, however, that a quality school, whether it be a traditional public school or a charter school, must be at its heart. The Harlem Children's Zone runs two well-regarded schools. What do you think are the ingredients of a strong school?

"I think there are a couple of things that are kind of universally agreed on: (1) A great leader: You've got to have a great principal who puts the education of children above everything else. (2) You have to have the flexibility to do whatever it takes. In poor communities, schools have to be open longer: longer days and a longer year. The kids are behind and there is no way to catch them up with their peers if schools stick to a rigid schedule as if this was a factory and the whistle blows at 3 o'clock and everybody stops making widgets and goes home. (3) There has to be a commitment to data and the use of data in real time. So it's not just testing at the end of the year, or in the middle of the year, it's regular evaluation, whether it's weekly or every two weeks, and sitting down and saying, 'These are the kids who are doing well and these are the kids who aren't.' This use of data is absolutely critical in my opinion. (4) The last thing is we've got to make sure that the schools are prepared to work with others. And the others are after-school help, mental health, social work. The schools must not see themselves as fortresses which put up barriers and say, 'We can do all of this by ourselves.' Great schools are absolutely critical but in these communities we need to make sure that young people are getting all their needs met."

What's the key to engaging parents in their children's education?

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