Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don’t Drop Out of School Innovation

Paul Tough, author of the fascinating book Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0547247966/tilsoncapitalpar), with an insightful op ed in the NYT about the importance of the government being willing to back promising but unproven initiatives to address our society's most pressing problems:

HOW much evidence does the government need before trying something new in the troubled realm of public education? Should there be airtight proof that a pioneering program works before we commit federal money to it — or is it sometimes worth investing in promising but unproven innovations?

Last month, the Senate subcommittee that allocates federal education money weighed in on one such promising innovation, slicing, by more than 90 percent, the $210 million that President Obama requested for next year for his Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

…Promise Neighborhoods was inspired by the example of the Harlem Children's Zone, which over the last decade has compiled a solid, though still incomplete, record of success in the 97 blocks of central Harlem where it operates. Students at the group's two charter elementary schools, mostly low-income and almost all black or Hispanic, have achieved strong results on statewide tests, often exceeding average proficiency scores for white students. Last year, 437 parents completed Baby College, the Zone's nine-week parenting class, and 99 percent of the children graduating from the prekindergarten entered kindergarten on grade level. This fall, more than 200 students from the Zone's afterschool programs will enroll as freshmen in college.

The central argument against fully financing the Promise Neighborhoods initiative, given voice in recent weeks by various policy groups, journalists and bloggers, is that despite such promising data, the Zone has not yet proved itself.

…Children who live in the 300-plus low-income neighborhoods that are pursuing Promise Neighborhoods support are, on the whole, stuck. Every year, their schools and Head Start centers receive more federal money, and every year, things in their neighborhoods get worse. Rather than stick with the same strategies and hope things somehow magically change, Congress should find more room in the budget to support the Obama administration's declared approach: to try new strategies and abandon failed ones; to expand and test programs with strong evidence of success, even if that evidence is inconclusive; and to learn from mistakes and make adjustments as we go.


Don't Drop Out of School Innovation

Published: August 19, 2010


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