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What version of reform will be in Promise Neighborhoods?

September 30, 2010

Uncritical fluff pieces on Canada and the HCZ model, together with the overall education media climate seem to have pushed forward a few things. Obviously charter school “silver bullet” initiatives have increased tremendously.

Another initiative that came forth in the last year was the call for the replication of Promise Neighborhoods, largely derived from the HCZ model. Many have been talking about the tremendous needs to be met in urban education and I’ve tried the best I can to avoid cynicism about the ed reform agendas that often come along with many such wraparound service projects.

As such, I watched with interest as a round of planning grants was awarded to nonprofits and institutes of higher ed to become involved in Promise Neighborhoods. The AFT response was interesting as well, particularly this:

“While we are concerned that the applications were linked to the mandatory use of one of four instructional turnaround models—some of which don’t have a track record of success because they rely on a simple strategy of hiring and firing—the promise of cradle-to-college services embedded in the community is a huge step forward.”

It seems that many in the education community considering resistance or other alternative models of education reform other than the Duncan/Obama endorsed turnaround models have stated: “We might as well get on board, be cooperative, and possibly bring about change from within…..oh and get paid of course”

However, The Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, one of the Promise Neighborhoods grant recipients, will enter into a partnership with a traditional public school rather than with a charter school.

This all brings me back to a conversation I had with a colleague who asked me, “Is it possible to deliver comprehensive, wraparound model services present in charter networks like HCZ in a traditional public, unionized school and if so how?” Now I believe that he was coming from the conclusion that this was not possible in unionized urban schools and required charter schools and the accompanied privatization in order to exist. I didn’t subscribe to that assumption and still don’t but the question is certainly in the air throughout these federal grants.

What we clearly need more of is increased attention to innovations in traditional public schools and increased investment in building authentic, community-based solutions and alternatives to much of what is happening in current status quo education reform. Without increased work put into that, we may very well look like dead meat to the vultures circling around our school systems.

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