I am just back from a screening of Waiting for ‘Superman’ in Boston, where I was one of the post-screening panelists along with one of the 21 grantees and two other panelists. As a group, we spent most of our time talking about Promise Neighborhoods, neighborhoods, and wrap-around services.
Still, much of the movie itself is focused on charter schools and teachers unions, and the controversy is one reason we have not taken a position on the movie. Indeed, the movie elicited a critical response from AFT’s Randi Weingarten, who is featured in the film.
Given this, it was gratifying to come across the following positive statement about Promise Neighborhoods from Weingarten, which was issued September 21:
Statement by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, On Announcement of Grants To Support ‘Promise Neighborhoods’
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education today awarded planning grants to 21 nonprofits and institutes of higher education to create Promise Neighborhoods. Partnering with school districts, grantees will provide cradle-to-career services to improve educational outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods.
Promise Neighborhoods offer much of what our schools, teachers and students desperately need—wraparound services combined with high-quality instruction and high expectations for students, as well as broad community support for neighborhood schools.
The program seeks to make college not just a dream but a reality for students in distressed neighborhoods. Recognizing that learning doesn’t begin when a child turns 5 and doesn’t end when the school bell rings, Promise Neighborhoods would deliver needed help for students before they are old enough to attend kindergarten, before and after the traditional school day, and throughout the summer months. Perhaps most important, the program is designed to build broad community support for schools and to make faith groups—often the strongest entities in the community—full partners in efforts to improve neighborhood schools. For all these reasons, the AFT’s affiliate in New York City was a co-applicant for one of the grants, and our St. Paul, Minn., affiliate was a strong supporter of the application designed to help students in St. Paul’s schools.
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.