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Duncan Talks Up Community Schools, Nonprofits, and Local Innovation

This afternoon (January 27), Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave an online post-State of the Union briefing on education issues. Promise Neighborhoods received a mention, and he made an impassioned case for community schools and the role of nonprofits.

Said Duncan:

One of the things I was proudest of in Chicago is when I left we had 150 schools that were fully community centers that were open longer hours. We had a huge number of nonprofit partners who were collocating services in our buildings. This was the best money I spent. For every dollar I spent we were getting $5, $6, $7 back because of these partnerships. We had schools that we ran from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, and then from 3 in the afternoon to 9 at night the Boys and Girls Club ran the school.

And these are really tough economic times. We talked about it. Nonprofit social service agencies are struggling for money. My question is why do we keep putting that into bricks and mortar?  Let's put them into schools, don't charge them any rent, give them the buildings for free, and let them put all their scarce resources behind tutoring and mentoring and enrichment activities.

And if schools truly become the centers, the hearts of the neighborhood, for activities for children and students, for their brothers and sisters, for their parents -- GED, ESL, family literacy night, family counseling, whatever it might be, math nights -- when those schools become the hearts of the neighborhood, those children are going to do extraordinarily well. And so the nonprofit community social service agencies, faith based institutions have a huge role to play.

About Promise Neighborhoods, in response to a question about the appropriate role of the federal government in education, Duncan said we need a bottom up approach where change is driven from the local level.

We want to continue to reward excellence through programs like Race to the Top, the Invest in Innovation program, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative that builds upon Geoffrey Canada's extraordinary work with the Harlem Children's Zone. We have to support the great work that is going on out there. For all of the challenges we as a country face, the answers are out there. The answers are not with me. The answers are frankly not with anyone else in Washington. The answers are with great teachers, great principals, great local educators getting it done. We have to take those pockets of excellence, those islands of excellence, and scale them up.

Promise Neighborhoods in ESEA Reauthorization?

The Obama administration and the Senate, at least, seem ready to act on legislation reauthorizing the primary federal K-12 education bill, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. There have been discussions about including Promise Neighborhoods in this draft legislation, although its fate at the moment is unclear.

Alyson Klein, a blogger for Education Week, wrote about a joint press call held yesterday (January 26) that included Education Secretary Arne Duncan and three key senators, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Sen. Mike Enzi, (R-WY), the top Republican; and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing K-12 policy:

Harkin said there's bipartisan agreement that the federal government should focus on the needs of the lowest-performing schools and advance "teacher evaluation and improvement systems."

And he wants to ensure that the new version of ESEA allows schools to spend time on subjects other than reading and math, such as the arts. All three seem to want to keep in place the system of disaggregating data by subgroups (for example, racial minorities and particular populations, such as students in special education).

Harkin reiterated his wish to get a bill ready to mark up by the Easter recess, and on the floor by the summer. He said the committee is going to get right into the writing of legislation, with no more hearings. (The Senate committee had 10 last year.)

And he said he wants a comprehensive bill in the Senate, while the House seems more inclined to move smaller, targeted pieces of legislation.

Will Promise Neighborhoods be included? Probably, but strong support from the administration will be critical. While President Obama did not mention it in his State of the Union speech, Secretary Duncan did in a post-speech education briefing. A more concrete sign of the administration's continued commitment to its neighborhood agenda will be found in the president's budget submission, which is expected the week of February 14.

Another key player in all of this, of course, is the Republican-controlled House. According to Klein:

Harkin said there's a lot of expertise in both chambers on K-12 issues, and that can help move things along. "I think with good will and perserverance, we'll overcome those little squabbles," he said.

Alexander acknowledged he has, at various times, taken every possible position on the federal role in education. But he added, "I think the way we avoid getting hung up on that is that we're focused on fixing the problems that exist with NCLB ... We take them one by one, step by step ... we get down to basics." He said he'd like the new version of the law to "leave the decisions that divide Washington" to be decided by states, district superintendents, and others operating at the local level.

That statement, plus Speaker of the House John Boehner's stated aversion to big, complicated bills, leads me to guess that Congress will be working toward a lean, streamlined reauthorization—a path Alexander pushed for last year.

Full Service Community Schools Grants Announced

The Full Service Community Schools grantees have been announced.

Congratulations to the Youth Policy Institute in Los Angeles (an UNCA member and Promise Neighborhoods grantee) and Children and Families First of Wilmington, DE (an Alliance for Children and Families member and Promise Neighborhoods applicant) for winning two of the 11 grants!

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Waiting for 'Superman' Opens, Free Boston Showing

Our friends at HCZ just put out the following email on Waiting for "Superman," which I thought might interest you if you missed it. I always have to say that UNCA does not have a position on the movie, but we do follow it because of the obvious connections to HCZ.

That disclaimer is especially relevant because I will be on a post-movie panel discussion at a free showing in Boston, MA (Cambridge, actually) on September 29 from 3:30-7 pm. If you are in the area and would like to attend, click through to this flyer.

This is from our friends at HCZ.

The Wait is Over--Waiting for Superman Premieres Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, the documentary Waiting for Superman will open in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, and will be coming to theaters nationwide over the next few weeks.

HCZ’s Geoffrey Canada is featured in the movie, which looks at the dismal state of the American public education system. This powerful documentary is directed by Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, and like that earlier film, aims to be a call to action to address a national crisis that has been ignored too long.

Already there has been a huge buzz about the film, which won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival and will be featured in a number of articles and broadcast pieces in the coming days. Oprah Winfrey ran a segment about the film this past Monday and will run a second piece, with Geoffrey Canada, tomorrow. Please see the list below of scheduled appearances and check your local listings for times.

Friday, September 24th: The Oprah Winfrey Show; Oprah will do a follow-up segment on Waiting For Superman.

Friday, September 24th: ABC World News with Diane Sawyer; Diane will interview Geoffrey Canada.

Thursday, September 30th:The Today Show (NBC); Meredith Viera will profile HCZ and the film.

Wednesday, October 6th: The Ellen DeGeneres Show (NBC); Ellen will interview Geoffrey Canada.

Rhee: DC Election Results Were "Devastating" For Schoolchildren

Speaking at a screening of Waiting for Superman in Washington, DC on Wednesday, September 15, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee called Tuesday's election results in Washington "devastating." In Tuesday's primary, challenger Vincent Gray soundly defeated incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty, leaving the future of DC's education reform efforts and Rhee's job in jeopardy.

According to a report in the Washington Post:

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating," Rhee said. "Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

Rhee made the comment during a post-screening panel discussion, where she was joined by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and HCZ's Geoffrey Canada.

Rhee said she "absolutely" felt guilt over Fenty's loss and said her original prediction to the mayor when they first met -- that hiring her as chancellor could be his political undoing -- turned out to be accurate. But she scoffed at the suggestion by the moderator, New York Magazine's John Heilemann, that she might have been able to preserve Fenty's career and achieve her reform goals in a more politically deft manner.

"I think part of the problem in public education to date has been that we all have to feel good, let's not ruffle too many feathers," she said, noting that when she arrived in 2007, eight percent of the District's eighth graders were doing math at grade level.

"I am not going to sugarcoat that," she said. "I am not going to make you feel better about that. That is an outcome that is absolutely criminal."

Rick Hess analyzed the election loss in provocative terms on his blog on Education Week. One conclusion:

For would-be reformers to succeed in the long run, they can't rely merely on test scores and graduation rates to win the debate--they need to address such concerns and explain why their harsh medicine is necessary. They need political cover and aggressive efforts to make their case to parents and voters. Even Rhee, perhaps the closest thing to an action figure in schooling today, couldn't do all this on her own. No one backed her heralded efforts with the requisite muscle or organization, and the consequences are now clear.

Whatever your thoughts about Hess's analysis or Rhee's reforms (and we do not have an official position because we are primarily a social services organization, not an education organization), the statements about the importance of political muscle and organization ring true.

For us, the real evidence was the outcome of budget battles over Promise Neighborhoods this summer. It is why so much of our time is focused on organizing and why all our work is run out of our policy office. It is also one of the core reasons we are coming together as a movement.

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by Dr. Radut