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Strong Cities, Strong Communities First Annual Report

In April, the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities released the first annual report on the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2). The report includes an overview of the program, accomplishments in the seven SC2 pilot cities, lessons learned, and next steps for the future expansion of the program. The SC2 pilot was launched to help eliminate barriers and reduce red tape in the use of diverse federal funds in seven communities hit hard by the Great Recession. The initiative placed federal education, justice, housing, transportation, and other experts directly in target communities to help navigate program planning, implementation, funding, and evaluation. SC2 initiatives in each city were place-based and individualized to best-serve a particular community.

Examples of SC2 projects include reducing red tape to access homebuyer assistance in New Orleans, demolition of an abandoned, blighted public housing development in Detroit, riverfront revitalization and economic development in Memphis, and many more. SC2 placed federal policy experts, staff, and fellows directly in the city halls of pilot communities to help them navigate the often-confusing federal funding and reporting requirements, to braid together multiple funding sources, and to craft relevant, neighborhood-specific projects to fit unique community needs. Successful projects have taken root in all pilot communities and, tellingly, all staff involved report a high level of satisfaction with the program.

The SC2 first annual report also identifies opportunities for further development. These lessons and opportunities include the need to retrain disconnected workers, creating time and space for comprehensive economic planning, investing in transit solutions, leveraging Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), deepening partnerships with philanthropy, and more.

These lessons can be explored in the near future as SC2 is set to grow in a number of ways. Later in 2013, SC2 will be inviting additional economically distressed communities to apply for another pilot round. In addition to another round of pilot communities, President Obama has also proposed the creation of 20 “Promise Zones” to be determined through a competitive application process. An SC2 National Resource Network is also slated for the coming year. The SC2 Network will serve as a single portal for training and technical assistance for economically distressed communities.

The first annual SC2 report suggests a bright future for the initiative. Communities and staff report strong satisfaction with this program that cuts red tape, streamlines processes, and allows for the flexibility to create place-based projects tailored to the needs of individual communities.

The Sequester’s Impact on Education

Now that the sequester is in effect, how will it impact education?

School districts can expect the funding cuts to impact the 2013-2014 school year. More immediately, districts may experience some difficulties creating their budgets for the upcoming year, due to funding uncertainty. Headstart could face funding cuts immediately, but it is uncertain where funds will be cut and how grantees will be affected. Will Congress reach an agreement by their next fiscal deadline, March 27th, and revoke these cuts or not?

Read more about the sequester’s expected impact on education from Education Week.

Pre-Kindergarten, an investment in human capital

During President Obama’s state of the union address last week, he unveiled his plans to expand pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children from low- and moderate-income families. He stated, "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime."

According to the report released by the Center for American Progress, Obama’s assertions are correct. Without high quality early childhood education at-risk children are:

  • 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
  • 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60 percent more likely never to attend college
  • 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

Why exactly is pre-kindergarten so beneficial? First it would improve the lives of millions of mothers and fathers and single parent homes by removing the financial burden of financing childcare. Families spend an average of 10% of their household budget on child care. For low-income parents it can be as much as 50% of their total income. Secondly, investing in children’s education will strengthen America’s human capital, as the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative, cognitively and emotionally. Enhanced human capital results in improved economic growth, increased revenue and decreases in future spending obligation. Lastly, investment in early education could counter the effects of growing economic inequality and decreased rates of upward mobility. An increasingly number of children are being raised by single parents, earning one paycheck. One income, instead of two, makes it even more difficult to pay for pre-kindergarten education. Study after study has indicated that investing in children early can result in greater impact at less cost, or in other words, a greater return on investment.

Despite these benefits, there are many shortcomings to the current piecemeal delivery and funding system of pre-kindergarten education. Funding narrowly targets specific initiatives and in doing so makes it difficult for providers to track involvement, the use of funds, and the effectiveness of the program. Many are recommending a program that streamlines federal education initiatives.

Others question if education funding should be directed at pre-kindergarten or if it would be better to spend on other programs or initiatives like teacher’s professional development.

The coming weeks and months should reveal how the Obama Administration plans to expand pre-kindergarten in America.

For more information about pre-kindergarten, read “Investing in Our Children” from the Center for American Progress or “Federal Grant Prospect Reignites Kindergarten Assessment Debate” from Education Week.

Birth to College Model in Chicago Underway

Do collaborative partnerships between teachers, administrators, and family members have the potential to prepare at-risk children for college?

The Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and Ounce of Prevention Fund are conducting research to uncover successful elements of birth to college approach for public education through a series of case studies. Through this effort, they hope to close the achievement gap for vulnerable students and develop concrete standards and practices for this approach. Their latest study discusses the process and outcomes of professional learning communities (PLCs) comprised of teachers, administrators, and student’s families at three schools serving children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old; University of Chicago Charter School’s Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland campus and the Educare School. PLCs are designed to create an environment where practitioners lead efforts to collaboratively study and pilot developmentally informed practices that prepare at-risk children for college, beginning at infancy. Officials stated:

“A major component of the professional learning communities is educating teachers to develop a mindset focusing on the long-term impact of their involvement with students, rather than the here and now.”

Survey results from 25 respondents indicated that community involvement has impacted their thinking about their practices in the classroom and with families, and a little less than half of those respondents have changed their practices as a result.

The latest study also contains resources to build an infrastructure to launch Professional Learning Communities, which includes, a written case study, video, teaching notes, and supplemental materials. “The Birth-to-Eight Project has the potential to significantly improve the educational experiences of at-risk children in Illinois and across the country and prepare them for success in school and in life, while also profoundly impacting the field” states the Chicago Urban Institute and the Ounce Prevention Fund.

For more details about this program visit: Education Week, News Release from Ounce, and the December 2012 report, “Building Birth to College Model: Professional Learning Communities. A Teaching Case Study.”

Michelle Rhee's Journey to Reform Education

The Chancellor of Washington DC from 2007-2010, Michelle Rhee, was one of the most controversial education reformers in the United States in recent years. PBS Frontline aired a documentary of Rhee’s journey to reform DC public schools this month . It is viewable on the PBS Frontline website.

The documentary details Rhee’s career in education, including her time as a second grade teacher in Baltimore, her battles with teachers unions as chancellor of the Washington DC public-schools, the high expectations she bestowed upon teachers and principals in the district, and her recent efforts to reform education on a national level.

Geoffery Canada, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone shares his perspective on education reform and the Michelle Rhee documentary in “School Reform Starts with Teacher Accountability.” He states:

"Rhee has the intellect and fearlessness that makes her one of a kind, and her experience in Washington demonstrated why those characteristics were necessary to change the system. Rhee is at the start of her career, not the end; she is going to grow in her effectiveness and impact. The entire solution does not rest in our classrooms, but for the sake of our children and our country’s future, we need to get public education right and that starts with getting the right staff in our schools."

Canada is an important leadership case study for local Promise Neighborhoods grantees and aspirants for his fundraising success, significant involvement in city politics, and managerial style.

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by Dr. Radut