Impact in Place: ED Releases Report on “Place-Based” Strategy

Place matters. And the Obama Administration has made it a priority to study just how much, such as how a community comes together to support residents, and how government, business and nonprofits can increase coordination to improve impact and effectiveness of investment.

From this work, the Department of Education has adopted a “place-based” approach – recognizing that the federal government can support strategies to achieve better outcomes for students and families by taking into account where investments are made and how those investments interact with other resources, policies, and programs. On Friday, the Department released a report on these efforts titled “Impact in Place: A Progress Report on the Department of Education’s Place-Based Strategy.”

Secretary Duncan announces Promise Neighborhoods

Secretary Duncan announced in September 2010, that 21 nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education would receive Promise Neighborhoods planning grants.

The report explains how the Department is able to better align its work with other levels of government to address common challenges. For the first time, the Department is explicitly using “place” as the unit of analysis, not just the set of programs that the agency funds.

Communities that struggle with underperforming schools, rundown housing, neighborhood violence, and poor health know that these are interconnected challenges and that they perpetuate each other. The place-based framework helps the federal government better support a community’s response to such challenges by coming up with solutions that tackle multiple problems.

Earlier this year, Secretary Duncan explained that, “boosting student achievement is not an either-or solution,” and that the broader community should be “attacking both in-school and out-of-school causes of low achievement.” The focus on place gives ED a mechanism to see how its investments focused on “in-school” levers of change interact with “out of school” conditions for learning, as well as the interventions meant to address them. With research showing that out-of-school factors influence students’ experiences in the classroom, the place-based framework helps the Department move to “both-and” solutions.

The Department’s signature place-based effort is the Promise Neighborhood program, an initiative that recognizes the role an entire community plays in a child’s education. Promise Neighborhoods create common metrics of success and a “cradle-to-career” continuum of services by partnering with community-based organizations, taking advantage of multiple investments directed toward achieving the same goal. A similar approach is taken in ED’s recently proposed criteria for the Race to the Top (RTT) District-Level competition. The proposal offers preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.

Today’s report shows that ED’s place-based approach not only better targets the specific needs of individuals and populations, but also improves the impact and efficiency of investments.

The report lays out six key elements for the development and success of a place-based strategy, and provides example of implementation. By explaining what it means to be “place-based” and showing how communities around the country have adopted this model, we hope to encourage other communities and agencies to work in a place-based way as well. The report is a first step in showing how to turn the place-based theory into action that produces results for children, families, and communities.

Learn more about Promise Neighborhoods, see a list of last year’s winners and read Secretary Duncan’s speech announcing the program.

Larkin Tackett is Director of Place-Based Initiatives at the Department of Education

Housing, Education Departments Put Schools at Center of Choice Neighborhoods

In Chicago yesterday, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that five cities would receive the first-ever Choice Neighborhoods implementation grants. Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle will be the focus of the new strategy to support local leaders in transforming high-poverty, distressed neighborhoods into neighborhoods of opportunity.

Only hours before the Chicago announcement, the Chicago Tribune reported that four teenagers were wounded in a drive-by shooting in the same community that will be subject to the Choice transformation. Persistent gang violence, vacant homes and lots, high unemployment, and lack of access to needed services and amenities are common challenges in neighborhoods like Woodlawn. In addition, most of Woodlawn’s neighboring schools are underperforming with math and reading scores trailing city averages.

To meet this challenge, Choice Neighborhoods includes an unprecedented focus on ensuring access to quality educational opportunities. HUD worked closely with the U.S. Department of Education to develop the program, requiring Choice applicants to have an education strategy that “expands access to high-quality early learning programs, schools, and education programs that will improve key outcomes for children and youth in the neighborhoods.”

The Chicago Choice proposal responded with plans to work closely with the University of Chicago, which is making a number of major investments in the neighborhood including opening the doors of its high performing Laboratory High School to neighborhood residents. The plan also invests in the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community (WCPC), an education collaborative focused on turning around poor performing schools and enriching children’s academic experience.

Secretary Duncan praised the Choice Neighborhoods approach, noting that it is part of an interagency effort to “combat poverty by ensuring there are great schools and systems of support at the center of every community.”

Choice Neighborhoods is linked closely to the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program, which supports cradle-to-career services designed to improve educational outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods (More background about the intersection of Promise and Choice Neighborhoods below).

Both programs are central components of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which seeks to align federal housing, education, justice, financial asset building and health programs with the overarching goal of transforming neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into communities with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools.

As Secretary Donovan concluded his remarks in Chicago, announcing the Choice grants in the context of another tragic shooting, he quoted President Obama’s 2007 speech about this new approach to expanding opportunity in distressed neighborhoods—“If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community.”

Larkin Tackett is the Director of Place-Based Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement

Read More