An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Moving From Pilots to Policy

If the incoming mayor really means to narrow achievement gaps, he or she must increase access to early childhood education, parenting supports, health and nutrition programs, and after-school and summer enrichment programs.
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On the evening of March 27, one of our community schools located in Washington Heights, a heavily Dominican neighborhood, hosted an event with potential implications for education policy in New York City and across the country. The event took place in the library of the Salomé Ureña de Henriquez Campus, our flagship Children's Aid Society community school, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The audience included education students, teachers, parents and principals from across the City.

New York University professor and prominent education policy expert Pedro Noguera spoke passionately and personally about the impact of poverty on students in this neighborhood and dozens like it around the City and the need for a Broader Bolder Approach to Education. Michael Rebell, a professor, founder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and director of the Campaign for Educational Equity, made the case for the legal right -- not privilege -- of every child to have access to the comprehensive supports that enable a real opportunity for sound education. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer pointed out that when he grew up as a child just a few blocks from the school, the supports being promoted -- quality early childhood and after-school programs -- were assumed to be a necessity and a given, not grounds for political infighting and budget wars. The sticking point, said Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky, is not that these aren't needed, but rather that putting in place a system that ensures consistent access and quality is complicated and takes time.

Notwithstanding disagreements over how much the city should or should not focus on test scores or on shutting down "failing" schools or opening new ones, this diverse set of experts came to a fundamental agreement: The City can and should make supports for schools, teachers, students and families living in poverty a top priority.

If the incoming mayor really means to narrow achievement gaps and take advantage of what President Stringer characterized as the ideal student population for the 21st century -- smart, diverse and resilient -- he or she must increase access to early childhood education, parenting supports, health and nutrition programs, and after-school and summer enrichment programs. How can we push for this, let alone achieve it, in the face of proposed budget disasters that would cut these very programs by as much as two thirds? Professor Rebell pointed to the cost efficiencies of coordinating existing services and of investing in children at the front end to save down the line on remediation and even jail. Professor Noguera noted "heroic" principals who aren't "waiting for the city to help" and have developed partnerships with local businesses for student internships and with hospitals to provide health services.

At the end of the day, however, this incredibly wealthy city has to decide that all children merit real investment. As Professor Rebell observes, while "we can and should get the costs down, the bottom line is that kids have a right to these services, and society in the long run -- and the short run -- will benefit from truly educating all of our students, so if extra funding ultimately is necessary, society can and should find the means to provide it." And Noguera agreed with a teacher in the audience who pointed out that principals who are overwhelmed by their students' hunger, family crisis and mental health problems can't possibly go at it alone.

We at the Children's Aid Society have long believed that providing children and their families with comprehensive supports and with real opportunities to engage and advocate is by far the most effective way to break cycles of poverty. The mothers who catered the event, for instance, are working with us to develop marketable skills, with catering a potential vehicle for creating sustainable, long-term pathways to economic self-sufficiency.

Clearly, the teachers, principals, parents and others who came far uptown on Tuesday agree with us. And we're not alone -- Harlem Children's Zone, Say Yes to Education in Syracuse and many others are on board. We are eager to scale up our highly successful strategy, and we hope that the incoming mayor and his or her chancellor will join us with their full support.

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