Sunday, May 24, 2009

Harlem Children's Zone - Peoria and Barack Obama

Back in 2005, I was intrigued by what a person name Geoffrey Canada was doing to keep poverty kids, 98% black, in school with a high success rate. I blogged on "The Harlem's Children's Zone, founded by Mr. Canada, back in 11/05/05, from an article I read in the 10/31/05 issue of U.S. News and World Report. I recommended all concerned about education in #150 read my blog and the article on which I based my blog.

I have my doubts that any did, ever heard of the successes of Geoffrey Canada. Now Author Paul Tough has published a book called "Whatever it Takes", in his 2008 book now available at Lakeview Library. Judging by the stiffness of the pages, I may be the first to have checked it out. Those of you who read me and know Laura Pettele better than I do, might suggest she read it to better prepare her for what whe is going to face over the next 5 years on the school board. I can become her best supporter or her worst critic. When I say that, I remind all that I am coming off the county board at the end of 2010 and will have much less stress, more time to recount 10 years of political experience, be more financially secure and be even less politically incorrect than I am now.

Author Tough writes on p. 265, that then President elect Obama gave a speech in Washington, D.C. on urban poverty and held up Harlem Children's Zone a a model for the strategy he would follow. Obama said, "The philosophy behind the project is simple, if poverty is the disease that infects and 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 the entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works."

Obama went on to say, "If elected president, the first part of my plan to combat urban poverty will be to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in 20 cities across the country, we'll train staff, we'll have them draw up detailed plans with attainable goals, and the federal government will provide half the funding for each city, with the rest coming from philanthropists and businesses. We will find the money to do this. We cannot afford not to."

Canada, however, did not endorse OBama (McCain was promising similar programs) but he thought Obama got it "exactly right".

Now Obama is stuck "between a rock and a hard spot" because of all the promises he has made to the militant teachers unions, how militant they become depends on the weakness of the agrarian style school boards; our system MUST be changed, and as illustrated in Jay. P. Greene's article, "The Union War on Charter Schools" found in the WSJ on 4/16/09. Dr. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.Greene proves that not all college professor's live in "ivory towers".

Also mentioned in the book is the success of KIPP schools; I also learned of the success of this approach when I read an editorial in the WSJ on 3/26/00 titled "Kudos for KIPP". Like Harlem Children's Zone, KIPP schools are freed from the bureaucracy's grip of public education and employ longer school days and longer school years. And the are free from the unions who have equally contributed to the failure of so much of our urban school systems as the structure of the the failed bureaucracies that runs too much of our nation's public schools.

Ex-Caterpillar Chief Glen Barton is heading a group to select a successor to Superintendent Hinton. Those of you who know Barton should advise him that hiring another "educator superintendent" is not going to stop the failure of our inner city schools. Even Mr. Canada could not have succeeded without the financial and business knowledge provided him by the private sector. Mr. Canada's job is to educate kids by keeping them in school under an environment that best suits the kids and communities needs. That Superintendent Hinton would not have been a success was the fact that he was ill-prepared, ill-advised by many community leaders and overwhelmed with problems way beyond his expertise; his expertise lay in educating children and keeping them in school.

Barton and his group should hire a superintendent who can delegate the education of our children to people like Ken Hinton while the new superintendent could deal with working with the unions, hiring and firing of staff, downsizing the bureaucracy, fair but affordable pay structures and benefits, new buildings, renovations and be a better connector to the community including the financial community and philanthropists.

And cut the school board to three members, three year terms rotating one member each year, paid with three small offices and one secretary to be shared. If the law prevents this absolute change, get the laws changed. Our politicians seem to be able to do that on less "vital to our survival" issues.

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