Spreading the Word
James Comer's success in educating poor, minority children in New Haven, Conn., has attracted attention and praise for quite a few years. Now, the Rockefeller Foundation is providing the money needed to encourage the adoption of his ideas far beyond New Haven and the seven other districts Comer works with directly. Rockefeller officials expect to spend roughly $3 million a year over the next five years on the project, according to foundation Vice President Hugh Price.
This year, the foundation will provide $1.39 million for the first part of the initiative, which focuses on teaching teachers, administrators, and teacher educators about Comer's approach. The initial money will be used to:
Form a consortium on urban education that will include Comer and representatives from the Yale Child Study Center, the New Haven school system, and Southern Connecticut State University. The group will design and field-test a teacher-preparation curriculum based on Comer's ideas, covering such topics as the unique needs of urban students, parental involvement, collaborative school management, and problem-solving. Once developed and tested, the curriculum will be offered to urban school systems and schools of education.
Allow Comer himself to train education school faculties and officials in his methods. Those who receive the training will then work directly with school districts. Comer's first stop will be the District of Columbia, where he will work with Howard University and the D.C. Public Schools. Ten D.C. schools will adopt his model this year; eventually it will be in every elementary school in the city.
Produce a series of detailed "how-to'' videos and accompanying manuals to acquaint educators and parents with the Comer process. Featuring commentary by Comer, the videos will cover much of the same subject matter as the proposed teacher-training curriculum and present case studies from schools that use the process.
Rockefeller also will fund some other activities that are "philosophically consistent'' with Comer's approach. For example, it will create leadership academies beginning this summer at Michigan State University and the University of New Mexico where teachers, principals, parents, and child-development specialists will learn more about urban children's developmental needs and collaborative school management.
In addition, the foundation will support local Urban League efforts to mobilize community support for school reform. This initiative was inspired by the experience of the league's Rochester, N.Y., affiliate, which played a central role in rallying support for the district's widely publicized reform program. --D.G.