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For Harlem Children’s Zone, Love But Not Money

By Alyson Klein — November 10, 2009 1 min read
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Two big-name Obama administration officials, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Melody Barnes, a top White House education adviser, will be speaking at the Harlem Children’s Zone conference in New York.

The speeches will almost certainly showcase the Obama administration’s budget proposal to create a Promise Neighborhoods program, which would dole out grants to community organizations to replicate the highly regarded Children’s Zone. (You can read all about the Harlem’s Children’s Zone in this story).

The proposal seems like a nod to folks who argue that wrap-around social services, such as health care, pre-kindergarten programs, college counseling, and parent outreach, are an essential part of boosting student achievement. The administration’s participation in the event, and its budget proposal, would be a sign that President Barack Obama and Duncan agree. (A recent study seems to suggest very promising findings for the program.)

But I think it’s pretty interesting that while the administration clearly supports programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone, that’s not where it’s investing the big bucks. Obama slated the Promise Neighborhood Program for just $10 million in his fiscal year 2010 budget proposal.

By contrast, the Teacher Incentive Fund, which allocates grants to districts to create or bolster performance-pay programs, was slated for $517 million, a whopping $420 million increase over fiscal 2009. And that was on top of $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

So, purely on the dollars, it looks like the administration has a lot more faith in merit-pay programs (which some education organizations don’t love) than it does in wrap-around social services (which ed orgs often push for) when it comes to what will boost student achievement.