November 17, 2009

'Promise Neighborhood' Projects Will Require Disciplined Approach, Report Says

Groups that plan to apply for federal money to help create “Promise Neighborhoods” to fight poverty will have to demonstrate “an unusual degree of discipline and clarity” to make the projects succeed, a new report by the Bridgespan Group says.

The Education Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement will award one-year planning grants in 2010 to nonprofit groups in 20 cities that want to create Promise Neighborhoods — that is, projects modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a comprehensive set of services in a specific area to poor children from birth through college.

Drawing on its experience working with antipoverty groups, Bridgespan — a nonprofit consulting group — predicts that policy makers working on such projects will be pressured to base crucial decisions on political considerations rather than on objective criteria, while local leaders will be tempted to spread resources too thin to create real change.

The report, “Realizing the Promise of Promise Neighborhoods,” offers five tips to help Promise Neighborhood leaders achieve their aim of breaking the cycle of poverty:

  • Create common goals, focusing on educational success. “Education is the single most-effective way to end the cycle of inter-generational poverty.”
  • Because the pressure to show results will be enormous, turn to programs that have evidence they work.
  • Create Promise Neighborhoods that are small enough to allow available resources to reach enough children and families to make a real difference.
  • Create a “learning community” that allows for testing and refining strategies.
  • Ensure that the organization leading the project has strong management and leadership and the ability to raise the money needed for long-term success.

President Obama has proposed $10-million for the 2010 planning grants, but Congress has not yet allocated the money.

See The Chronicle’s recent article about Promise Neighborhoods.