We’re not alone: News from across the Rust Belt

Aproximate area of US "Rust Belt" cities in orange

As reviewed in an article from few weeks ago, our communities in Springfield and Holyoke can take advantage of regional and national resources intended to serve post-industrial cities across the United States. One such useful resource is Rustwire.com, which describes itself as:

a site intended to consolidate thoughtful, constructive stories about post-industrial cities across the Rust Belt. It was developed by two former newspaper reporters with ties to five Rust Belt cities, and it is maintained with help from half a dozen others from across the region

Similar to the springfield institute, they provide multi-author, multi-media rich perspectives on the struggles and successes that will transform our cities moving forward. We salute the entrepreneurship of the site’s contributors and recommend it to our readers.

$650 million “Investing in Innovation” education fund finalists

For some of you, Wednesday’s post about the Harlem Children’s Zone was sort of an education reform buzz kill. If you’re wondering, “What do we do now?,” here’s this: The US Dept. of Education just named the finalists for its $650 million Investing in Innovation (i3) fund–which dwarfs even the $210 million best case scenario for the Promise Neighborhood fund.

The finalists include the fairly well-regarded KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter school company, and the City of New York (public obviously, but also known for its market-based approaches to education). That’s already interesting because for those who consider charter schools to be a threat to public education, consider that there are several KIPP schools in NYC, and both proposals may be be funded.

  • KIPP wants $50 million for a national principal training program that they claim leads to “radically improved student achievement and attainment outcomes.”
  • NYC  wants $5 million for a very fancy sounding computer program that collects data on all students and uses a “state-of-the-art learning algorithm” (like Google!) to create individually customized and adaptive curricula called “playlists” (like Apple!).

Brookings: Harlem Children’s Zone charter schools “about average,” Obama’s Promise Neighborhood funds may be cut

Brookings released a report on July 20th showing that the Harlem Children’s Zone’s (HCZ) charter school, called The Promise Academy, performs no better than other NYC charter schools, and suggesting that the significant extra expense of wrap around social support services may not be worth it. (You can follow the back-and-forth that ensued between HCZ’s iconic head, Geoffrey Canada, and the report authors via this excellent summary from City Limits.) At the same time, Congress is considering cutting the Obama’s Administration’s Promise Neighborhood initiative (which is based on the HCZ model) from $210 million to $20 million. HCZ and its partner, PolicyLink, launched a campaign to save the funding.

About a year ago, an ad hoc group formed in Springfield and Holyoke to figure out how to apply the HCZ model in this region. Two delegations were sent to the HCZ conference, but in the end the group decided it was not prepared to submit a competitive proposal for Promise Neighborhood funding. You can see here that there were 339 applicants, including Boston, Lawrence, Worcester, Somerville, Fall River, Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. Part of the reluctance to submit a proposal was that Geoff Canada has over $70 million to spend every year on a section of Harlem that is the size of a single neighborhood in Springfield. No one in Springfield has that kind of money, and a $210 million fund for the entire country is no substitute for HCZ’s incredible hedge fund/Wall Street funding base.

We have made these points about funding and inconclusive evidence for HCZ’s basic claims in previous posts. But questions about the value of HCZ’s holistic approach don’t sit well with us. We know for ourselves, and we hear from stakeholders in and outside the schools, that poverty and neighborhood instability are the best predictors of even narrowly defined academic performance (e.g., MCAS scores). To improve school performance, we need jobs, access to health care and healthy food, democratic participation, and a built environment that is conducive to healthy, happy families.

As a result of the state’s recent level 4 chronically underperforming school determinations (10 out of 35 are in Springfield), many different groups have a renewed interest in bold approaches. And the Springfield school department is legally obligated to make big changes. At The Springfield Institute, our job is to help a broad range of stakeholders organize, track leading edge research and policy analysis, and deploy bold and highly accountable approaches to help ensure that these efforts and financial resources yield results.

Wednesday Rides #3: Mason Square and McKnight

We are grateful to Khali Maddox-Abdegeo (video above) and Eli Colgram (both from Universal Community Voices Eliminating Disparities) for guiding us through the Mason Square and McKnight neighborhoods last week. Highlights from our third Wednesday Ride include: A warm welcome at Arise for Social Justice, A hidden mural at Nation of Islam Mosque #13 (right), a visit to State Representative Ben Swan’s office (where we picked up Hal Swan), some oral history of Springfield from a McKnight resident and history buff, and growing numbers of riders! Enjoy this streetscape video (above), with music by Springfield native and UMass grad, Taj Mahal (Farther On Down the Road).

Click to check out Ride #1 and Ride #2, and you can also use our new category (Wednesday Rides) to see a running list of all our posts. Join us this week as we revisit the bike path from its Northern tip (and see if the drainage project is complete). We’ll gather at the YMCA on Chestnut Street at noon, and depart shortly thereafter.

Monday MOCHA Walks & the Real Food Challenge [video]

The Men of Color Health Awareness movement (MOCHA) kicked off their Monday walks last night (weekly at 6:30PM, at the mini-track behind the YMCA).

We had a great discussion about the Real Food Challenge, thanks to Myles Postell Reynolds (video below).

Homelessness in the State: Permanent Solutions versus Quick Fixes

The Massachusetts policy for housing the homeless in hotels is now in the spotlight for its inefficiency after several incidents of crime, the most troubling of which involved the endangerment and death of a child.  To end the problem of homelessness—to truly end it, not just placate it for the time being— we have to not only get those in need off the streets but into sustainable living situations, and with the resources they need to rebuild their lives.

The state spends about $2 million a month to house the 800 to 900 families that partake in the program. The way the money is being spent now, the solution is temporary at best and detrimental at worst; it’s harder to secure a job or even an interview for one without a permanent address, and it is also emotionally taxing on the families to not have a place to call their own. Here in Springfield, the number of homeless people is nearly double what it was two years ago, and the city’s Housing Department is placing people in hotels because the shelters are full. There is a general consensus that this policy is wholly ineffective, but the question is, what’s the best solution, considering budget constraints and the immediate need for a system that works?

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