Catching up on my reading over the weekend, I came across this New York Daily News op-ed from Pedro Noguera, an NYU sociologist specializing in education. Noguera is promoting the Newark Global Village Zone, a new partnership between the Newark, New Jersey school district, teachers' union, and local hospitals and universities to institute a "wraparound" social services network for the families in the city's Central Ward, a high-poverty area that feeds students into seven public schools.
This is a good thing. A problem in education policy is that of the two major camps seeking to influence the political debate–the free market reformers and the traditionally liberal, anti-poverty camp–the second group has had few opportunities to demonstrate its approach can work. Why? Because there is no school district, city, or state in the country that has broadly and systematically attacked child poverty both inside and outside of school buildings.
Perhaps the closest thing we currently have to an anti-poverty education reform laboratory is Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. President Obama promised on the campaign trail to use federal dollars to seed Harlem Children Zone replicas in cities around the country. Congress later allocated a paltry $10 million for the program. That number is really a joke, since the actual Harlem Children's Zone has an annual budget of about $70 million, much of it provided by private philanthropies.
So it's important that experiments like the Newark Global Village Zone move forward, to see if the wraparound strategy of the Harlem Children's Zone can be successfully implemented elsewhere. That said, I'm skeptical of the politics of this specific effort in Newark. The Newark superintendent who supported the launch of this project, Clifford Janey, has been ousted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who sees Janey as too supportive of unions and not invested enough in systemic overhaul. And Newark's Mayor, Cory Booker, has focused his school reform agenda on charter schools, a cause for which he has become a national advocate.
There's no reason why a charter supporter should be disinterested in a project like the Newark Global Village Zone; the Harlen Children's Zone, for instance, includes both wraparound services and several charter schools, and an element of the Newark project is connecting successful charter schools to traditional public schools to share best practices. Yet in reality, most players in the charter school field have little patience for the argument that school district's should divert instructional time and resources away from the classroom and toward services like health care.
Without support from the city's new superintendent (whoever it may be), Gov. Christie, and Mayor Booker, the Newark Global Village Zone probably has little chance of taking off or attracting significant philanthropic interest. That would be a loss, however, since the cause of education reform would be well-served by more research into the efficacy of the wraparound agenda.