Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deceptively Simple!

"The premise of the Harlem Children's Zone is deceptively simple: Provide the same cradle-to-college support for low-income, at-risk children in Harlem that middle-class children usually receive."

Nancy Lewis, "Why the Zone Will be Hard to Copy," Youth Today, November 2009.

So, in addition to the idea, all you need is a charismatic, results-obsessed leader, 20 years of capacity-building, financial angels galore, a willing mayor, an education-reform moment and $60 million a year.

Why start with money, a $500,000 planning grant? I haven't seen any RFP in the making but I hope, and fully expect, that it will set a fairly high bar in terms of having the building blocks -- if not in place, at least within reach. In my mind, every applicant should give a plausible answer as to why they haven't done (or tried) this already -- they've got school dollars, school reform, wrap-around services, nonprofits, etc. Along with this answer, applicants should recount and reflect upon mistakes they have made in doing similar things. What have they learned? What capacity do they have for learning?

Instead of a big planning grant, I would award "permission," cheerleading, and access to TA that locals can pay for, at least some of it. Maybe set up a community of practice, a social learning network. Planning will not do the trick.

Then I would say, let's take a look a couple of years down line at what you've achieved. Are we any closer to the starting point. Have you at least turned the HCZ education "conveyor belt" on? Make the RFP for grant dollars that reward progress rather than aspiration. Make it a prize for performance!

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