Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, has received at least five honorary doctorates, the National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum and the first Heinz Award on the Human Condition for his work to incorporate schooling with social services in Central Harlem. And rightly so: The efforts of HCZ have had an undeniably and profoundly positive impact on thousands of students and families each year since the 1990s.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agrees. Last month, he announced the need for public boarding schools (for the kids “we should have 24/7 to really create a safe environment”) and full-service public schools that serve as “community centers” and are “open 12, 13, 14 hours a day” for all others. But he fell shy of whose job it would be to create these holistic schooling efforts—likely purposefully.
Duncan may be excited for expanded HCZ-like efforts, but with federal education support waning (Congress has cut education spending by 20 percent since 2011) and a heated debate over the federal role in education stalling ESEA reauthorization, he would have an uphill battle getting appropriations to fund local efforts to build HCZ-like efforts elsewhere. But few others have the resources and the wherewithal to sink that initial investment into such an effort. See the recent anecdotes out of North Carolina for more on this: Schools are cutting innovative programming that is showing impressive results for kids because federal ARRA and RTTT support is drying up and neither the state nor the district is able to foot the bill to keep these more involved efforts alive.
The potential over-involvement of the federal government in local issues like education should not be peppered over. But does the provision of great services matter more than the mechanism that delivers them?