For each of the last three years, Secretary Duncan has started the school year with a bus tour visiting schools and communities across the country to find what’s working in education and to hear the concerns, insights, and lessons learned from students, teachers, principals, parents, and the communities supporting them. It’s always a welcome grounding in “real education” — the kind that children and families experience everyday — versus the “education system” policymakers and pundits love to caricature and debate.
This year, I participated more fully than I have in years past — visiting schools, grantees, education reformers, and advocates in California, Missouri, and Kentucky.
That’s the operative question for nearly 150 young men on San Antonio’s East Side this summer who are participating in the inaugural season of Midnight Basketball at the Davis-Scott Family YMCA. As part of the Eastside Promise Neighborhood, which received one of five Promise Neighborhoods implementation grants in 2011, the new league’s dozen teams compete on Friday and Saturday nights through August 4.
At the heart of all Promise Neighborhoods is the collaboration among diverse community organizations – public and private, non-profit and for-profit, secular and faith-based, academic and extracurricular – and the East Side collaborative, led by the United Way of Antonio and Bexar County, that is making the summer league possible exemplifies that principle. The San Antonio Police Athletic League organized the overall effort, but relied on area churches to recruit the players, who range in age from 17 to 23. The teams’ jerseys were donated by Generations Federal Credit Union and other assistance is coming from the Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which is investing in the Eastside Promise Neighborhood on behalf of San Antonio’s professional basketball organization. In keeping with its goal of ensuring that local students feel safe in their schools and community, $15,000 of the Eastside Promise Neighborhood grant is supporting the summer league. The new league attracted local and statewide media attention, including coverage by KSAT12 News and Texas Public Radio.
Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched the 2011 Promise Neighborhoods program. This second phase of Promise Neighborhoods includes new implementation grants and a second round of planning grants. Nonprofits, institutions of higher education and Indian tribes are eligible to apply for the $30 million fund to develop or execute plans that will improve educational and developmental outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods.
In this era of increasing global competition, the need to improve under-performing schools and education systems, especially those that serve high-need students and communities, is a widely accepted moral and economic imperative. The most effective ways to support and sustain change within our education organizations is the subject of more debate.