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Missed our roof party? Save the date for Paul Tough's reading

Some of our readers took a short break from summer teaching and learning, Common Core curriculum planning, and (of course) beach-going last week to celebrate the upcoming school year with GothamSchools.

Even though an evening rain storm drove us off our roof deck, we still had a great time, and heard some great story ideas.

We’re also looking forward to seeing more of our readers soon: On Sept. 29 we will be hosting education writer Paul Tough, who will be reading from his new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiousity, and the Hidden Power of Character. More details to follow.

Tough has written extensively on the education reform movement and its roots in New York City, Geoffrey Canada and the “No Excuses” educational philosophy. Last week, he turned his attention to President Barack Obama’s roots as a community organizer in Roseland, a blighted neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

The New York Times Magazine cover story describes a mentoring program for struggling high school students in the neighborhood, and how Obama’s confrontations with race and poverty there decades ago have shaped his educational policies.

“Obama laid out an ambitious agenda” to heal the effects of inner-city poverty during his campaign, Tough wrote:

At its center was a proposal to expand the work of Geoffrey Canada and his organization, the Harlem Children’s Zone, which takes an intensive and comprehensive approach to child development in a 97-block high-poverty neighborhood in central Harlem, providing poor children with not just high-quality charter schools but also parenting programs, preschools, a medical clinic, a farmers’ market, family counseling and help with college applications. (My 2008 book, “Whatever It Takes,” is a profile of Canada and a history of the Children’s Zone.)

“When I’m president,” Obama said, “the first part of my plan to combat urban poverty will be to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities across the country.” With a candor unusual for a presidential candidate, Obama acknowledged the high price of his program: “Now, how much will this cost?” he asked. “I’ll be honest — it can’t be done on the cheap. It will cost a few billion dollars a year. . . . But we will find the money to do this because we can’t afford not to.”

But those plans to overhaul federal spending in struggling urban communities, like Roseland, haven’t panned out for the Obama administration. Instead:

The Promise Neighborhoods program exists, but it is a small item tucked away in the discretionary budget of the Department of Education. Rather than devoting “a few billion dollars a year,” his administration has spent a total of $40 million on the program in the last three years, with another $60 million in grants going out to community groups later this year. A few other initiatives have focused on concentrated urban poverty, but they are mostly small and scattered. Instead, the antipoverty path that Obama has pursued looks more like a traditional Great Society Democratic approach: his administration has spent billions of dollars on direct aid to poor people, mostly working-poor families.

Tough described the story and his reporting methodology in detail on the Times’ 6th Floor blog.

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