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Promise Neighborhoods: An Update

The jury (or Congress) may still be out on fiscal 2011 funding for the Obama administration's Promise Neighborhoods program, but it's certainly popular with nonprofits and universities. According to ed.gov, the U.S. Department of Education has received 339 applications for its one-year Promise Neighborhood planning grants. The department plans to award up to 20 planning grants of $400,000 to $500,000 each.

Click here, and you can see the applicant pool broken down geographically, by organization type, and by priority area. For instance, you'll see that California has the most applications (45), with New York coming in second (29) and Florida third (21).

Of the 339 applicants, 260 are nonprofit organizations, 62 are institutions of higher education, and 17 are simply "other." Most target urban settings as their priority; rural communities place second; and tribal communities place third.

The Promise Neighborhoods initiative draws on the education-and-community-services model for which the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) is perhaps best known these days. The community-based organization serves 17,000 children living in a nearly 100-block area in Harlem.

I have to admit that I'm one of the many who've been impressed by the Harlem story. That said, though, it never hurts to devote some critical thinking to even a feel-good initiative like the one in Harlem or, relatedly, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

This piece by my fellow edweek.org blogger Sara Mead looks to an analysis that it's high-quality charter schools in Harlem, and not the wraparound community services, that spur improvements in student achievement. Sara also notes that most children in the Zone don't attend its charter schools, which offer admission via lottery.

"What I do believe the body of evidence from HCZ illustrates is that when it comes to improving children's lives, social and community services are not a substitute for reforms that improve the quality of instruction and curriculum going on in their schools," writes Sara, who is a senior associate with Bellwether Education Partners.

As her Policy Notebook blog states, Sara's opinions are her own and do not reflect the opinion or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education (Education Week's nonprofit parent company).

Has your organization applied for a Promise Neighborhood planning grant? What do you think about the Harlem Children's Zone?

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