Canadian Urban Institute Board Welcomes Fred Eisenberger

I will be in Toronto this afternoon chairing a Board meeting at the Canadian Urban Institute. By sheer coincidence, it will be my last meeting as Board Chair and the inaugural meeting for our new CEO Fred Eisenberger. I am confident that Fred will do a great job at CUI. He brings just the right mix of urban leadership experience, a constructive temperament and an intellectual curiosity about what makes cities work. The only adjustment for Fred may be getting used to meetings that are unfailingly thoughtful, civil and productive…Please join me in wishing Fred every success in this important new challenge.

Mayor Bob Bratina-State of the City Address

I will be attending the Mayor’s first State of the City address at the Chamber tomorrow morning along with a table of Hamilton Community Foundation staff and volunteers. Having delivered a bunch of these speeches in my previous political life and witnessed many others, I will be listening carefully for the hallmarks of good leadership: vision, passion, substance and a touch of self-deprecating humour. I am hopeful that he will take direct aim at the challenge of our generation: concentrated poverty. The Mayor must be conscious of the old adage that you get but one chance to make a first impression. Mayor Bratina will need the support and guidance of all us if he is to be successful in meeting the difficult challenges facing Hamlton. I wish him well.

Official Re-Opening–Hamilton Central Library

Looking forward to attending the official re-opening of Hamilton’s spectacular new Central Library today. Here is a link to my Spec column of Oct. 2009 on the project, recognizing the leadership and vision of Chief Librarian Ken Roberts and the superb design of architect David Premi. Congratulations to the City of Hamilton and the Library Board for this important investment in the downtown core that will serve citizens from across the city for many years to come.

Divided We Fail-The Impact of Concentrated Poverty In Our Public Schools

“Of all the various strategies available, research suggests that the best method for improving education is to eliminate the harmful effects of concentrated school poverty. Despite years of trying, educators have found it extremely difficult to make schools serving large numbers of low-income children provide high-quality education. While such schools exist-the Heritage Foundation found 21 nationally-there are some 8,600 high poverty schools that the U.S. Dept. of Education calls underperforming. There are no high-poverty school districts that perform at high levels. All students-middle class and poor-perform worse in high poverty schools. One Dept. of Education study found that low-income children attending middle-class schools perform better on average, than middle-class children attending high-poverty schools.” From “Divided We Fail-Coming Together Through Public School Choice” a report by the Century Foundation Task Force on the Common School (2002).

Divided We Fail (Part 2)-Overcoming the Obstacles

So what about the obvious political, logistical and financial obstacles to achieving better income integration in our public schools. Thankfully, we can draw upon the practical experience of more than 80 school boards in the U.S.  that have successfully undertaken this approach over the past 3 decades.

Again, from the Century Foundation task force report on the Common School, “We acknowledge there are serious obstacles to integration and recommend a series of policies to overcome each:

1)To Overcome Logistical Challenges–the geographical separation of low-income and middle-class children–we recommend, first, a policy of public school choice, accompanied by fairness guidelines. School officials then honor those choices with an eye to promoting integrated schools, a system now successfully employed in Cambridge, Mass.; Montclair, New Jersey; and elsewhere. We also strongly advocate inclusionary zoning policies of the kind used in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a number of other communities to promote economic housing integration. So long as 75 percent of American students are assigned to neighborhood public schools, housing policy is school policy, and educators ignore that reality at their peril.

2)To Overcome the Political Challenges–the concerns middle-class families may have with integration–we point to the the large body of evidence that suggests middle-class students perform successfully in integrated settings and that all children benefit from exposure to diversity. We advocate using proven incentives to lure low-income and middle-class families to integrated settings through choice rather than coercion.

3)To Overcome Financial Obstacles to Integration–the fact that middle-class families are unlikely to send their children to schools in poor neighborhoods unless those schools are well-funded–we advocate coupling new investment with integration in a manner that avoids the old integration versus spending debate. Either approach alone is likely to fail: we reject the view that integration can occur without education spending, just as surely as we reject that spending without integration is sufficient. Low-income schools are caught in a vicious cycle: significant school improvement is unlikely to occur without a strong middle-class presence in the school; but financial investments must be made to lure middle-class families in the first place. We advocate taking both issues on at once: investing in schools–modernizing school facilities, reducing class sizes, improving teacher training–but in tandem with conscious policies to promote integration. More generous education spending is not a substitute for integration: it is a pre-requisite.”

New Chair of Poverty Roundtable

I will be moderating a media conference at 11am today at the spectacular redesigned Central Library announcing a new Chair for Hamilton’s Roundtable on Poverty Reduction. My buddy Mark Chamberlain steps aside after 5 years of accomplishment and leaves big shoes to fill. But his replacement will be equal to the challenge and the important work continues.

Closing the achievement gap in public education

Participating in a workshop on educational reforms in American public schools led by several major US family foundations. Despite several great local success stories, without system-wide changes it will take 105 years at the current pace to close the achievement gap in public education. Depressing.

The good news is that 80 local school districts in the US have now made the courageous commitment to ensure all their public schools integrate kids from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Overwhelming evidence proves that mixed income schools tend to perform well and schools that segregate poverty mostly fail.

Goodbye to the Big Apple

Conference adjourned. Two hours to kill before departure so we made the pilgrimage to Harlem to see the venerable Apollo Theatre where so many great black performers appeared over the past century. Then checked out the Lincoln Centre and the Metropolitan Opera House before dashing to JFK to catch our flight back to the Hammer.