Place matters. And the Obama Administration has made it a priority to study just how much, such as how a community comes together to support residents, and how government, business and nonprofits can increase coordination to improve impact and effectiveness of investment.
From this work, the Department of Education has adopted a “place-based” approach – recognizing that the federal government can support strategies to achieve better outcomes for students and families by taking into account where investments are made and how those investments interact with other resources, policies, and programs. On Friday, the Department released a report on these efforts titled “Impact in Place: A Progress Report on the Department of Education’s Place-Based Strategy.”
The report explains how the Department is able to better align its work with other levels of government to address common challenges. For the first time, the Department is explicitly using “place” as the unit of analysis, not just the set of programs that the agency funds.
Communities that struggle with underperforming schools, rundown housing, neighborhood violence, and poor health know that these are interconnected challenges and that they perpetuate each other. The place-based framework helps the federal government better support a community’s response to such challenges by coming up with solutions that tackle multiple problems.
Earlier this year, Secretary Duncan explained that, “boosting student achievement is not an either-or solution,” and that the broader community should be “attacking both in-school and out-of-school causes of low achievement.” The focus on place gives ED a mechanism to see how its investments focused on “in-school” levers of change interact with “out of school” conditions for learning, as well as the interventions meant to address them. With research showing that out-of-school factors influence students’ experiences in the classroom, the place-based framework helps the Department move to “both-and” solutions.
The Department’s signature place-based effort is the Promise Neighborhood program, an initiative that recognizes the role an entire community plays in a child’s education. Promise Neighborhoods create common metrics of success and a “cradle-to-career” continuum of services by partnering with community-based organizations, taking advantage of multiple investments directed toward achieving the same goal. A similar approach is taken in ED’s recently proposed criteria for the Race to the Top (RTT) District-Level competition. The proposal offers preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.
Today’s report shows that ED’s place-based approach not only better targets the specific needs of individuals and populations, but also improves the impact and efficiency of investments.
The report lays out six key elements for the development and success of a place-based strategy, and provides example of implementation. By explaining what it means to be “place-based” and showing how communities around the country have adopted this model, we hope to encourage other communities and agencies to work in a place-based way as well. The report is a first step in showing how to turn the place-based theory into action that produces results for children, families, and communities.
Larkin Tackett is Director of Place-Based Initiatives at the Department of Education