Children growing up in poverty live in communities with little “social capital,” writes Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.
Can schools provide social capital? asks Mike Petrilli. Can anything?
He suggests inviting “poor children into schools with social capital to spare” and building on the social capital that still exists in low-income communities, such as churches, neighborhood groups and sports programs.
. . . as the important book Lost Classroom, Lost Community argues, urban Catholic schools have been in the social-capital business for a century, to great effect. We must do everything we can to stem their demise.
Finally, create new schools that “import loads of financial, human, and social capital into an impoverished neighborhood,” such as no-excuses charter. But it’s not clear “whether these brand-new schools can create true social capital beyond their four walls,” concedes Petrilli.
Putnam, President Obama and others support “investing in pre-school and creating ‘wrap-around’ services at poor schools, à la the Harlem Children’s Zone — which, in addition to providing schooling, also provides health care, meals, and after-school activities for students and their families.”
Does that create social capital?
SEED creates a free five-days-a-week boarding school to get poor kids out of tough neighborhoods — and away from families in turmoil.
Seven years ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman attended a lottery to choose the first 80 sixth graders to attend the new SEED School of Maryland, in Baltimore. Last Saturday, he saw the 29 students who stayed with SEED receive their diplomas.
Graduates are going to the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, U.S.C., Villanova and others; one is joining the Coast Guard.
When I asked Devin Tingle, who’s going to the Illinois Institute of Technology, what he took most from SEED, he cited the summer science internships and the fact that “this school teaches eight core values,” which he then ticked off: “respect, responsibility, self-determination, self-discipline, empathy, compassion, perseverance and integrity.”
Friedman asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the model, which is expensive. Some students need a “24/7” environment, said Duncan.
“I went to Baltimore and talked to teachers after the riots,” Duncan added. “The number of kids living with no family member is stunning. But who is there 24/7? The gangs. At a certain point, you need love and structure, and either traditional societal institutions provide that or somebody else does.”
A study of SEED’s first boarding school, in Washington D.C., found it cost nearly $40,000 per student, but produced significant gains in achievement that are likely to lead to significant earnings gains.