With the usual caveat emptor on me and education policy, I point you to an interesting article my friend Steve Gray wrote for TIME recently. Steve’s piece introduced me to a new idea: Public boarding schools for students from poor communities.

I so often hear that the complexity of educating kids from neglected neighborhoods and struggling families is that you can’t control the environment outside the classroom. This is an effort to deal with that reality. At the Washington, D.C., school Steve profiles, called SEED, 320 7th-12th graders live at the school five days a week, encased in a stabilized environment that presumably encourages learning. It’s an idea that’s spreading, Steve writes:

His proposal is at the forefront of a broader national trend: from New Jersey to Wisconsin to California, school districts and private investors are developing similar projects. Supporters hope that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who pushed for public boarding schools as CEO of Chicago’s school system, will give the programs even greater traction.

I do blanche at the idea of removing more black kids from their families. No doubt that kids must be protected and supported, even when their families can’t or won’t do the job. But there’s credible argument that government, from child services to juvenile jails, has done plenty of harm to black neighborhoods with overly enthusiastic intervention in black families. Public boarding schools would presumably be voluntary, but the disconnected outcome is the same.

That said, the idea gets at a recurring challenge in fixing educational disparities—the unequal environments in which kids live outside of schools. Even if we finally create equal schools, there’s much more standing in the way of equal learning opportunity. We need to think and talk more about that fact, about creating holistic education solutions.

Secretary Duncan is one of the Obama cabinet choices I’ve heard uniformly praised as an actual reformer, and if he’s thinking about this stuff then great. We also heard during the campaign that Obama is fond of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (which I haven’t looked at closely but which lots of folks believe offers meaningfully holistic solutions). None of this will be cheap, but neither is making war and bailing out banks. One of the most frustrating parts about the White House economic team’s tepidness is the fact that it’s holding up—and God forbid, permanently undermining—the sort of bold policy experiments the rest of the administration is eager to deploy.

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I digress. Here’s the question parents: Would you send your kid to a public boarding school?

BTW, there’s also a slideshow accompanying Steve’s piece, with lots of portraits of black kids looking studious.

—KAI WRIGHT

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