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Opportunity-Rich Schools and Sustainable Communities

Seven Steps to Align High-Quality Education with Innovations in City and Metropolitan Planning and Development

Deborah McKoy, Jeffrey M. Vincent, Ariel H. Bierbaum
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Document date: May 01, 2011
Released online: June 21, 2011


Policies and strategies at all levels of government are increasingly associating educational outcomes with community planning and housing. Challenges remain for local officials and practitioners trying to align these policy areas, including persistent spatial inequity and rigid institutional silos. This report develops seven steps to link education and planning policy at the local level. The authors draw from a national scan of model activities, interviews with key experts and agency staff members, and the authors' experience working with local governing bodies. The report identifies practical solutions that encompass assessing the current educational environment, engaging the community, strategic planning and implementation of investment, and institutionalizing successful innovations.

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Parents, teachers, and civic and educational leaders intuitively understand that high-quality educational opportunities for young people are essential to community health and economic vitality. Educational opportunity is the wellspring of individual, regional, and national progress. Many people across our nation, however, face daunting obstacles to getting ahead. This is especially true for low-income communities of color faced with substandard housing and high-poverty neighborhoods, where conditions undermine health and economic prosperity and overwhelm schools. A function of where people live, these roadblocks are especially pronounced for young people who lack the educational opportunities long associated with well-being and success in school and work over the course of their lives.

The goal of this report is to support federal agencies - and community development and regional planning practitioners in the field - in identifying the mechanisms to tangibly link their work to educational improvement efforts to create cross-sector "win-wins," increase productivity, and foster social equity. We aim to support those leaders who are working to overcome the historic divide between public education and sustainable communities planning. Done right, a cross sector approach not only leads to new operational efficiencies and the effective use of limited resources, but also has important implications for how institutions respond to social equity issues. Too often, equity in planning and development is limited to issues of affordable housing and transportation access. Similarly, educational equity is often reduced to issues of testing and accountability. While important, these limited approaches to planning, development, and education fail to address the broader, more dynamic nature of the inequalities that affect Americans. Beyond affordable housing concerns in a given neighborhood, many communities face extended "geographies of exclusion" based on the limited opportunities in their locale.1 In addition to educational testing results that offer only a snapshot in time, students' success is better determined by a "trajectory" of diverse experiences and critical transitions from the time they are born to the time they enter the workforce.2 This report frames integrated efforts - those that aim to make the most of available resources and to transform neighborhoods of poverty and failing education systems - as efforts that create robust trajectories of opportunity for all. This framing is grounded in planning and education research as well as a range of strategies and policy options currently employed across the nation.

Through innovative new partnerships and federal programs, such as Choice Neighborhoods and Sustainable Housing and Communities,3 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has strengthened its efforts to increase opportunity while promoting sustainable development.4 By partnering with other federal agencies and departments, HUD is catalyzing new policy possibilities and realizing cross-sector, fiscally efficient "win-wins." More specifically, HUD collaborations with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have led to the adoption of comprehensive livability principles that guide federal investments in housing, transportation, and land use (see sidebar). HUD has also sought increased alignment with U.S. Department of Education (ED) initiatives, most significantly Promise Neighborhoods and the Full Service Community Schools Program.5

These new partnerships underscore the deep and fundamental relationships among housing, neighborhoods, schools, and sustainability goals. The fate of young people who live in opportunity-starved communities is directly linked to the "shared fate" of their communities, regions, and the nation. Gone are the days when community development programs could be either "place-based" or "people-based."6 Today, effectively building inclusive, opportunity-rich, and sustainable communities requires a comprehensive strategy of integrated planning and implementation that transforms places and supports individuals, families, and students who live and learn in those places. The question, then, is no longer whether HUD and other agencies should seek to align new programs with efforts to provide high-quality education, but rather how these agencies can best achieve this goal at local and regional levels. How might policy interventions and investments, which mostly focus on housing, be made to strategically support improving school quality? How can educational improvements and innovative education policies support local and regional planning and development?

This report offers answers to the above questions by describing current efforts across the country that are creating robust trajectories of opportunity for young people - a concept we discuss in more detail throughout the report. The experiences of elected leaders, officials, and practitioners bring to light the significant challenges to breaking down the political and historical divisions among professional fields. However, the challenges are not insurmountable and must be confronted. Not doing so inhibits the innovations necessary for city and regional planning to ameliorate the deep racial and economic inequalities across metro regions that limit individual potential and threaten community prosperity.

To begin, we briefly describe the key challenges and opportunities that arise during efforts to align new sustainable community planning and development with educational policies, programs, and practices that are responsive to the particular needs of students, their families, and the larger community. We then provide seven key action steps local governments and practitioners can take when working with local education agencies (LEAs).7 These steps are designed to overcome some of the main challenges associated with the alignment of education and planning policy and practice.

The evidenced-based framework for the seven steps builds on previous What Works Collaborative papers8 and is consistent with the latest research findings on increasing educational and lifelong opportunities for young people as well as the underlying vision and goals of many local, regional, and national sustainable development initiatives. In developing these seven steps, we drew on a national scan of promising practices (at local, regional, and state scales), the insights and experiences gleaned from policy leaders from across the country, and discussions with key staff at HUD, ED, and EPA. We also drew upon our seven years of research on these issues at the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Cities and Schools, especially our action research with LEAs, municipalities, regional planning agencies, and state policymakers throughout California.

End of excerpt. The entire paper, with footnotes, is available in PDF format.

Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Education | Housing | Race/Ethnicity/Gender

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