We Know What Works


March 16, 1991|By MARK K. SHRIVER

We hear of a new domestic ''paradigm'' because, we are told,little has worked for the disadvantaged. Just the opposite is true. We know what works.

Careful evaluations over the last 20 years have shown that pre-school programs like Head Start are effective long-term vehicles for preventing crime, drug abuse, school drop-outs and welfare dependency and for increasing the employability of young people in depressed urban and rural areas.

We know, too, that the Head Start formula of ''multiple solutions to multiple problems'' also can be applied successfully to junior and senior high school age youth.

In a new report, the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation finds that successful inner-city community-based programs for high-risk youth share a number of characteristics. Typically, there is some form of ''sanctuary'' (a place to go) off the street. Peer pressure and mentoring provide both discipline and social support in an ''extended family'' which includes ''big brothers'' and ''big sisters.''

In such a setting, youth can engage in remedial education, often through special computer programs, where they can work at their own pace and without taunts from peers about their inability to learn. Job training in a sheltered, community-based setting is carefully linked to placement in a job accessible by public transport -- ideally in the nearby area. In this way, social and economic development stays in the neighborhood where the community-based organization is located.

Not uncommonly, the results are less crime, less drug abuse, less welfare dependency, fewer adolescent pregnancies, more school completion, more successful school-to-work transition, more employability and more economic and psychological self-sufficiency.

Not all model programs achieve all these goals, but multiple good outcomes tend to be the rule, not the exception. The Eisenhower Foundation report has drawn attention to programs from the Bronx to Chicago to Albuquerque, and to nationally successful programs like the Job Corps and Project Redirection. These programs work.

Polls support these programs. Politicians with diverse values find them consistent with their priorities. Conservatives are attracted the poor ''pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.'' The Wall Street Journal has endorsed model programs like Argus in the Bronx, yet these programs are also consistent with Mobilization for Youth, a ''war-on-poverty'' initiative of the 1960s.

The conservative columnist George Will has observed that a superpower that excels in the production of Patriots and Tomahawks cannot last if it does not also have successful schools to which children can walk from functional families down streets free from gunfire. As a country we must -- just as we did in the Middle East -- look inward and muster our will and resources.

Just as we ''found'' the billions to wage war in the Middle East, just as we followed an able general and gave him the resources to perform, we, too, can save lives, build our economic base, regain our national honor and establish domestic tranquillity at home by rescuing our own citizens in our own cities from poverty, neglect and ignorance.

Mark K. Shriver directs the Choice Program, a supervision program in Baltimore.

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