Community, Politics, and the Neighborhood

Embedding assessment into classroom instruction entails setting clear objectives for what students will be learning, and then designing both activities that will get them there and ways to tell whether they did. If teachers do this, they can use class discussions and project work as a means of assessing what their students know without using conventional tests.

In this 90-minute class from a six-week urban design project focusing on their own Oakland, California neighborhood, for example, high school students are learning economics principles through action. The lesson aims:

  • To provide an overview of economic disparities and their impacts on neighborhoods and communities.
  • To explain the concept of the income multiplier, and how it affects a local economy.
  • To consider different interests involved in the development process.
  • To discuss how a bank determines risk.
  • To investigate causes, effects, and potential solutions.

Students discuss how goods and services are distributed in distressed communities, including how retail and commercial clients — such as the Oakland Raiders or the downtown ice rink — make decisions on where they will locate. To understand the multiplier effect of circulating capital locally, they use diagrams of money flow (to employees, to sales tax, to national headquarters, etc.) and explore the trade-offs between national chain stores and locally owned businesses. To prompt student inquiry and assess their understanding of these economic principles, teachers note their answers to questions like these:

  • Where do most people in your neighborhood buy groceries?
  • What are the benefits of having a supermarket in your neighborhood?
  • What do you think happens to the money you spend at a supermarket?
  • How could you get those benefits, but keep more money in the local economy?

For more information about the Urban Plan project curriculum, contact Patricia Clark by e-mail at