Whatever it takes: But is it enough?

Paul Tough’s Whatever It Takes looks at Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, an attempt to pour enough resources into a low-income neighborhood to lift everyone.

Sara Mosle reviews the book on Slate:

In Tough’s account, the elementary school seems destined for genuine success. Many of its students (or their parents) have been part of the Zone’s outreach programs for years and thus are able to build within school on the gains they have already begun to achieve outside it. Thanks to the Zone, these families have enjoyed everything from better health care and parenting classes to summer programs and quality preschool. The elementary school’s superb principal and capable staff also help, but the clear implication of Tough’s portrait is that neither the school nor the social programs would entirely succeed without the other.

However, the middle school did poorly despite more funding and a longer school day.

Impatient to help a broader swath of students, he launches his middle school too soon for it to serve kids who have risen in his service-rich system or who have graduated from the Zone’s own elementary school. Discipline at the junior high becomes a constant problem. While many students are highly motivated and high-achieving, a stubborn core remains disaffected and alienated from the school’s mission.

By book’s end, Canada has decided to stop recruiting new middle school students and canceled plans for a high school. Mosle contrasts the middle-school’s failure with the success of KIPP middle schools, saying that KIPP enrolls more motivated students from stronger families while Harlem Children’s Zone takes everyone, including the children of very dysfunctional parents. It will take more time to see if the intensive social services offered in the zone can change the fate of its children.

Paul Tough is blogging on Slate this month at Schoolhouse Rock. Check out his pay on how we pay teachers.

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  1. These sorts of things aren’t terribly surprising. Lots of poor people are poor because they’re the not-very-bright children of not-very-bright people who make terrible personal decisions all the time, when the only way out is to make almost every possible right decision almost all the time.

    Schools that self-select for students who have either personal or familial motivation to succeed will do better, and those gains will be more lasting. Finding the diamonds in the rough vs a rising tide lifts all boats is, I know, a longstanding educational dispute, but in this particular case I think the former is a lot more important – the last thing we need is a more intelligent class of criminal.