Return to Harlem Children's Zone

Responding to Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada’s response to their study, Brookings researchers Russ Whitehurst and Michele Croft restate their original thesis:  There’s no evidence that providing support services improves student achievement.  Students at the zone’s Harlem Promise Academy I outscore similar public school students in the city, but are “middling” compared to similar charter students who didn’t receive the array of  services provided in the zone.

Our issue is not with the HCZ as a philanthropically supported endeavor to improve the lives of children in Harlem, but with the use of the HCZ as evidence that investments in wraparound support services and neighborhood improvements are a cost effective approach to increasing academic achievement. In an era of stress on public budgets, we think there should be good evidence that an expensive new approach works before it is scaled up and widely implemented with taxpayer funds.

Canada complained the Brookings analysis did not include both charter schools in the zone and used data that underestimated poverty levels. Whitehurst and Croft recrunched the numbers using test scores from both schools and Canada’s poverty number:  The two Harlem Promise Academy schools continue to be in the middle of the pack for Bronx and Manhattan charter schools serving disadvantaged students.

The competitition is tough: Harlem Success Academy (not in the zone) has very high test scores: Among those students who qualified to receive free or reduced-lunch, 88% of third graders passed reading and 98% passed math, while 88% of fourth graders passed reading and 93% passed math.

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  1. I don’t support everything Geoffrey Canada does, but I think his ideas about giving support outside of school are fantastic. One problem with a lot of people making idiotic snap judgments about such programs is their sole criterion appears to be test scores. There is more to consider.

    I very much hope I’m already the sort of parent Canada is trying to develop. This notwithstanding, I’d rather see kids get good parenting than the very highest test score. I’d rather see my kid, all kids, get positive role models and keen social skills than simply test prep, test prep, and more test prep.

    I’ve done test prep as a teacher. I can raise scores if I have to, but I believe I can help kids more with a broader brush–giving them the skills they need to succeed rather than simply those they need to pass a single test.

  2. If kids are given the tools they need to succeed, passing tests should not be a problem.

  3. I read the study and Canada’s response. I would be interested in seeing the scores just from Promise Academy II, because my understanding is that the school accepts children from Kindergarden, while Promise Academy I will take kids from sixth grade (who are already likely substantially behind in academic ability). Also, I haven’t seen any numbers for schools in the HCZ zone compared to numbers for the rest of the city. This information may support or refute claims regarding benefits for kids who do not attend the Promise Academies.


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