Provding social services doesn’t improve school achievement, according to a Brookings Study that looked at a charter school in the Harlem Children’s Zone. The zone’s six-year-ol charter school, which is growing into a K-12, does better than traditional public schools but is “middling” compared to Bronx and Manhattan charters serving similar students, concluded Russ Whitehurst and Michelle Croft.
The study ignored the zone’s second charter, Promise Academy II, which started with children in kindergarten and first grade, responds Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The second school ranks in the top quarter of Bronx and Manhatten charter schools.
Another study by researchers Will Dobbie and Dr. Roland Fryer looked showed “Promise Academy middle-school students entered our school with lower scores on average than all black children in New York City. Despite starting out below the average for black students in New York City, the middle school students closed the achievement gap with white students over their first three years.”
Outside-the-zone students who go to a zone charter school receive the same services as zone students, so it’s not surprising their achievement is the same, Canada writes.
Brookings also used data that underestimated the poverty levels of Promise Academy students, Canada writes. That’s the academy’s error. The school serves a free lunch to all students, regardless of income, so many parents didn’t turn in the federal eligibility form. Eligibility for a free lunch is used to determine family income. After several years, school officials pushed parents to fill in the forms, raising the eligibility rate to 80 percent.
The zone exemplifes the Broader Bolder Approach, which argues that schools alone can’t make a difference for children in poor neighborhoods. Whitehurst and Croft disagree: It’s a lot cheaper — and just as effective — to fix schools than to fix schools and the communities that surround them, they argue.
It would be surprising if the zone had no effect on children’s school performance. The question will be whether the benefits justify the costs.