The Harlem Children’s Zone is Harlem only

The Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers everything from prenatal classes, preschool, charter academies and help with college applications, has been “a wild success,” writes Amanda Erickson in The Atlantic.  Why hasn’t it been replicated?

 In 2009, every third grader at the HCZ’s Promise Academy tested at or above their grade level in math, outperforming their peers in the city and throughout the state. Over 84 percent of Promise Academy II students scored at or above grade level in city-mandated English tests, topping the average test scores among all other black students in New York City. And in 2008, 93 percent of Promise Academy High ninth graders passed the statewide Algebra Regents exam.

President Obama pledged to spend billions to create “promise neighborhoods,” asked Congress for $210 million and ended up spending $40 million. Instead, he’s spent billions on direct aid to the poor and working poor.

Cities aren’t moving ahead without federal funds, writes Erickson. The Harlem Children’s Zone had Geoffrey Canada’s leadership, a board of very wealthy philanthropists and strong support from Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. That’s hard to replicate.

A blogger explains why Durham has struggled to create a children’s zone, and notes the Brookings Institution bdoubts that HCZ is cost effective.

New Spider-Man awaits Superman

The new alternative Spider-Man, a black-Hispanic youth named Miles Morales, apparently will back education reform, including charter schools, notes Education Intelligence Agency. That’s causing angst for those who see education reform as a plot by the Sinister Syndicate.

In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Joe Quesada, the chief creative officer at Marvel Comics, explained the back story for the new alter ego, who replaces Peter Parker in the Ultimate Spider-Man alternative comic universe. A fan of Geoffrey Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, Quesada urged colleagues to watch “Waiting For Superman.” Art pages released so far show Morales as a child at a charter school lottery.

Will the new Spider-Man smash teachers’ unions? asks Joe Macaré of In These Times. Peter Parker was a struggling science teacher, he observes.

. . . he’s exactly the kind of person vilified by the steadfastedly anti-union Geoffrey Canada, by Waiting For Superman and by the so-called education reformers for whom the movie is a touchstone.

…Faced with this PR onslaught, vigilance is demanded of those of us who’d like to see popular culture not become further contaminated by anti-union sentiment and the insane belief that the private sector will save us all.

Elana Levin, co-host of the Graphic Policy podcast, thinks “teachers’ unions are like the X-Men,” not the Sinister Six, while “the business interests trying to privatize our education system through money and manipulation are just like the new incarnation of the Hellfire Club (as written by Kieron Gillen in Uncanny X-Men).”

Marvel Comics and Joe Quesada aren’t exactly right-wingers, responds EIA. Of course, that makes it worse.

Times: Before Black, Canada said ‘no’

Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and a star of Waiting for Superman, turned down the job of running New York City schools, sources tell the New York Times.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg then offered the job to Cathie Black, a publishing executive with no public-school experience.

Mr. Canada, by contrast, has gained international notice as the leader of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a network of charter schools renowned for its cradle-to-college approach. He grew up in the South Bronx and holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Unlike Black, Canada is black.

Still, while Mr. Canada, 58, may have been more palatable to some critics, his passionate defense of charter schools and his habit of firing teachers who fail to improve test scores would most likely be anathema to union leaders and many parents active in the schools.

It’s not surprising Canada wanted to stick with his experiment, which offers parenting classes, health care and other support services in addition to charter schools.

Gotham Schools reports that students at Murray Bergtram High School rioted for 20 minutes after the principal announced teachers would not give out bathroom passes for the day in response to a fight.

In defense of the Harlem Children's Zone

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.

Harlem miracle

The Harlem Miracle, a David Brooks column in the New York Times, praises a charter  school that’s dramatically boosted low-income black and Hispanic students’ test scores.  That shows schools can make big changes for children in poverty, Brooks writes. Of course, Promise Academy is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a range of programs to help families, including prenatal care and parenting classes. But children who live in the zone but lost the lottery to attend the charter school didn’t show the same progress. “In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students, Brooks writes.

Promise exemplifies “an emerging model for low-income students,” Brooks writes.

Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.

It takes time to get left-behind students caught up.

Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

The middle school struggled in its first few years, writes Paul Tough in Whatever It Takes, the story of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Teacher turnover was high. Too many students were behavior problems. But as students moved from the elementary to the middle school, those problems were solved.

For more on no-excuses, culture-building schools read Sweating the Small Stuff by David Whitman and, of course, Our School by me.

Update: On Gotham Schools, skoolboy calls Brooks gullible.