Study: Harlem charter boosts ‘human capital’

The Harlem Children Zone‘s Promise Academy, a charter middle school, raises test scores, concluded Harvard EdLabs researchers Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer. Sixth-grade lottery winners close the black-white achievement gap by the end of eighth grade.

A new study finds that students are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, less likely to experience teen pregnancy or incarceration.

That’s a huge human-capital boost, notes Education Gadfly.

Six years after winning the admissions lottery, Promise Academy students not only score higher on the nationally normed Woodcock-Johnson math achievement tests than lottery losers, but they are more likely to enroll in college, by 24 percentage points. Additionally, female lottery winners are 12 percentage points less likely to become pregnant in their teens, while males are 4 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated. The Harlem Children’s Zone social and community-building services are well documented, but Dobbie and Fryer attribute Promise Academy’s success to the markers that make it a high-performing school (extended school time, high-quality teachers, data-driven decision making, and heightened expectations).

Winning the charter lottery had little effect on students’ health or likelihood of using drugs and alcohol.

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.

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.

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods

Don’t give up on Promise Neighborhoods, argues Paul Tough in a New York Times op-ed. The initiative aims to create a network of support services — child care, parenting classes, health clinics, etc. — and high-quality schools in 20 high-poverty neighborhoods.  The model is the Harlem Children’s Zone. Tough wrote the book on the zone, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest To Change Harlem and America.

Last month, a Senate subcommittee cut more than 90 percent of the $210 million that President Obama had requested for Promise Neighborhoods.

A Brookings report questioning the Harlem Children Zone’s effectiveness in raising student achievement proved devastating.

There’s no proof Promise Neighborhoods will work, Tough concedes, but there’s some hope. If Congress is willing to spend billions on Title I and Head Start, proven failures, why not a few hundred million on a new idea? (One could argue Model Cities tried this idea from 1966-74.)

According to a new report (pdf) by Educational Testing Service, the combined Title I and Head Start budgets grew in inflation-adjusted dollars from $1.7 billion in 1970 to $13.8 billion in 2000. This year’s budget was $21.7 billion.

Head Start, which provides preschool programs to poor families, is a prime example of the Senate committee’s true attitude toward evidence-based decision-making. In January, the Health and Human Services Department released a study of Head Start’s overall impact (pdf). The conclusions were disturbing. By the end of first grade, the study found, Head Start graduates were doing no better than students who didn’t attend Head Start. “No significant impacts were found for math skills, pre-writing, children’s promotion, or teacher report of children’s school accomplishments or abilities in any year,” the report concluded.

Nonetheless, the Senate allocated $8.2 billion for Head Start in 2011, almost a billion dollars more than in 2010.

Rather than stick with the same strategies and hope things somehow magically change, Congress should find more room in the budget to support the Obama administration’s declared approach: to try new strategies and abandon failed ones; to expand and test programs with strong evidence of success, even if that evidence is inconclusive; and to learn from mistakes and make adjustments as we go.

Trimming the growth in Head Start would fund Promise Neighborhood pilots. Perhaps organizers will study Model Cities’ problems and do it differently this time. Or we could just give the Harlem experiment more time to prove itself.

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.

Broader, bolder, but not better

Providing social services — parenting classes, health care, nutrition help,  afterschool programs and more — hasn’t improved achievement for students at Harlem Children’s Zone‘s Promise Academy, concludes a Brookings study.  The zone’s six-year-old charter school, which includes an elementary, middle and high school, outperforms the New York city average, when adjusted for demographics.  But its performance is only average — a bit higher in math, lower in reading — compared to Bronx and Manhattan charter schools that offer no social or community services. (Scores were adjusted for student poverty levels and the percentage of black, Hispanic and limited English proficient students.)

Zone founder Geoffrey Canada has raised $100 million in private donations to improve the neighborhood and create better schools. However, Promise Academy students living in the zone, who were eligible for the full range of services, did no better than classmates living outside the zone, who received only the chance to attend the charter school, according to a Harvard study. In other words, the school alone made a difference.

Evidence undercuts the Broader, Bolder thesis that comprehensive community services are essential to improving  disadvantaged students’ achievement, argue Brookings authors Russ Whitehurst and Michelle Croft.

There is no compelling evidence that investments in parenting classes, health services, nutritional programs, and community improvement in general have appreciable effects on student achievement in schools in the U.S.

. . .  there is a large and growing body of evidence that schools themselves can have significant impacts on student achievement. The most powerful educational effects over which we have any societal control occur within the walls of schools.  They are the effects produced by good teachers, effective curriculum, and the changes in leadership, management, culture, and time to learn that are incorporated into schools that beat the odds, including successful charter schools.

Improving neighborhoods is a desirable goal, but it’s not education reform, Whitehurst and Croft write. And it’s very expensive.

Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone, President Obama is seeking $210 million to create Promise Neighborhoods in 20 cities. That’s not enough to replicate the web of services provided in Harlem, the authors write. If the goal is better schools, the money should be spent on creating better schools. 

After only six years, it’s too soon to write off the Harlem Children’s Zone idea, writes Jay Mathews.

What's up in Harlem

Hope or Hype In Harlem? in City Limits looks at the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The package includes interviews with zone founder Geoffrey Canada, who says the measure of success is college graduation, with an English teacher at the zone’s charter high school and with a parent. Her 15-year-old son left the charter school — too much “attitude” — and is sporadically attending a district-run special-ed school. Her second son is a top student who enjoys reading and shows talent in math.

Last year, the family enjoyed three days and nights in Disney World, thanks to Dijonne’s high marks. “For the kids who made the bull’s-eyes— all fours— they get to go to Disney World,” said Acosta. She says the sixth-graders went to Paris and the eighth-graders took a cruise to Ecuador, because “they’re studying the rainforest.”

The first-grade girl wants to earn top grades so they family can take another trip. “In the meantime, a play she wrote was produced in the HCZ after-school puppetry workshop.”

Trying to 'tip' Harlem

The Harlem Children’s Zone is trying to do more than help individual kids, reports the Washington Post. The huge project is trying to create a “tipping point,” changing the entire community.

There are asthma prevention plans and fresh produce deliveries; dental, medical and psychiatric care; after-school arts and music; tenant-ownership schemes and early childhood education; tae kwan do and dance, weight training and sports; and foster care prevention and charter schools. It adds up to about 20 programs using more than 1,500 staff members and reaching about 8,200 young people out of 11,300 in the zone. The cost is about $5,000 per child, and Canada raises much of his $70 million budget privately; it has been difficult during the economic downturn — he was forced to lay off 10 percent of his staff.

The conveyor belt begins with Baby College, a nine-week prenatal and early childhood parenting class with sections on brain development, discipline and parent-child bonding.

. . . The next step, for 3-year-olds, is the Children’s Zone preschool, then the Promise Academy, one of the well-funded, successful charter schools that are the centerpiece of Canada’s efforts.

Charter students are doing well, but it’s not clear that the zone is meeting its ambitious goals of community transformation.

Update: Scott Ott, in non-humorous vein, thinks altruists should emulate Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone but without federal money.  See Big Brother is watching Brits, above.

Learning from the 'Harlem Miracle'

The lessons of Harlem Promise Academy‘s success, writes Diane Ravitch on Bridging Differences, aren’t the ones columnist David Brooks points to in The Harlem Miracle.

First, spend lots more money. Spend enough so that children in the regular public schools can be in classes no larger than those in the Harlem Promise Academy. Spend enough so that every public school has facilities that are state of the art, and every school has excellent laboratories and a first-class gymnasium.

Second, it is worth exploring why so many public schools in the big cities have been unable to establish a clear, fair, and functional discipline and behavior policy. Is it because of long-forgotten court orders? Have public schools become so wrapped up in procedural rights and processes that they can’t provide an orderly environment for learning? . . . My own view is that schools are by definition middle-class. If they are good schools, they teach the knowledge, skills, and behavior that one needs to function well in work, in higher education, and in life. So, there is a common-sense element to the “no excuses” mantra.

The charter school is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which tries to provide a wide array of support services to families in poverty.  However, the study Brooks wrote about compares charter students with zone residents with access to the same services who didn’t attend the charter school.

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.