Nonprofit Newswire | Rare Criticism of Harlem Children’s Zone

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July 20, 2010; Source: Washington Post | As Congress nears closer to a yea or nay vote on President Obama’s request for $210 million to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program, something virtually unprecedented has happened in public discourse: criticisms have been aired that the Harlem Children’s Zone isn’t quite what its acolytes have said it is.

HCZ’s founder and leader, Geoffrey Canada, is the epitome of the White House’s idea of a social entrepreneur, and HCZ has evolved into an education and family services sacred cow. But this week, the Brookings Institution issued a report that mildly suggested that the HCZ doesn’t quite deliver as advertised. A comparison with other New York City charter schools show more than half doing better on combined English and math scores than HCZ’s Promise Academy. The Brookings authors conclude, “There is no evidence that the HCZ influences student achievement through neighborhood investments . . . Improving neighborhoods and communities is a desirable goal in its own right, but let’s not confuse it with education reform.”

The HCZ model is strong on evidence-based planning and implementation, but if the evidence isn’t there, it should be noted. That has thrown some HCZ supporters into a tizzy. A Washington Post education blogger rapped the Brookings study by suggesting that its conclusion that HCZ wasn’t working as advertised was the equivalent of suggesting that the Sputnik was a failure before it reached orbit.

The Brookings study suggests that the Harlem Children’s Zone may not quite be the educational Sputnik that it is cracked up to be. That might explain the recent critical report in City Limits, which had produced a glowing series of articles about HCZ and Canada not too long ago. The magazine told of a protest in the St. Nicholas Housing project in Brooklyn against HCZ’s plans to open a school there, with parents unimpressed with the Promise Academy’s performance and suspicious about the Zone’s demands for control.

The Post blogger referred to Canada as ”the modern equivalent of Clara Barton” and the Zone “as groundbreaking as the early Red Cross.” Despite discomfiting Canada’s acolytes, the Brookings analysis will help people see the Harlem Children’s Zone for its potential and its limitations, and Canada as a real person rather than the Mother Teresa of neighborhood improvement and public education.—Rick Cohen

  • Bob LaVallee

    Is this story really about the limitations of applying narrow academic assessments of math and reading to a holistic approach? Until we start using a rational approach to judging student success all program evaluation is junk.

  • reddeer

    Hope that these kinds of organization will be funded for the sake of many children Red Deer Non-Profit