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  #1  
Old 05-08-2009, 04:20 PM
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Breakthrough school in NYC - David Brooks

May 8, 2009
The Harlem Miracle
By DAVID BROOKS


The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right. The Promise Academy does provide health and psychological services, but it helps kids who aren’t even involved in the other programs the organization offers.

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. 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.

To understand the culture in these schools, I’d recommend “Whatever It Takes,” a gripping account of Harlem Children’s Zone by my Times colleague Paul Tough, and “Sweating the Small Stuff,” a superb survey of these sorts of schools by David Whitman.

Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. 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.

They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life.

The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:04 PM
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Interesting piece. Not much there on how they did it and why so many teachers left.
He also doesn't address the fact that since it takes a lottery to get into the schools, somebody is looking out for these kids enough to enter them in a lottery. In Denver public schools there are lots of great choices a parent or student could make to get a top notch education. Most of the parents or children are not making those choices.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:16 PM
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They eliminated the black-white achievement gap by making these black kids spend 50-100% more time in school than the average white student . I'm not sure what this proves.


Quote:
In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap.
Quote:
These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. 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.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Fitz View Post
They eliminated the black-white achievement gap by making these black kids spend 50-100% more time in school than the average white student . I'm not sure what this proves.
It means they are getting the help they need to catch up.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:32 PM
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Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America (Hardcover)
by Paul Tough (Author)
)
1
What would it take?

That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children--not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children's Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives--their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.

Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but also of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

About the Author
Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and one of America's foremost writers on poverty, education, and the achievement gap. His reporting on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone originally appeared as a Times Magazine cover story. He lives with his wife in New York City.

Questions for Paul Tough

Amazon.com: What makes Geoffrey Canada's approach to educating poor city kids different than the many reforms that have come before?

Tough: Geoff is taking a much more comprehensive approach than earlier reformers. His premise is that kids in neighborhoods like Harlem face so many disadvantages--poorly run schools, poorly educated parents, dangerous streets--that it doesn't make sense to tackle just one or two of those problems and ignore the rest. And so he has created, in the Harlem Children’s Zone, an integrated set of programs that support the neighborhood's children from cradle to college, in school and out of school.

Amazon.com: This is a short book about a long story. How did you find a way to tell the story of such a complicated, long-term transformation?

Tough: When I set out to write this book, my main goal was to tell an engaging story, to find characters and moments and conflicts that would reflect the changes that were going on in Harlem. I wanted to present Geoff Canada more as a protagonist in a drama than as a static subject of a biography. And in that respect, I got lucky in my choice of subject, because during the years I spent reporting on his work, Geoff was in the middle of some major transformations, both personal and organizational. I was also lucky to find a variety of other characters in Harlem, from teachers and administrators to students and parents, who really opened up to me, speaking candidly and eloquently about their own hopes and fears for their children and their futures. With their help, I think I was able to make the book not just an account of some important new ideas in poverty and education, but a human story as well.

Amazon.com: You've spent much of the past five years reporting in Harlem. Beyond the school successes, do you see differences between the parts of the city within the Children's Zone and nearby neighborhoods where the program hasn't expanded yet?

Tough: Harlem as a whole has improved a great deal over the last decade--a process that Geoffrey Canada can take some credit for, though there were plenty of other people and forces that played a role. On a block-by-block level, though, it's not always possible to see the difference between a street that is in the zone and one that's outside of it. The most important changes in the zone are going on out of view, inside schools and apartments and housing projects, where children are, for the first time, learning the skills they need to succeed.

Amazon.com: Barack Obama has said that he would replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in 20 other cities. Have any other organizations begun to follow Canada's model in other places, or are they waiting to see how it goes (or waiting for Obama to be elected)?

Tough: There is a tremendous amount of interest right now in Geoffrey Canada's work among people working in education and philanthropy and social-service non-profits. And there are fledgling zone projects in a handful of cities, all drawing upon the Harlem Children’s Zone to some degree. But there's nothing yet happening on the scale that Obama has proposed. I do think people are waiting to see what Obama does. Will he take the steps necessary to put his replication plan into effect?

Amazon.com: How much of its effectiveness depends on Canada himself? Can you model him, as well as his program?

Tough: He's a unique guy. His personal story--born in poverty in the South Bronx, growing up around drugs and violence, then making it out of the ghetto and winding up at Harvard--was what gave him the passion and the commitment to create the Harlem Children's Zone in the face of numerous obstacles and widespread skepticism. So it's probably true that no one else could have built the first zone. But I think this next stage, the process of expanding the zone model around the country, will require leaders of a different type--people who are passionate about the mission of improving the lives of poor children, of course, but more importantly people who are very focused on results and how to achieve them. Those people may be rare, but they're out there.

Amazon.com: Finally, how are Victor and Cheryl [a young couple who went through the Zone's Baby College in the book] doing?

Tough: They're doing pretty well! They're still struggling with all the issues that most young adults in Harlem struggle with, like finding affordable housing and a decent job. But they're committed to their son, Victor Jr., and to the new parenting techniques they learned in Baby College. They're determined to do whatever it takes to give Victor Jr. a shot at a very different kind of future than they were able to imagine for themselves, growing up.

Questions for Geoffrey Canada

Amazon.com: How do you change the culture of a neighborhood while keeping its local values?

Canada: We are not changing Harlem's culture--we are working to provide an alternative to the toxic popular culture and street culture that glorify violence and anti-social behavior. When you are a scared kid, all this tough-guy stuff is very seductive. We are working with people from the community to provide safe, enriching, and engaging environments for children so they can develop just like their middle-class peers. By encompassing an entire neighborhood, we hope to reach a tipping point where the dominant culture is one that explicitly and implicitly moves children toward success.

Amazon.com: You say in the book, "It is my fundamental belief that the folk who care about public education the most, who really want to see it work, are destroying it." Can you explain what you mean by that? Have you been able to change any of those minds through your work?

Canada: First, let me say that I believe school staff--particularly teachers--perform one of the most important jobs in our country, and many of them are the most dedicated, hard-working professionals I know. I believe it is absolutely scandalous that they are not paid more and given more respect as professionals. That said, I believe our country's education bureaucracy has become calcified and resistant to change--and we are in dire need of change. When education self-interest groups defend practices that get in the way of improving schools for the sake of children, then I am absolutely opposed to them.

I believe that the successes we are having in Harlem are beginning to turn some heads in this country, and making people realize that things are not hopeless--that we adults can improve student achievement at a much-larger scale than we have been doing. It's obvious that the system that got us here is not the one that is going to get us out. So everyone is going to have to re-evaluate their roles, their assumptions and their positions. I think that has begun, but we are not there yet as a country.

Amazon.com: The story in the book ends in the summer of 2007. What has happened in your work, especially at Promise Academy, in the past year?

Canada: This past academic year was very encouraging and it really seemed like the school began to coalesce. The most obvious sign of that were the scores on the citywide math exam at our middle school, which had been the school with the most challenges. This past spring, 97 percent of the eighth graders were at or above grade level. For an area like Harlem, that is incredible, particularly since these were kids that were randomly picked by lottery from the neighborhood, were massively behind, and were with us for just three years. So we are very optimistic about the future of our kids.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:34 PM
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It means they are getting the help they need to catch up.
And if white students are receiving less time and attention in school than these black kids, are they being held back? Of course they are.

The writer should have left the black-white achievement gap out of the discussion. The gap still exists.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:38 PM
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I was at a statewide education meeting a few years ago with college professors discussing what was necessary to get poorly prepared Colorado high school students ready for college. After an hour or so of the typical edubabble nonsense from the education bureaucrats, a professor with a heavy European accent, obviously an immigrant unfamiliar with the protocols of proper discussion etiquette in such forums, stood up and stated the obvious, "There is a clear step we should take in getting these children prepared for college, get them new parents."
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Old 05-08-2009, 06:54 PM
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david brooks is not someone to be trusted.

he's always pushing his ideology, in (supposedly) subtle ways.

i wonder if he is a "voucher" guy?
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Old 05-08-2009, 08:11 PM
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And if white students are receiving less time and attention in school than these black kids, are they being held back? Of course they are.

The writer should have left the black-white achievement gap out of the discussion. The gap still exists.
Are you being purposely obtuse? Kids in summer school get more class time too. Are the kids who do not to fail being held back by the kids who attend summer school?
If the Promise Academy students started out behind the rest of the kids, how are they supposed to catch up if they don't get more time in school?
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Old 05-08-2009, 09:52 PM
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Are you being purposely obtuse?
No I'm not, are you? Suppose whites and blacks both received an additional 50-100% of classroom instruction in NYC. What do you think would happen to the black-white achievement gap that Brooks claims has been eliminated?
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Old 05-09-2009, 12:11 AM
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No I'm not, are you? Suppose whites and blacks both received an additional 50-100% of classroom instruction in NYC. What do you think would happen to the black-white achievement gap that Brooks claims has been eliminated?
Suppose you and I ran at the same speed. We race, you with a 50yd head start. The race is a 200yd race. Who takes less time to get to the finish line? When I get to the finish line, am I ahead of you?
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Old 05-10-2009, 04:13 AM
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Interesting piece. Not much there on how they did it and why so many teachers left.
He also doesn't address the fact that since it takes a lottery to get into the schools, somebody is looking out for these kids enough to enter them in a lottery. In Denver public schools there are lots of great choices a parent or student could make to get a top notch education. Most of the parents or children are not making those choices.
The high turnover rate initially with teachers is a bit curious. One wonders if there aren't very many teachers who can make this method work.

On that last part, that's kinda tragic. People seem to go about on automatic pilot. Not taking responsibility for their lives.
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Old 05-10-2009, 04:27 AM
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And if white students are receiving less time and attention in school than these black kids, are they being held back? Of course they are.

The writer should have left the black-white achievement gap out of the discussion. The gap still exists.
You're oversimplifying. Black students exist who compete well with white students on level ground. No gap there.

I suspect that if you were to spend time trying to teach different groups from a wide range of neighborhoods you'd be less concerned about chronically underachieving students getting some intensive care.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that these is a sort of ceiling on how well a youth can do academically. There are practical limits, of course, thought there will always be standouts and you could never define any upper limit accurately.

But assuming 4.0 work is the max possible, a person working at 3.7 level is not nearly as likely to be led to a significant improvement in performance as someone working at 2.0 level. So to complain that the talented students would improve an equal amount as the average/mediocre students if they were only given the resources is to misunderstand what's going on.

The attempt is to break out of the vicious circle aspect of poor educational performance.
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Old 05-10-2009, 09:57 AM
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You're oversimplifying. Black students exist who compete well with white students on level ground. No gap there.
I'm responding directly to the article and the article claims that the black-white achievement gap has been eliminated. If the gap has been eliminated, there is an admission on the part of the school system that a gap DOES exist.

Based on the results of this school in Harlem, black students who received 50-100% more classroom instruction than white students, tested as well as the white students in math. Not all of these black students are functioning below grade level. Those at grade level, however still received 50% more classroom instruction than the white students they are being compared with.

Bottom line: black students in NYC who worked twice as hard as white students (and received twice the resources) did just as well in math as the white students. I think the students deserve credit for their hard work, but the focus on race, testing and equal outcome causes me to be be suspicious of the school system's motive and their results.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tankdriver
Suppose you and I ran at the same speed. We race, you with a 50yd head start.
Why do I get a head start if we run at the same speed? To anticipate your answer, it's because I'm white and the system is racist .
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Old 05-10-2009, 10:19 AM
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Why do I get a head start if we run at the same speed? To anticipate your answer, it's because I'm white and the system is racist .
This charter school takes kids from an area in which the schools are not as good, and the students are not as motivated. The result is that the students who attend the charter school are behind. A 5th grader coming out of a public school in Harlem is not at the same level as a 5th grader coming out of a school in Manhattan. In the 200yd race analogy, you are the Manhattan kid whose 5th grade education is at the 5th grade level, and I'm the kid whose 5th grade education is at the 4th grade level.

Also, extra time in school eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns. One doesn't simply continue to learn at the same rate for every hour spent in school. You can stick an average kid in school for 18hrs a day. It doesn't mean he's going to end up the smartest kid in the world.
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