Alexander Russo on Jay Mathews and Harlem Children's Zone
What better way to spice up a hot July day than to stir up a fight over education? So here is Alexander Russo taking on my colleague Jay Mathews, the dean of education reporters, and his latest post on his Class Struggle blog in which he criticizes criticism of the Harlem Children's Zone. Russo is a former Democratic Senate aide, who frequently criticizes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and many others in his "This Week In Education" blog. And after you read this, you can go back to Jay's blog and read his response.
By Alexander Russo
Far as I can tell, the Washington Post’s "Uncle" Jay Mathews gets pretty much everything wrong in this recent blog entry in which Mathews can be found vigorously defending the saintly Geoffrey Canada and the poor helpless Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) against criticisms raised in a slim Brookings report/memo/roundup.
There are four obvious problems with Mathews’ hazy defense of the HCZ. Read along and slap me down if you think I’ve disrespected the master. (I’ll leave it to others to praise or damn the Brookings thing, though some of its arguments seem pretty shaky, too.):
1) Mathews thinks it’s "premature" to raise questions about the impact of HCZ’s charter schools, which is a strange objection to make considering the the HCZ model has already been anointed a success by the media and handed millions in private and public funding. If now’s not the time to ask hard questions, then when would be good? [Plus which, I and others have been raising questions about HCZ hype for quite a while now. See previous blog entries and mainstream links below and read my blog or sign up for my email to make sure not to get embarrassed at the next education picnic you go to.]
2) Mathews thinks that Canada invented the idea of comprehensive social support services, which would come as a surprise to the developers of Head Start, Even Start, and Cities In Schools, among other programs. You’d think that a guy as famously old as Jay says he is would remember such things. Or maybe that’s the problem. (Yes, I went there. He thinks my name is Andrew.)
3) Mathews thinks that it’s his job to defend each and every aspect of the Harlem Children’s Zone (as he does for other favorite programs like Advanced Placement and KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program). Doesn’t he know that advocating for HCZ is former NYT magazine editor Paul Tough’s job? (I know, I know. I’m a very bad person and it will all come back to haunt me when my upcoming book on Green Dot’s turnaround effort at Locke High School is savaged by all of my betters whose work I have criticized for the last five years.)
4) Last but not least, Mathews thinks that the kids who go to HCZ schools are the same ones who get HCZ services. Like many others, he seems to have bought into the notion that Canada has actually created a "conveyor belt" of programs capable of servicing individuals from cradle to college. But that’s just not the case, and never really has been. Until very recently (when the program replaced the middle school lottery with a preschool one), participating in HCZ services has been no guarantee of admission. Even then, only a tiny portion of HCZ participants will ever get to go to a HCZ school.The service programs run by HCZ reach 17,000 participants, while the the schools currently reach just 1,200 students.
To be sure, what HCZ and Canada are doing qualify as impressive feats of fund-raising and service-providing. There’s no doubt that many of those who have been served have benefited from participating. And I would hope that this effort, or something like it, could show the power of high-quality education and/or wraparound social services (my focus is on the education angle but there are plenty of folks who prefer to focus on the social services). But seeing so many good journalists go gaga over the Canada story and the idea of a poverty-ending machine has gone from amusing to disconcerting.
I fear that the long-term impact of over-hyping HCZ will be to discredit education reporting and reduce over-all public support for innovative education efforts rather than to help improve the lives of those in Harlem. And it bugs me that we’re all so desperate for feel-good education stories that we willingly overlook problems and limitations until it’s too late, then throw up our hands for a while, and then it’s another ten years and we do it again.
Previous Blog Posts on the Harlem Children's Zone: HCZ Questions Slowly Reaching Mainstream, What Next For HCZ?, Former USDE Official Dishes On Popular Reforms, What Happened To The Middle School?, How HCZ Hypnotized Anderson Cooper, The HCZ Juggernaut, Updated Hype Warning Levels, When School Reformers Meet The Real World, Paul Tough On The HotSeat. Mainstream Links: Assessing HCZ (NPR), Hope or Hype In Harlem? (City Limits).
Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!
| July 21, 2010; 7:53 AM ET
Categories: Charter schools, Guest Bloggers | Tags: alexander russo, brookings and harlem children's zone, brookings and hcz, criticism of harlem children's zone, geoffrey canada, harlem children's zone, hcz and hype, jay mathews, poverty and school reform, poverty and student achievement, promise academy, promise charter academies, this week in education
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