Alexander Russo hits me hard on Harlem Children's Zone
On my colleague Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog you will find a good post from one of my favorite bloggers, Alexander Russo, ripping into me for inadequacies in my analysis of the new Brookings Institution critique of the Harlem Children's Zone and its premier charter school, the Promise Academy.
I plead no contest. Alexander is right that I should have mentioned his deep coverage of, and doubts about, HCZ. I was trying to keep the length of my post under reasonable limits, since I am about to dump a couple of 2,000-word posts on our intrepid universal desk and then dash off on vacation. I wanted to be loved. That always gets you into trouble.
So I beg Alexander's forgiveness for not making clear that the generally favorable treatment given HCZ does not include him. But it is true that the zone, and its creator Geoffrey Canada, have as I said become huge symbols of a new approach to pulling inner city schools, and the lives of inner city residents, out of the slump they have been in for a long time. So it is still interesting that an institution as influential as Brookings decided to issue a report that says that the Promise Academy is not doing as well as other charters that don't benefit from the safety net services of the zone, and thus may be a failure.
Alexander upbraids me for saying it is too soon to raise questions about the zone and the Promise Academy. That was not exactly my point. I said it was a very good time to raise questions, because the Obama administration wants to spend a lot of money cloning the zone. What I thought was premature was judging the Promise Academy a failed experiment just because, after only six years in business, it does not have academic results as impressive as some KIPP schools in that area. The oldest KIPP school in NYC has been around for 15 years. If the Promise Academy has that much time to improve, it can make a difference.
He is also suggesting that HCZ is not unique, and that Head Start, Early Start and other programs are just like it. I will leave it up to those who know more about HCZ to answer definitively, but Head Start and Early Start seem to be exemplars of just a part of what Canada is attempting. I don't know of any other program quite like HCZ.
Alexander also paints me as a stalwart defender of HCZ, but in fact this short blog is the longest thing I have ever written about it, with the exception of my review of Paul Tough's great book about Canada a couple years ago. I don't know enough about HCZ to reach any conclusions about it. But I wrote that blog post because I agree with Alexander that it is very important, and needs careful watching. It is the embodiment of one side of one of our most vital arguments about schools -- should we focus on helping kids in class or helping them at home?
I urge everyone to keep reading Alexander on this issue. He knows his stuff.
This post has been updated since it was first published.
| July 21, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Alexander Russo attacks me, I plead no content, the importance of the Harlem Children's Zone
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