Friday, October 24, 2008
Blog Blast for Education: Geoffrey Canada and The Harlem Children's Zone
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There's a great deal of talk about reform in education.
There's also a great deal of talk about if only this, this, or this were done in schools, then our students would perform better.
There's also, sadly, a lot of talk about the inadequacy of parents in certain racial/economic groups - assumptions made, decisions made by administrators that even IF they did X, the parents wouldn't follow through.
I've long believed that:
a. the educational process for a child always, always, ALWAYS needs to be a partnership between the school, the child and the family (parents, grandparents, guardian - whoever is raising that child).
b. that almost all parents/guardians want to be the best they can be in that capacity and that this crosses all "groups". The few exceptions are sick exceptions and those exceptions ALSO cross all "groups".
Well, apparently a genius, with far better resources and insight than I, agrees with me. Not only does he agree with me, but he was able to get big funding guns to agree with him and he's been creating a very successful educational experiment in Central Harlem in New York City.
I first found out about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone via This American Life, where Paul Tough, who is a regular contributor to This American Life as well as a reporter for The New York Times, put together a piece on Canada and his own, recently released, book about the project: Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America. You can listen to the podcast here.
Some of the points of the program I don't agree with from a purely philosophical standpoint - there's a lot of emphasis on testing, but then they also need (and are getting) big bucks to fund this program (over $100 million in private donations) and investors like to see quantifiable results.
This isn't a perfect program.
In all my years of being a teacher and a parent (27+) I've never seen a "perfect" educational environment.
Sad, but true.
This, however, is one of the most exciting experiments in educating underserved children that I've ever seen. So let's explore it:
Simply put, the the Harlem Children's Zone is available to the 10,000 children who live in Central Harlem, a neighborhood where virtually all children live in poverty and traditionally 2/3 of those children scored below grade level.
Geoffrey Canada has promised the parents/guardians who will commit to sending their children to his school and to working with him from the outset, that his program will get their children to college. Period. And he appears to be doing it. Here's what he has to say (from 60 minutes):
"He has made a bold promise to the parents who live in the zone.
'If your child comes to this school, we will guarantee that we will get your child into college. We will be with you with your child from the moment they enter our school till the moment they graduate from college," Canada vowed during a speech.
Canada’s ambitious experiment aims to prove that poor kids from the inner city can learn just as well as affluent kids from the other side of America. He has flooded the zone with social, medical and educational services that are available for free to all the children who live here.
"They get what middle-class and upper middle-class kids get," Canada explains. "They get safety. They get structure. They get academic enrichment. They get cultural activity. They get adults who love and them are prepared to do anything. And I mean, I’m prepared to do anything to keep these kids on the right track.'"
Currently, while the services for health care and other opportunities via the Harlem Children's Zone are available to all the children in Central Harlem, those who get into Promise Academy, the school that is the cornerstone of the entire project, is run by lottery. Canada's current focus is to open many more schools.
The incentives he uses are similar to the KIPP schools - structure, longer school days, inclusivity at all levels, material bribes as the children get older as they complete challenges in attendance or workload.
Baby classes are also an important part of the total program for the Central Harlem area, and these are used to help parents learn new ways of communicating with their young children and stress the importance of reading to their children, early and often.
For those who don't get into Promise Academy, they can still attend the after-school enrichment programs, that will ensure that work gets done and that the children (and teens) have a loving, structured environment to come to during the hours that their parents may be working.
I could probably fill several posts with all of the innovations that Mr. Canada has enacted through this project, but I'll let some links fill you in if you're interested in learning further:
the Harlem Children's Zone website - you can also donate here, if you're so moved
NPR's podcast on the Harlem Children's Zone - It's 36 minutes long, but worth every. single. minute. if you're interested in education issues.
Now, go learn about other education issues through Blog Blast for Education.