Does the Harlem Children’s Zone really deliver?

Left Foot Forward’s Gen Maitland Hudson takes a closer look at the Harlem Children’s Zone to see just whether the cradle to college ‘pipeline’ really delivers.

Our guest writer is Genevieve Maitland Hudson, who gained frontline experience working for the children’s charity Kids Company before founding GLUE in March 2010; she currently lectures at Birkbeck College on the MSc courses in Youth Participation and Citizenship

Prior to education secretary Michael Gove’s keynote speech to the Conservative party conference this morning, Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, addressed delegates. Here, Left Foot Forward takes a closer look at the Harlem Children’s Zone to see just whether the cradle to college ‘pipeline’ really delivers.

Helen Zelon’s report for City Limits in March 2010 makes interesting reading. HCZ invests $19,000 dollars per pupil in contrast to the $14,525 per head spent on open-enrolment schools in New York – but does this translate into dramatic increases in achievement? Not according to Ms Zelon.

The HCZ Promise Academy opened its doors in 2004 and no children have yet graduated or enrolled at university so there is no data here to analyse. Test results are mixed. Recent statewide test results are good, with 87 per cent at or above grade level for eighth-graders in maths and 57 per cent at or above grade level in English in 2009. This compares to a 61 per cent average score in maths in their New York district and 46 per cent in English.

It was this evidence (for the year 2007) that informed the Harvard report into HCZ achievement that has been widely touted as conclusive. But that report only looked at statewide tests. HCZ has fared markedly less well in standardised US tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. In consequence it has stopped using them.

HCZ also moved all of its original eighth grade intake who were not living up to test expectations out of the school in May 2007 and has ceased to record their progress. Of the original 100 who enrolled in the middle school, by that May only 65 remained – a dropout rate of 35 per cent. It is impossible to say whether that dropout rate persists, but existing evidence on charter schools suggests that it may even be as high as 40 per cent. That ought to cause concern.

HCZ also has a markedly different intake to comparable open enrolment schools. Zelon highlights a mere 6 per cent of pupils with Special Educational Needs compared to 30, 40 or even 60 per cent in local public schools. This finding tallies with the Civil Rights Project report of January 2010 that notes a significantly lower intake of pupils with special educational needs and English as an additional language in all charter schools when compared to local district public schools.

In short, test scores are inconclusive, retention is poor, the most educationally disadvantaged are not enrolled and the programme is expensive. Perhaps we ought to think twice before importing this particular model.

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