Brookings released a report on July 20th showing that the Harlem Children’s Zone’s (HCZ) charter school, called The Promise Academy, performs no better than other NYC charter schools, and suggesting that the significant extra expense of wrap around social support services may not be worth it. (You can follow the back-and-forth that ensued between HCZ’s iconic head, Geoffrey Canada, and the report authors via this excellent summary from City Limits.) At the same time, Congress is considering cutting the Obama’s Administration’s Promise Neighborhood initiative (which is based on the HCZ model) from $210 million to $20 million. HCZ and its partner, PolicyLink, launched a campaign to save the funding.
About a year ago, an ad hoc group formed in Springfield and Holyoke to figure out how to apply the HCZ model in this region. Two delegations were sent to the HCZ conference, but in the end the group decided it was not prepared to submit a competitive proposal for Promise Neighborhood funding. You can see here that there were 339 applicants, including Boston, Lawrence, Worcester, Somerville, Fall River, Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. Part of the reluctance to submit a proposal was that Geoff Canada has over $70 million to spend every year on a section of Harlem that is the size of a single neighborhood in Springfield. No one in Springfield has that kind of money, and a $210 million fund for the entire country is no substitute for HCZ’s incredible hedge fund/Wall Street funding base.
We have made these points about funding and inconclusive evidence for HCZ’s basic claims in previous posts. But questions about the value of HCZ’s holistic approach don’t sit well with us. We know for ourselves, and we hear from stakeholders in and outside the schools, that poverty and neighborhood instability are the best predictors of even narrowly defined academic performance (e.g., MCAS scores). To improve school performance, we need jobs, access to health care and healthy food, democratic participation, and a built environment that is conducive to healthy, happy families.
As a result of the state’s recent level 4 chronically underperforming school determinations (10 out of 35 are in Springfield), many different groups have a renewed interest in bold approaches. And the Springfield school department is legally obligated to make big changes. At The Springfield Institute, our job is to help a broad range of stakeholders organize, track leading edge research and policy analysis, and deploy bold and highly accountable approaches to help ensure that these efforts and financial resources yield results.