Monday, May 11, 2009

Harlem School closes the Achievement Gap(?)

I'm sure that many people read the op-ed piece in the NY Times last week by David Brooks about the Harlem Children's Zone. It's an article that is worth a read, whether you agree with Brooks' opinions about education reform or not.

The piece is about Geoffery Canada and his network of charter schools, specifically Promise Academy in Harlem. A new study is claiming that Canada's schools are substantially reducing and in some cases closing the achievement gap between black and white students.

I'm sure that there is a ton of room for debate, and of course I haven't read the official study -- just Brooks' interpretation of it. However, I do want to focus on one specific part of the piece. Brooks writes,

"These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right."

My question: is Brooks correct in his assertion that the "education establishment" argues that schools cannot have a big impact while "reformers" argue that they can? I hesitate to make such generalizations, but then again they make a lot of sense. The "establishment" -- colleges of education, public schools, and teachers unions -- had for decades a monopoly on the education of low-income students. Now, charter schools and alternative certification programs have come along and are challenging the establishment. It only makes sense that the people who feel they are being attacked -- the establishment -- would say that schools alone can't have a big impact on closing the achievement gap, since the achievement gap developed on their watch.

To me, it seems like Brooks may have hit the nail on the head in a way that really helps in the debate. He doesn't say that public schools caused the achievement gap. He doesn't say that bad teachers are to blame. But he does say that the problem can be solved by excellent schools with excellent teachers. Whereas reformers are usually portrayed as "anti-teacher," this analysis celebrates the teachers and the huge impact they can make.


Erin said...

Have you read or heard about what Geoffrey Canada is doing in Harlem? Because I have and I have followed it closely. One of the big things that Canada has invested in is having parenting classes on the weekends with parents of infant and toddler children to teach them the things that they can do at home with their children to improve their cognitive abilities something he says most middle class parents do automatically. While I do believe Canada has had achievements in the schools in Harlem he has also gotten more parent involvement and if you read what he says he believes that you have to start with children very young in poverty areas to truly close the gap. This suggests that schools alone cannot do it and that it is necessary to have strong social supports to help parents. One especially strong thing that Canada says is that we might not be able to pull the parents out of poverty but the goal must be to give them the tools to pull their children out of poverty.

Mr. Potter said...

When I was working on my masters I read a lot about what Canada does, and there is obviously merit in his ideas about supporting children from infancy. But it is still all being done in a school, right? I mean, the results from the HCZ run contrary to the notion that you need to eliminate economic inequality before you'll see the achievement gap shrink. An excellent school can help set up those outside supports that are required, but the communities are still fundamentally the same. The point is that it can be done, and a school can take the lead in doing it.

Glenn Watson said...

The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.>>>

Of course this works; but, and there is always a but. It works because of the ability to get rid of students who won't follow the rules.

Heck, give me the the ability of cherry pick students and more importantly expel a small percentage that won't go along and I will give you a great school too.

This is not magic. I can go into any school in America and if I am enrolling kids that want to be there AND am given the power to expell 5% of the student body I will create a great student body in a very short time.

Toby said...

I just got the union email announcing that 6 schools will be reconstituted, with most staff having to reapply for their jobs. This is a federally mandated move, as the schools failed to make AYP for several years (4 or 5?). I know when Clark ES closed, though it was not reconstituted, the principal went to lead nearby Truesdell ES. That school was reconstituted and all its teachers had to reapply for their jobs. Very few of the Clark or Truesdell teachers got picked up by the reconstituted Truesdell.
The schools just announced are: Dunbar HS, Anacostia HS, Woodson HS @ Ron Brown, Hart MS, MacFarland MS and Ferebee-Hope ES. Good luck to all the teachers there.

Glenn Watson said...

If a school closes due to NCLB are the tenured teachers out of a job too?

Toby said...

Glen, no they aren't. In the press release sent out to union members, it was mentioned that teachers not picked up during the rehiring process at these reconstituted schools will be placed in vacancies in other schools.

Anonymous said...

The achievement gap is a myth! What is the "acheivement gaps" historical basis. When was this term coined? It's like when people of color were always called a "minority" when in fact there are way more people of color in the world than whites.

Doing My Part said...

The achievement gap is most certainly not a myth. Google it and look at the data. It can be seen in a variety of factors, from test scores, grades, placement in AP classes, graduation rates, years it takes to finish college, drop out rates, and several other factors. Doing our part as educators, especially in high poverty schools, to close this gap shows we believe that all children can learn and deserve an excellent education. That's why most of us are teachers. As for an historical basis, years of segregation, poor schools, separate but not equal, Jim Crow and the effects of slavery, is that enough?

Anonymous said...

So maybe it should be called the "Genocide Gap" because if I'm not mistaking many countries of color outperform the USA on test. So I think the gap was created by the bad social practices you mentioned. So the emphasis of the why should be the focus and effort needs to be spent on correcting these past practices. "The Achievement Gap" usually comes off as Whites are out performing blacks like they all started at the same point and blacks just happen to be more deficient. If you give me a 400 year headstart in anything I gurantee you will never catch me.