Harlem Children's Zone
May 22, 2009 5:57 PM   Subscribe

David Brooks is very excited about the results reported by the Harlem Children's Zone. But do the statistics back up his excitement?
posted by wittgenstein (48 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that anything David Brooks is excited about is probably bullshit.
posted by edheil at 6:18 PM on May 22, 2009 [12 favorites]


The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results.

Oh yeah, if there's one place you find poor people, it's the middle of Manhattan.
posted by delmoi at 6:25 PM on May 22, 2009


The second link is to GNXP.com, a crypto-racist racist blog that posts all kinds of nonsense?
posted by delmoi at 6:28 PM on May 22, 2009


OH NO! I didn't know. Should mods delete the post?
posted by wittgenstein at 6:29 PM on May 22, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that anything David Brooks is excited about is probably bullshit.
posted by edheil at 9:18 PM on May 22 [+] [!]


Normally, I would agree. But Geoffrey Canada is amazing, and what he has been doing in general at the Harlem Children's Zone is awesome.
posted by jb at 6:34 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Uh, well I don't really know what GNXPs deal is, just that any time "scientific" racists show up they're always linking to it. The fact that he's linking to Steve Sailer also a big indicator.
posted by delmoi at 6:39 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, having read the criticism, I think the statistics look pretty good.
posted by jb at 6:40 PM on May 22, 2009


edheil- I hope you are wrong. One of the few inspiring stories I have heard on This American Life was about the Harlem Children's Zone. The story was about the program's focus on the youngest generation. Telling the young parents, "You might not be able to escape your current poverty but you can assure your child's assent to the middle class by doing things like this...." I am sure Brooks likes the no-excuses blah-blah. After listening to the American Life story it seems to me that Harlem Children's Zone is likely to be applying some intense creative energy to the problem.
posted by pointilist at 6:43 PM on May 22, 2009


Wathever it takes by Paul Tough mentioned in the first link is inspiring. The statistics are even more impressive for the children that have been followed from before birth, starting with "Baby College" that teaches their young parents what kind of discipline and constancy a child needs in his life, through Promise Academy that guides these children through elementary and middle school.

Canada did realize (at least that is the impression I received from the book) that the earlier the start, the better. He was not satisfied with the results obtained by the students who started the program in 6th grade. His theory is that it takes more than three or four years to instill a habit of self discipline, study, and good behavior and that very little can be achieved without the involvement and support of the family.

The entire Harlem Children's Zone program is amazing.
posted by francesca too at 6:45 PM on May 22, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that anything David Brooks is excited about is probably bullshit.

Stopped clocks &c.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:59 PM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Philadelphia Magazine: Boo-Boos in Paradise -- "David Brooks is the public intellectual of the moment. But our writer found out he doesn't check his facts."
posted by ericb at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think it's fantastic and every city should the same thing. I do find it interesting though that so many conservatives promote it when the concept of access to "cradle to the grave" social services is pure socialism.
posted by betsybetsy at 7:04 PM on May 22, 2009


I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that anything David Brooks is excited about is probably bullshit.

Stopped clocks &c.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:59 PM on May 22 [+] [!]


Also, I suspect that Brooks is wrong to focus on the discipline as the main factcor in success; I'm more swayed by the longer school day myself. Not that kids should be kept inside sitting at desks for 12 hours a day, but most other schools just kick middle school kids out at 3pm with 3 hours of homework that somehow they are just magically suposed to figure out on their own. I tutor a 12-year-old, and he had a timeline he was suposed to make, only it was clear that he didn't really understand what a timeline was - it took us three hours just to do 2/3 of it together, and I have higher degrees in history and the study of time. Of course, part of that time was explaining what the Great Depression was, and what the Stock Market crash was, and what stocks are (since why would a 12 year old know what a stock or a stock market is?) because he hadn't studied any of the history yet he was suposed to be putting on the timeline. It was all just copying.
posted by jb at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the discipline thing: I was involved in a literacy program when I was a kid that had no discipline (other than basic don't hit each other and be nice stuff), and was all about fun and games, only with books, and it did really well too. Because it extended the learning time and space for children. Also, it made reading a game.
posted by jb at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Canada's work has indeed been amazing, but the article conveniently ignores the fact that HCZ's whole premise is that it's not enough to work with children in schools -- an entire infrastructure is needed to foster achievement. The model relies on engagement from everyone in the child's community, including the parents. It's very expensive and very hard to replicate (which Canada himself acknowledges).
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I checked the ABC interview link at the Harlem Childrens Zone page and found this quote from its president, Geoffrey Canada:

What role did Superman play in motivating your life's work?
"One day my mother told me Superman wasn't real. I was absolutely stunned and broke into tears and she thought it was because of how much I loved Superman. What she didn't recognize was that I realized that if there were no Superman then no one was coming to rescue us. And I always thought Superman would get around to the South Bronx once he took care of Lex Luthor and some of the other villains in the world."

"When I realized there was no Superman and nobody was coming, I thought that if I ever made it out and got an education I would make sure that at least for the children that I could touch they would never feel like they needed a superhero to save them."
posted by eye of newt at 7:09 PM on May 22, 2009 [16 favorites]


The sole purpose of education is to sever labile child brains from the natural reinforcement-development cycle spurned by direct contact with the real world resulting in a truly independent human being given due natural maturation processes and rather induce the labile child brains into adult functional types for productive integration into the Institution through the forced memorization of abstract and phenomenologically meaningless symbols and disembodied concepts for hours per day where the human is forced to stare at books of these symbols wholly immobilized and locked indoors, because subjugated institutional living is of course the ideal and safest manner of existence. The brains that thrive most at this practice the Institution rewards with prestige and young urban professional joyousness; the brains that struggle under this Umwelt hazing process the Institution discards on the pig-patrolled streets.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2009 [7 favorites]


The sole purpose of education is to sever labile child brains from the natural reinforcement-development cycle spurned by direct contact with the real world resulting in ... pig-patrolled streets.

LOL.
posted by delmoi at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, timecube!
posted by middleclasstool at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Inducing the labile child brains into adult functional types for productive integration into the Institution through the forced memorization of abstract and phenomenologically meaningless symbols and disembodied concepts for hours per day where the human is forced to stare at books of these symbols wholly immobilized and locked indoors, because subjugated institutional living is of course the ideal and safest manner of existence.
posted by ericb at 7:36 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


re: being right, David Brooks = stopped clock
posted by tula at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2009


Oh yeah, if there's one place you find poor people, it's the middle of Manhattan.
posted by delmoi at 6:25 PM on May 22 [+] [!]


What do you mean by this? I live in Harlem, there's an HCZ pre-school on the ground floor of my apartment building, and I can assure you that there is no shortage of poor people in the neighborhood.
posted by plastic_animals at 8:01 PM on May 22, 2009


The rest of the country is under the impression that Giuliani had all the poor people in NY secretly killed.
posted by Avenger at 9:10 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


...you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

Aw shucks, I was hoping for some of those instantaneous transformations.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:16 PM on May 22, 2009


There is not much in the links to explain what is different about this program. Through a bit of Googling, I discovered two important facts, facts which make this exemplary program a little bit less of a magic bullet than it might at first appear.

1. A crucial aspect of their program is their 0-3 "Baby College" program. It is not news that much (most?) cognitive growth, especially in the realm of language and its link to abstract thought, occurs during these years.

My child entered a preschool/daycare program at age two and a half, in an impoverished neighborhood. She was the only non-black student there, although she was of course not aware of race at this age. (And I am not making an explicitly racial point here: I have been in white ghettos in Indianapolis that were way scarier than the neighborhood in which my daughter began her education.) The point is this: her preschool teacher told me many of her students had never held a book in their hands before.

2. 70% of HCZ's money comes from corporate sources. 30% comes from governmental monies.

My point (partially made above) is that this is a very expensive program. I believe that educating toddlers is crucial, but impossible on a broad scale, monetarily, unless, we were, say, willing to close a few hundred of our Empire's military bases, send less weaponry to our friendly war-makers abroad, increase the tax rate on the rich back to what it used to be in the Fifties, etc.

My best wishes to the Harlem Children's Zone. Can we find some money somewhere to help out, say, the working poor in Akron, Ohio?
posted by kozad at 9:35 PM on May 22, 2009


If npthing else, this is a dude who really digs what Superman is about.
posted by Artw at 10:28 PM on May 22, 2009


I think norabarnacl3 is saying that we are all educated stupid.
posted by Artw at 10:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


a little bit less of a magic bullet than it might at first appear.
1. A crucial aspect of their program is their 0-3 "Baby College" program. It is not news that much (most?) cognitive growth, especially in the realm of language and its link to abstract thought, occurs during these years.


This is actually is news to quite a lot of people. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has spent over a billion dollars towards education experiments and yet still is primarily emphasizing high school education. Improving high schools is actually great, but money also spent on improving 0-3 age learning will make the whole investment provide better results.
posted by eye of newt at 10:32 PM on May 22, 2009


It's news to me. Back in the 1960s, I was the only kid in my Manhattan kindergarten who knew how to read the words "dog" and "cat". The teachers thought I was some kind of freaky genius and didn't know what to do with me. They paraded me in front of the first-graders to show them that it was actually possible to learn to read before you were 8. I felt completely humiliated and my parents had to get me out of public school fast.

It makes me feel like I'm from another century to think that expectations have changed so radically. When did it become "normal" for kids to open a book before they're 3?
posted by fuzz at 1:47 AM on May 23, 2009


It makes me feel like I'm from another century to think that expectations have changed so radically. When did it become "normal" for kids to open a book before they're 3?

Do they actually try to teach the kids to read at three? On the other hand, kids are able to learn sign language at that age, so I don't see why reading would be any more difficult.
posted by delmoi at 2:04 AM on May 23, 2009


delmoi: My mother taught me to read the newspaper at two. It's not impossible.
posted by jaduncan at 3:54 AM on May 23, 2009


A Columbia professor of education fact-checks Brooks's column, and is not impressed with the quality of his journalism.
In the HCZ Annual Report for the 2007-08 school year submitted to the State Education Department, data are presented on not just the state ELA and math assessments, but also the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Those eighth-graders who kicked ass on the state math test? They didn’t do so well on the low-stakes Iowa Tests. Curiously, only 2 of the 77 eighth-graders were absent on the ITBS reading test day in June, 2008, but 20 of these 77 were absent for the ITBS math test. For the 57 students who did take the ITBS math test, HCZ reported an average Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE) score of 41, which failed to meet the school’s objective of an average NCE of 50 for a cohort of students who have completed at least two consecutive years at HCZ Promise Academy. In fact, this same cohort had a slightly higher average NCE of 42 in June, 2007.
Here's that report.

All via
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


If something seems too good to be true it usually isn't true. I am no fan of the numbers games being played in education these days. When so much rests on a single metric or a few metrics it is too easy to game the system, teach to the test, keep kids home on test day who are not likely to test well, or even outright help the kids cheat the test. I doubt these kids are doing as well as purported, but nevertheless something great appears to be happening in this school.

I think charter schools are the wave of the future. Schools unbounded by traditional restraints can creatively seek solutions, can hold students and teachers alike to high standards. Also, you don't need a one size fits all model. Some kids will need the type of environment where personal responsibility is the most important message and other kids will better thrive in a more open environment. Let their parents choose. Much of the resistance to charter schools has come from teachers and much of that is more about their own job security and less about the students. It has also been used a way to get state money for religious indoctrination. They are no magic bullet, they may not be for every student, they have many of their own challenges, but they also offer many opportunities.
posted by caddis at 6:18 AM on May 23, 2009


Thanks for the those links, Kirth Gerson.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:10 AM on May 23, 2009


1. A crucial aspect of their program is their 0-3 "Baby College" program. It is not news that much (most?) cognitive growth, especially in the realm of language and its link to abstract thought, occurs during these years.

But the best part about Baby College is not that it helps babies. It's that it helps parents. Canada started it after he had children, and realised all the things that middle class parents (as he now was) did to help their children grow and develop - and that they only knew to do these things because they were learning them from other middle class parents. Things like talking to your kids, and telling them stuff that expands their vocabulary.

As for learning to read before school - in the 17th century, children learned to read between ages 5 and 6 - though they didn't start writing until ages 7 or 8 (when many middling sort children had stopped going to lessons).

I also think that it's a really good idea to learn to read that early - little kids, like 5-7, are little sponges. They actively love learning in a way that slightly older children, like 9-10, don't. They don't stop to question its immediate application. I've been thinking about this because I'm tutoring a 7 year old and a 9 year old who are both in the same place with their reading and math. They both come from a very similar family and socio-economic background, but the 7 year old never even questions the usefulness of memorising "math facts" (like 6+7=13), but the older girl says things things like "but why should I add? I have a calculator!" Both of them are at a stage where their reading isn't quite fluid enough that they actively enjoy it, but the little girl never fights me on reading her pages when we read a book together, where the older one does. Now, I realise that these could be personal differences, but I would say that if I had to measure their innate stubbornness, the little girl is more so. I think that the older girl is at a different life stage where she is always thinking about "why am I doing this?" whereas the little one is just thinking "this adult wants me to do this, so I will." She's less aware of the outside world - including all the more "fun" things she could be doing instead of homework and tutoring, like watching tv.
posted by jb at 7:27 AM on May 23, 2009


The notion that a two-and-a-half-year-old has never held a book is shocking to middle-class parents. It's not because our two-year-olds are learning to read; it's that when you're a middle-class parent, your house is full of books, and you read to your children from a very early age -- say, a year old. It's a huge part of your time with your child, especially by the time they turn two. And if you're reading to your child, they're holding/touching the book, pointing to things.

In other words, to learn that a two-and-a-half-year-old has never held a book is to learn that a two-and-a-half-year-old has never been read to. And that is indeed shocking to middle-class parents.
posted by palliser at 7:53 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The ITBS is a really basic test, so it's weird that they did more poorly on that than on the ELA. On the other hand, everything I've heard about the Harlem Children's Zone schools suggests that they are really great.

On the other hand, David Brooks manages to sound like an asshole even when he is praising something. He suggests that my city (Chicago) should do the same thing - well, we do have charter schools here, many of which are based on the same ideas as the HCZ schools - a longer school day/school year, better discipline (i.e. a school where the kids don't fight all the time but actually spend their school time learning), a college-preparatory curriculum.

And Re: norabarnacl3, Institutionalization - I agree to an extent, but have two counter-arguments:
1. The whole purpose of these schools is to help every child succeed, that is, to "discard" no one to the "pig-patrolled streets," where, I might add, they already live to begin with.

2. Your post suggests that you know how to read and write. This is a useful tool for all kinds of activities - everything from having a boring day job to staging a revolution. The kids I work with would not become literate without the intervention of schooling into their labile brains.
posted by mai at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why does it have to be charter schools? Can't you just change the way the public schools work?
posted by Hildegarde at 9:25 AM on May 23, 2009


Why does it have to be charter schools? Can't you just change the way the public schools work?

From all I have seen of public schools and charter schools here in Oklahoma City, the major difference is in the selection of a good principal and the ability to hire and fire teachers based on results. Charter schools contracts last one year.

The second biggest difference is parental involvement: for a charter school you have to apply very early in the year, fill a ton of paperwork, promise a certain number of hours of service, and be lucky enough to be accepted. I don't want to sound preachy, but a single mother holding down a couple of minimal wages jobs to make ends meet, is less likely to have that kind of energy.
posted by francesca too at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2009


Actually, norabarnacl3 got one thing wrong - the children who don't fit into this industrialized model aren't thrown out into the pig-patrolled streets -- they're medicated into mindless zombies and locked into rooms with video game machines.
posted by PigAlien at 1:22 PM on May 23, 2009


I run a story time for babies and toddlers at my public library and you'd be surprised how many middle class parents look at me like I have 3 heads when I suggest they bring their infants to the library. I mean, it's a happy half-hour where I share appropriate books and rhymes and we sing and dance and get comfortable around books. It's not like I'm teaching them the Dewey Decimal System. Mostly I model parent behavior so they can go home and share nursery rhymes and learn how to redirect a toddler who wants to eat the pages. Anyway, I guess I'm trying to say it's not just poor kids who need this type of intervention. I miss doing this program in a more economically challenged area. I think the poor parents I dealt with were actually more receptive, because they weren't coming from a place of comfort and privilege where they could assume their kids would have advantages.
posted by Biblio at 2:52 PM on May 23, 2009


Fair point, Biblio. In general, I think good parenting is a lot less intuitive than people think.

Has your library ever considered disaggregating the babies from the toddlers? Our library system has an insanely popular Baby Lapsit program, just for the little ones, that's all nursery rhymes and songs. Then for the 18-month-and-up toddlers, there's Story Time. Parents might rightly question whether their mobile infants would sit through a story program, but would understand that a songs-and-rhymes program would work well.
posted by palliser at 3:03 PM on May 23, 2009


Oh yeah, if there's one place you find poor people, it's the middle of Manhattan.

Ha, ha! You are SO RIGHT! There are no poor people in the middle of Manhattan.

The top of Manhattan, though, which is where these schools are located, is well fucked.
posted by The Bellman at 4:35 PM on May 23, 2009


Palliser, at my old library I had much more strictly age segregated storytimes. My new place doesn't even fund a children's Librarian at all. I am the part-time "Children's Program Manager" despite my MLS. I have to cram quite a lot into those 15 hours, so the babies and toddlers get lumped together. Strangely, this is in one of the wealthiest towns in the state. Their children are going to get their asses kicked by the disadvantaged kids in the town next door who've been getting quality educational programming since birth.
posted by Biblio at 8:23 PM on May 23, 2009


The second biggest difference is parental involvement: for a charter school you have to apply very early in the year, fill a ton of paperwork, promise a certain number of hours of service, and be lucky enough to be accepted.

So they're cherry picking the children who attend these schools? That would likely explain an improvement in results based on standardized test, I would imagine.
posted by jokeefe at 9:05 PM on May 23, 2009


jokeefe - There is definitely a lot of self-selecting for charter schools, but in the case of the HCZ, there is also a lottery system after the applications (too many applicants), and the studies compared applicants who were accepted by lottery, and those who were not.
posted by jb at 9:52 PM on May 23, 2009


I am not suggesting that charter schools are the only schools that can succeed with low-income students, but, at least in Chicago, undertaking a program like the one at HCZ is much easier as a charter. The sad reason for this is that the teacher's union contract sets the length of the school day at about six hours. In order to have a longer day or longer year, you have to work with teachers outside the union contract, and public schools aren't empowered to do that. Of course, public schools could have a longer day if they agreed to pay their teachers more (some charters pay more but not enough to make up for the longer hours), which in the end might be a fairer option, but is unlikely given the current funding situation.

In general, I am pro-union but the union here is pretty corrupt and doesn't well-represent the interests of teachers or (especially) students.
posted by mai at 11:37 PM on May 23, 2009


In general, I am pro-union but the union here is pretty corrupt and doesn't well-represent the interests of teachers or (especially) students.
posted by mai at 2:37 AM on May 24 [+] [!]


Unions are really important for employees negotiating with their employer, because employers always have more power than the individual employee. But when employees join together in a union, they can balance that power through solidarity.

But I think that the union model doesn't function well for public-sector things. It was developed for the private sector and especially for manufacturing, and where there was no monopoly. When one factory is shut down for a strike, that hurts only that company, not the public at large. But with the public sector, and even a lot of services that are on the border of public/private - like transit, which may be a private company, but usually has a monopoly on the route - the conflict model of union versus employer just ends up crushing the clients (not really customers) between them - students, people reliant on transit, etc. Those people are third parties to the dispute, but they don't have any option to go elsewhere for the service that is being disrupted. Where employers feel very pressured by public opinion to keep the service up - as in public schools - that can mean undue power accruing to the union. But where there isn't the same pressure - as I have seen with public university strikes - there is little to no incentive for the employers to negotiate in good faith, as the length of the strike will be blamed on the union.

I would like to see an entirely new model of employment negotiation be developed for the public sector and essential services which protects employee rights without necessitating strikes that just hurt third parties or a situation where the union is more powerful than any other stakeholders, such as children and their parents. Because unions are really important, but their purpose is to get the best deal they can for their members, not do what is best for all stakeholders. In a commercial situation, their power is usually balanced by the power of the customer to buy from the competitors, but this is not true in a public service situation.
posted by jb at 9:37 AM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older It takes a lot to be always on form   |   The Man Who Fooled Houdini Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments