Four years ago, New
York Times’ columnist David Brooks declared Geoffrey
charter schools to be miracle schools. The
column was titled “The Harlem Miracle.” He did so based on the
assurances of Harvard economist Roland Fryer and his colleague Will
Dobbie. Fryer said in an email to Brooks that the charter schools
of the Harlem Children’s Zone had produced “enormous gains.” Brooks
wrote: “In math, Promise Academy eliminated the
achievement gap between its black students and the city average for
white students.
Let me repeat that. It
eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my
life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal
changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada,
Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the
equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should
be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We
don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so
many of our kids are dying — literally and
Canada is a very charming man, and I
personally like him. We have appeared on various TV shows together,
including a debate on NBC’s “Education Nation.” But I don’t believe
in miracle schools. Not even when they are run by the immensely
personable Geoffrey Canada. And I don’t like it when someone with
the vast resources of Canada, far more than any neighborhood public
school, trashes public
schools because they can’t succeed as his schools do
(The link takes you to a TED talk where Geoffrey Canada
speaks with his usual charm and passion about “our failing public
schools.”) As this story in the New York Times pointed out, the
Harlem Children’s Zone has two billionaires on its board, assets of
more than $200 million, two teachers in every classroom, small
classes, medical care for students, and an array of resources and
services unavailable to public schools in poor neighborhoods. I
have always wished that every public school, especially in poor
neighborhoods, could offer the same services as Canada’s schools,
and I salute Canada for providing them for the students at his
charter schools. But are they miracle schools, as Roland Fryer told
David Brooks? After all, miracles should not be a one-time deal;
they should go on forever, right? The short answer: No. They face
the same problems as other schools serving poor kids, and their
results are not miraculous. Below are the scores of Canada’s
charter schools on the recent Common Core tests. The city’s public
schools had an average passing mark of 25% in ELA and 30% in
mathematics. The charters of the HCZ have scores all over the map.
Some are higher than the city average, some are lower. Some are
dramatically higher (like grade 5 in math at HCZ 1 at 46%), some
are dramatically lower (like grade 6 in English language arts at
HCZ 1 at 9%). Bottom line: There is no miracle here.  
  Harlem Children’s Zone 1

3 Math 23%
4 Math 17%
5 Math 46%
6 Math 39%
7 Math 18%
8 Math 31%
Harlem Children’s Zone
3 ELA 32%
3 Math
4 ELA 12%
4 Math
5 ELA 35%
5 Math
6 ELA 19%
6 Math
7 ELA 45%
7 Math
8 ELA 15%
8 Math