Last spring I took David Brooks to task for his irresponsible assertions that the Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy had closed the achievement gap and had done so solely because they took a no-nonsense, no excuses, paternalistic approach to schooling (he was at it again last week, repeating the claim in the midst of an article mostly focused on Haiti). The following week I explored some of the other factors that may have led to the success experienced by the school (which I never followed up with the promised 2nd and 3rd part -- many apologies, I still intend to return to the topic).
Well, today Nashville was graced with the presence of one Mr. Geoffrey Canada -- the founder of both the Harlem Children's Zone and the Promise Academies. Following his lecture (which, if you were wondering, was both engaging and thought-provoking -- though I can't say he surprised me with anything he said), he had time for a few questions. Apparently my shirt was a brighter blue than everybody else's, because he allowed me to ask one of them. So I asked about the controversy over Brooks' assertion.
My question went something like this: "David Brooks has written that there has been a Harlem Miracle because of the no-nonsense, no excuses, paternalistic environment at the Promise Academy. How important do you think that it compared to the small class sizes, extended school year, before and after-school tutoring, Baby College, Harlem GEMS, nutrition programs, and other factors."
I was quite curious to hear what he had to say. As it turns out, he was quite aware that both members of the Broader, Bolder Coalition and the Education Equality Project claim that the success of HCZ proves they're right. And then he repeated something a few times with which I couldn't agree more: "it's a terrible, phony debate." He said he believed that both camps are right -- that we need both to create no-nonsense, high-effort school environments and to address social issues involving health, poverty, etc. He went on to add that although providing dental care at his school likely doesn't raise test scores (I'd dispute that -- it actually probably does have a small effect), that it's ultimately an ethical issue -- he wouldn't choose dental care or tutoring for his own children; he'd choose both.