Canada Comes to Rhode Island

Don't worry, I'm not talking about the Vancouver looters. No, I'm talking about Geoffrey Canada who is, to my mind, one of the most intriguing figures of our time.

Canada runs Harlem Children's Zone, which provides intense social and educational supports - "cradle-to-college" - for 10,000 children in a 100-block section of New York City's Harlem neighborhood. It is an approach that has attracted intense national interest. Canada is a star of the "Waiting for Superman" documentary and his program served as a model for an Obama Administration grants program that seeks to replicate the zone in other parts of the country.

But if the effort has made real progress in some areas, it cannot be called an unqualified success. From a New York Times article last year:

Last month, the Obama administration awarded $10 million in grants to 21 neighborhood groups around the country to help them plan their own versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the president is seeking $210 million for next year, although appropriations committees in the Senate and the House have earmarked only $20 million and $60 million, respectively.

But there has been some criticism. Grover J. Whitehurst, a co-author of a Brookings Institution analysis of the zone, said there was still too little evidence that its approach, of linking social services to promote student achievement, justified an investment of federal education dollars, and urged that a more rigorous study be conducted.

“My quarrel is not with an effort in Harlem funded largely by philanthropy, it’s with the federal approach to scaling this up,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “It just doesn’t rise to the level of evidence the president and the secretary of education said they were going to apply in determining their investments."

Elementary-age students in a charter school in Harlem Children's Zone have done well, compared to much of the city. But older kids have struggled, raising tough questions about the stubborn power of poverty.

Still, the scope and promise of the effort is compelling - and relevant here. Canada will speak at an October fundraiser for Family Service of Rhode Island, which is attempting to build a Providence Children's Initiative - modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone - in impoverished South Providence.



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