2: New York, US – Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ)
The Children’s Zone aims to break the poverty cycle in Harlem by getting children through education.69 The aim is to create a critical mass of people involved in the programme so that “children are surrounded by an enriching environment of college-oriented peers and supportive adults”. The presumption is that effective schools alone are insufficient to raise education attainment rates among children in poverty. The programme has expanded since its introduction in the 1970s and now serves over 10,000 children and 13,000 adults.
The programme’s services are structured to fit into a ‘pipeline’ that provides continuous support and reinforcement from 0 to 22 years old. Alongside the educational investments, community programmes include truancy prevention programmes; organising tenant associations, one-on-one counselling to families; foster care prevention programs; community centres; and an employment and technology centre that teaches job-related skills to teens and adults.
HCZ’s charter schools have high teacher to student ratios, longer days along with a broad range of extra-curricular activities, including programmes to discourage drug use and gang culture and counselling. Staff work with students to develop personal plans for further and higher education.
Researchers found that the programme had managed to completely close the racial educational attainment gap.70 Modest estimates suggest that attending a Promise Academy charter school is associated with a 4.8 to 7.5 percent increase in earnings, 1.65 to 2.25 percent decrease in the probability of committing a property or violent crime, and 7.5 to 11.25 decrease in the probability of having a health disability.
HCZ’s success has drawn national attention. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama announced plans to replicate the programme in 20 cities across the US. Yet a number of researchers have since questioned whether community investment has appreciable effects on student achievement in schools in the US. A 2010 study examined the differences between students attending the charter schools and those not, and then those with and without access to the community programmes. It concludes: “High quality schools are enough to significantly increase academic achievement among the poor. Community programs appear neither necessary nor sufficient”.70
While community investments may have positive impact, for cities seeking to improve educational attainment, these findings suggest it is important they focus on school performance first and foremost.