The lucid critique of the Brookings Institute report by Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children Zone nips in the bud an effort to once again create a false dichotomy between effort to improve the academic performance of students and the need to address an array of social- emotional and family and community circumstances that research tells us DO influence student performance. Surely we need high quality teachers and engaging instruction, but research also tells us that social supports are also needed for our youth to succeed in school and in life.
The evidence is clear. Students who suffer from health and economic barriers do worse in school. Charles Basch’s recent report, Healthier Students are Better Learners, connects health issues to academic achievement and Paul Barton’s Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress demonstrates similar results.
We can only get these results when youth are provided with the supports they need to learn. No matter how exceptional the curriculum and instruction are, the fact of the matter is that a hungry student will have trouble concentrating (how many adults can accomplish this feat?) and a student with poor vision will not be able to see the chalkboard.
As a country it is time we move beyond the “either- or” arguments if we are to truly address the realities that face our students and families. Community schools are doing this every day to ensure high academic performance. Bailey Elementary – a community school in Providence, RI – boasts an improvement in 3rd grade reading, from 27 % proficiency in 2007 to 41 % in 2009. Providence Public School District’s Superintendent, Tom Brady said, “Teachers can’t do it alone. Unless community organizations begin to address some of the myriad social issues affecting a child’s academic progress, urban schools in particular will never fulfill their promise.”
This type of socially just education reform will move our country in a direction where EVERY student graduates high school ready for college, career, and citizenship. The Coalition (www.communityschools.org) will continue to work closely with the Harlem Children’s Zone to make sure this happens. The Coalition is an alliance of over 150 partners including the Harlem Children’s Zone.
President of the Institute for Educational Leadership and Director of the Coalition for Community Schools