Grover J. Whitehurst and Michelle Croft
Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institute
The federal Promise Neighborhood program seeks to replicate the widely lauded Harlem Children’s Zone in twenty cities, complete with its suite of “Broader-Bolder” social services. At that scope, it seems reasonable to wonder: Does HCZ merely work, or does it work “as advertised”? Do all those services—health clinics, social programs, career counseling—make a difference, or are other nearby charter schools just as successful at raising achievement…without all those things? That’s what Whitehurst and Croft sought to find out, by comparing the academic results of HCZ’s Promise Academy I (the larger and older of two HCZ charters) to those of other charter schools in Manhattan and the Bronx that do not provide, or whose students do not have access to, HCZ-type services. Promise I fell in the middle of the pack: In math, students ranked at the 48th percentile (55th, once adjusted for demographics), and in reading, the 37th percentile (39th adjusted). In math and reading together, HCZ clocked in at the (adjusted) 47th percentile. In other words, roughly half of charter schools in the sample did better than the HCZ charter—without being enmeshed in a web of collateral community services. It’s worth noting that the sample size is small, the study descriptive, and that some of Promise Academy I’s competitors were standouts like KIPP. But it certainly makes the reader wonder: Should we invest millions of dollars in “zones” like HCZ when there are charter schools that have as good if not better academic results sans services? Read it for yourself here.