Nearly 100 blocks in New York City are known as the Harlem Children’s Zone — a place that serves more than 10,000 children and 13,000 adults with a unique set of educational and support services. The community has transformed the heart of Harlem by creating a positive “tipping point” that tackles poverty, high unemployment, and poor schooling.
In a new Center for Policy Innovation discussion paper, researcher Danielle Hanson examines the program’s accomplishments. Thanks to the Harlem Children’s Zone, we’re able to share photos of students, teachers and parents whose lives have been transformed by the program.
Naturally, with students’ educational gains, the Harlem Children’s Zone has received nationwide attention for its model. Some would even like to see it replicated in other communities. Hanson cautions against such an approach, noting the unique characteristics in Harlem:
The Harlem Children’s Zone’s success in significantly improving outcomes for poor and minority students in Harlem has understandably led to a push to bring the HCZ approach to communities around the country. That is good, but communities should be cautious in assuming that exactly what works in the Zone and why is sufficiently understood.
Replicability raises many questions about why the approach is successful and what the key ingredients of success are. Any replication needs to be considered experimental, and variants on the HCZ pipeline model need to be explored, analyzed, and compared. Perhaps the Zone’s relatively large size permits the continuous daily reinforcement of a culture of improvement, and this may be harder to maintain in smaller neighborhoods. There still needs to be a better understanding of the relationships among HCZ’s social services, community building, and the success of its schools. Moreover, HCZ is not just about education. Zone leaders see their strategy as fully developing each child’s social and academic health—indeed, the child’s character—and this may be crucial to obtaining similar results elsewhere.