Dubious Claims Are Usually Dubious

Sherman Dorn questions the claim that the HCZ has eliminated the achievement gap.
"The gap is gone"

If Aaron Pallas's report is correct, and Roland Fryer did tell Anderson Cooper bluntly in reference to the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy, "The gap is gone," Fryer committed an understandable but all too common sin of education reformers across the centuries: overpromising. I've been in the room as one or more program directors and the like have promised the sky, the moon, and a few thousand stars to stakeholders and potential funders. Every time it's happened I've winced, because I've seen the storyline play out many times before: do something good, overpromise, and then see the program never be able to fulfill the more grandiose claims.

To me as an education historian, this is not an issue of whether we're adjusting for social class and other variables. Nor is it whether Geoffrey Canada is a good person (go read Paul Tough's book if you doubt that). Or whether Canada himself is overpromising: "it's worth about an hour of celebration" is his comment about the test score reports. It's about a persistent dynamic in education reform of being so desperate for something that works that you see more than is there.

I don't get that sense from Canada, who strikes me as driven and gritty and tied to what is happening to the kids in the area he's working. I'm worried about the talk around Canada and the HCZ, of taking Fryer and Dobbie's recent paper on the Promise Academy (which strikes me as fine work, but just one paper) and seeing that one paper as definitive. I've read Paul Tough's work (assigned it to my summer class), and I want HCZ to do everything Canada wants it to.

But I also want someone to look at it judiciously. And here's the irony: while it's common for a program head to be enthusiastic and a professional evaluator to be jaundiced, what is clear in the 60 minutes segment (and everything else I've read about Canada) is that the roles are reversed here. Canada's driven enough to be skeptical, to have changed school and program leaders when he doesn't see the progress he wants. Fryer? Well, check the CBS video of the segment between minute 10 and minute 11 (while watching the whole 14-minute segment). He said "the gap is gone" as baldly as Aaron Pallas claimed.

Yes, you're hearing me wince.

Total Pageviews