Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Looking beyond Harlem: International Insights for Area-Based Initiatives

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Looking beyond Harlem: International Insights for Area-Based Initiatives

Article excerpt

Area-based initiatives in France and the United Kingdom offer lessons for other countries.

Partnerships connecting schools, families, and community-based organizations are a characteristic of successful schools cited in This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010), and the middle level scholarship widely supports the notion that "beyond school matters" are associated with adolescents' social and academic experiences (e.g., Clark & Clark, 2003, 2005; Epstein, 1996; Rothenberg, 1996; Sanders, 1999; Werderich, 2008). Moreover, collaboration with external partners can enhance a middle level school's capacity to effectively educate young adolescents who have traditionally been marginalized, including English language learners (Walqui & van Lier, 2010) and students with disabilities (Kennedy & Fisher, 2001). Much of this literature addresses discrete student subgroups and focuses on student, classroom, and school levels. However, in recent years, increased attention has been paid to macrostructural developments, most notably the move toward "area-based initiative" (ABI) policies modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ).

HCZ has garnered much attention for its provision of comprehensive social, educational, and health services to families in a 97-block area of New York City. HCZ offers a wide range of resources to more than 8,000 children and 5,000 adults, including Head Start, early-childhood learning programs, parenting programs, after-school and summer tutoring for middle grades students, and health care. HCZ appears to have led to numerous positive outcomes for the local community and has, in fact, been lauded by President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education as a model to be replicated in other high-needs areas throughout the country. Accordingly, since 2009, the U.S. Department of Education has promulgated its Promise Neighborhood program, which awards funds and guidance on a competitive basis for planning and implementing HCZ-like initiatives. The enthusiasm for and promise of such ABIs, however, are accompanied by a number of concerns as to whether the HCZ idea is actually replicable or if it can be a widely effective and efficient initiative on a larger scale. In considering such matters, we suggest that, although the middle level and wider P-12 policy fields can glean many valuable lessons from HCZ, instructive insights should also be gained from other countries' experiences with ABIs.

Replicating HCZ

The ecological philosophy underlying HCZ and other ABIs has been supported in recent years by research suggesting that multiple environments associated with children's development-including families, community-based organizations, and neighborhoods (the relationships within and among them)-need to be engaged to reap significant and sustainable social and educational benefits (Berliner, 2006; Bronfenbrenner, 1999; Rothstein, 2004). HCZ's attention to such matters has been associated with the academic successes of its Promise Academy II Middle School as well as the other five HCZ schools (all labeled Promise Academies), which have been highlighted in the academic literature (Dobbie & Fryer, 2009) and in the popular media (e.g., Time Magazine, 60 Minutes, and the film documentary Waiting for Superman). In fact, New York Times columnist David Brooks (2009) referred to HCZ's efforts as "the Harlem miracle," noting that HCZ had "eliminated the black-white achievement gap" (p. A31). HCZ has been widely regarded as a gold-standard ABI, and much consideration has been given to developing more programs like it elsewhere. However, there are a number of questions regarding HCZ's wide-scale replicability.

One of the most common questions is whether comprehensive community planning models such as HCZ are economically feasible. HCZ has assets of nearly $200 million and an annual operating budget of close to $84 million-two-thirds of which is from private donations. …

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