Posts Tagged ‘Geoffrey Canada’

On an unseasonably hot night in Minneapolis St Paul, I saw Waiting for Superman, the film American educators have either just seen, or are avoiding seeing. It’s a documentary about the failures of the American public (state funded) education system. It follows the fate of several children participating in competitive lotteries for places in sought-after charter schools. The desolation and sense of failure of the unlucky vast majority is hard to witness.

One of Waiting for Superman’s star contributors is the engaging Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Success Academy (a charter school) and prime mover in the Harlem Children’s Zone (an audacious enterprise with a cradle to grave approach to tackling poverty). Two weeks ago, Canada was on stage at Conservative Party Conference. The Guardian reported that he gave Education Minister Michael Gove a stark message: Teacher Unions are the biggest threat to education reform.

When politicians embark on educational reform, they frequently like a villain or two. They like quick fixes. And they like to ‘borrow’ policies from elsewhere. The current villains are the Teacher Unions, in their opposition to coalition plans to expand academies and free schools. There are no quick fixes in education. And in ‘borrowing’ the free school policy, the coalition government needs to recognise that the evidence on charter schools is patchy (according to a recent Harvard study).

Today, I visited a magnet school in one of the poorest parts of Minneapolis St Paul. The school serves a predominantly Afro-American community and will soon benefit from a Harlem Children’s Zone initiative. If this brings resources and opportunities to an area where unemployment is endemic; where the entire school population is on free or reduced lunches; and where families queue for food parcels – then this is fantastic.

But Harlem is not London, or Birmingham, or Manchester. Sometimes, we don’t have to borrow. We already have policies that are working. The London Challenges, for example, has contributed to significant gains. London students now perform above the national average. It worked through targeted efforts to support struggling schools. Sadly, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Grove, the London Challenge will fold in March 2011.


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