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Harlem Children's Zone Critics Weigh In

Despite its numerous accolades and widespread media coverage, HCZ is also taking its lumps. Referencing a 2009 drop-off in HCZ test scores after New York state toughened its benchmark exams, an October 2010 New York Times article points out how HCZ charter schools are struggling with the same difficulties as typical urban schools “even as they outspend them,” with “thousands of dollars” in out-of-school programs in addition to steep per-pupil allocations.

HCZ’s director of communications, Marty Lipp, confirms that HCZ’s two Promise Academy charter schools spend nearly $16,000 per student while other city charter schools spend about $14,452. Grover J. Whitehurst, co-author of a Brookings Institution analysis of HCZ, has questioned federal support for the HCZ model, stating that the dearth of evidence linking social services to student achievement raises the issue of whether taxpayers should be bankrolling the one-third of HCZ’s program not financed by private-sector dollars.

The likelihood of replicating the HCZ model is yet another issue. A Wall Street Journal article in January suggests that Canada’s dynamism and personal ties and HCZ’s Manhattan location have been crucial factors in the organization’s success in raising private donations, which total over $300 million for the last 10 years, according to Lipp.

Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, echoes this sentiment: “Many other communities may not be able to muster the same political support, excitement and philanthropic dollars as the original site.” He adds that media hype over the HCZ program may lead to a backlash of disappointment and frustration if schools based on the model in other communities fail to perform as promised.