Well, There Goes the “Harlem Miracle”

David Brooks, last May, on how the “Harlem Miracle” proves that the proles just need more stick and less carrot:

To my mind, the results also vindicate an emerging model for low-income students. Over the past decade, dozens of charter and independent schools, like Promise Academy, have become no excuses schools. The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.


Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

Ravitch and Meier in Education Week, today:

Oh, by the way, the school that saw the biggest drop in its overall score was the Harlem Promise Academy Charter School, the school that David Brooks of The New York Times held up as a national model, claiming that it had closed the achievement gap. Our blog had quite a lively exchange of letters about that school last spring. Seems it dropped from an A to a B; in the present regime of inflated scores, a B in New York City today is nothing to brag about.

And the reason it’s nothing to brag about? New York State has dumbed down its tests over the years in order to fake progress:

A few weeks ago, Kolodner reported that city students were able to pass the state tests by guessing. After the article appeared, a city schoolteacher, Diana Senechal, tried an experiment, which she described at gothamschools.org. She took two state tests without reading the questions. She answered the questions at random (checking A, B, C, D) and received enough points to reach Level 2, sufficient for promotion in the city.

Because the state tests have been dumbed down, test scores soared. The number of students at the lowest level – those who are at risk of being held back in their grade – dropped dramatically. In sixth-grade reading, 10.1% (7,019) were at Level 1 in 2006, but by 2009 only 0.2% (146) were. In fifth-grade reading, the proportion of Level 1 students fell from 8.9% in 2006 (6,120) to 1.0% (654) in 2009. In seventh-grade math, the proportion of Level 1 students plummeted from 18.8% (14,231 students) in 2006 to 2.1% (1,457) in 2009.

And given that, the real person here that needs a “No Excuses” policy is David Brooks. I eagerly await his reanalysis of the miracle in light of the new data. I’m sure his “middle-class values” of hard work and honesty will compel the correction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s