geoffrey canada is an amazing and inspiring leader . . . and he’s also one of education’s least understood reformers. he established harlem children’s zone, an incredibly successful independent charter school in new york city. but he’s also a former social worker, and he’s deeply committed to “wrap-around” or “conveyor belt” social service agencies and programs. in fact, several years ago, he stirred controversy because he supported opposite reform manifestos. he says exactly what nobody wants to hear: everybody is right.
if you believe that schools are not accountable, then you’re right. if you believe that teachers are not skilled enough, that families are the center of moral development, that there are never enough supportive services, that everything small is because of everything large, then you’re right. because if you believe that everything matters, you’re right. everything matters more.
too often, our children do not develop essential assets, resiliences, and strengths because there are too many failing systems. we don’t mess up, once. we mess up again and over again. if any single mistake is important, every compound mistake means that hundreds of thousands of children do not receive the care, challenge, and support they need – and what they need is “comprehensive intervention“.
media attention has focused on harlem children’s zone, canada’s charter school, as a rare success in a very challenging neighborhood. they highlight his strong work ethic, contagious passion, and demanding expectations. what they don’t often explain is that hcz is the result of a long string of associations, collaborations, and partnerships. there are more than 10 intensive social service programs that address urgent community needs for children and families, including public benefits, employment training, mental health services, and intensive sobriety programs. (don’t forget that until recently the school only served a closed 24 block radius.)
yes, canada has made a clarion call to hold teachers and schools accountable. he believes that public schools are laggard, bloated institutions, and he believes that public school teachers are not educated or trained well enough. that they are not strong enough experts and professionals, and that they are not evaluated or supervised appropriately. to be honest, i think he’s absolutely right: a really good teacher makes an enormous impact. in fact, according to a recent harvard business school study, that impact can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in accumulated earnings over one lifetime.
It’s not just that [Canada]’s trying to work both sides of the ideological street. It’s that Canada has concluded that neither approach has a chance of working alone. Fix the schools without fixing the families and the community, and children will fail; but they will also fail if you improve the surrounding community without fixing the schools.
and this is our framework: everything matters. left, right, and center. teachers matter. parents and families matter. neighborhoods and organizations and friends and mentors and governments matter. every single thing matters. when we isolate individual ideas or policies, we should remember that every child, every classroom, and every school represent complex individual situations and variables.
there is no turn-key solution: one person, one policy, or one reform cannot change everything. it requires the long march of thousands of teachers and students and families in schools and communities across the country. we cannot forget that everything matters. everything matters more.