Back in my ink-stained wretch days, I sympathized with beat reporters whose noses would get out of joint when a “bigfoot” colleague would parachute into town and write a column uncomplicated by reporting or background knowledge. So I can’t help but wonder what the New York Times’ Paul Tough thinks of his colleague David Brooks’ column about the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Tough, as you probably know, wrote the book on the Harlem Children’s Zone. Literally. Whatever It Takes looks at Geoffrey Canada’s mission to change the lives of Harlem’s children by intervening in every moving part of their lives from schools to parenting. But Le Blogosphere is up in arms this week wondering how Brooks came to conclude ”the Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right” in arguing that school-based approaches alone can close the achievement gap. It’s a conclusion that’s hard to support based on even a passing familiarity with Tough’s book.
I don’t have a dog in the Broader, Bolder vs. Education Equality Project (“No Excuses”) fight, which represents the quintessential ed reform false dichotomy. Like many such debates, it seems rather obvious (and utterly uncontroversial) to suggest that we need to draw from both sides to get to a solution. But to conclude, as Brooks did, that HCZ proves the “no excuses” case makes one wonder if he even read Tough’s book. As Diane Ravitch notes “there are lessons for American education, but not necessarily the ones that Brooks points to.” Corey Bunje Bower at Thoughts on Education Policy calls Brooks’ conclusion ”flat out irresponsible.” Over at Public School Insights, the usually erudite and articulate Claus von Zastrow is driven to sputtering, “What??!?”
Did Brooks really just argue that the Harlem Children’s Zone’s success supports the schools alone approach championed by “reformers”? That’s like arguing that the Surgeon General’s reports discredit the link between smoking and cancer.
“Brooks joins a long line of national commentators who are turning important conversations about school improvement into a morality play pitting the “establishment” against the “reformers.” In the process, he is promoting false and damaging dichotomies between efforts to improve schools and efforts to offset social and economic disadvantages that contribute to achievement gaps,” Claus concludes.
Just so. But back to my reporter friends. It wouldn’t surprise them to hear a columnist wrote the story one way when their reporting led in a different direction. That’s just the nature of the beast. A columnist’s job is tell you what he thinks; reporters tell you what they found out. Brooks recommends Whatever It Takes in his column. It’s a great suggestion. He should really see what Tough found out.
Mea Culpa: Aaron Pallas did a terrific analysis of HCZ’ test results last week which I overlooked. Do have a look.