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Not the Ceiling, but the Floor

Not the Ceiling, but the Floor

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Kristina Costa explores why conflicting government rules and expectations are hampering the efforts of an innovative early childhood program in Harlem.
Kristina Costa explores why conflicting government rules and expectations are hampering the efforts of an innovative early childhood program in Harlem.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Jun 01, 2012
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1Center or American Progress | Not the Ceiling, but the Floor
Not the Ceiling, but the Floor
Innovative Harlem Early Childhood Education EffortComplicated by Varying Government Regulations
Kristina Costa June 1, 2012
Tis case study was produced in conjunction with the Center or American Progress’s accom- panying report on these issues, “Increasing the Eectiveness and Efciency o Existing Public Investments in Early Childhood Education.” 
Tis report establishes a set o policies andadministrative changes on the ederal level that will begin to address disparities in require-ments or publicly-supported pre-K, Head Start, and subsidized child care programs.
 A cool early November sun lers hrough he windows o Georey Canada’s op-ooroce. An ambulance siren wails as i rushes by he Harlem Children’s Zone
head-quarers a he corner o Madison Avenue and 125h Sree—Harlem’s busling “MainSree.” In conras o he chaos ouside his windows, Canada is he picure o calm. A all, rangy man wih a graying goaee, he is he visionary presiden and CEO o heChildrens Zone, an innovaive, holisic, 97-block eor ha aims no only o educaehousands o children in Harlem bu o also break he cycle o inergeneraional povery. As i says on is websie, he Childrens Zone is working o “reweave he social abric o Harlem, which has been orn apar by crime, drugs and decades o povery.
In reweaving Harlems social abric, he Childrens Zone sars a he very beginning wih parening and early childhood programs and hen coninues by oering an array o services ha ollow children sraigh hrough college. “As every paren knows, you can’ jus work inensively wih your 4-year-old and hen do nohing or ha child or he reso heir lie and expec ha kid o be ne,” says Canada. “So he ac ha some peopleare sill rying o say, ‘Jus do a high-qualiy 4-year-old program and kids who hen enerino lousy schools should be jus ne,’—ha jus doesn’ make any sense a all.”Te Children’s Zone’s successes are presaged on he ac ha early childhood inerven-ion is incredibly imporan—bu so, oo, is providing suppors or parens and orchildren as hey age.“Ta’s why we say, early childhood educaion is no he ceiling, i’s he oor o whapoor children need,” coninues Canada.
2Center or American Progress | Not the Ceiling, but the Floor
Since he 1990s, Canada, who holds a maser’s in educaion rom Harvard, has workedirelessly o prove poor children can achieve, hrive, and succeed. A 2004
 New Yorkimes Magazine
aricle noed ha he Childrens Zone, which suppors children romcradle o college, “combines educaional, social and medical services. … i meshes hoseservices ino an inerlocking web, and hen i drops ha web over an enire neighbor-hood. … he objecive is o creae a saey ne woven so ighly ha children in heneighborhood jus can’ slip hrough.”
Te approach has been successul. One hundred percen o sudens enrolled in heChildren’s Zone’s pre-kindergaren programs in scal year 2011 esed as kindergar-en-ready by he end o he program. In 2008, 100 percen o hird-graders a one o he Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy charer schools scored a or abovegrade level on he saewide mah es, as did 97 percen o hird-graders a he secondPromise Academy locaion.
 Bu in heir early childhood educaion programs—he Harlem Gems—he HarlemChildren’s Zone grapples wih a problem ha is amiliar o hose who seek o educae pre-schoolers naionwide: he cos and complexiy o complying wih dieren ses o require-mens and guidelines or programs receiving money rom sae preschool unds (in New  York, hese are called Universal Pre-K unds) and hose nanced wih he U.S. Deparmeno Healh and Human Services’ Head Sar dollars.
Te wo unding sreams have dier-en requiremens on he ederal and sae levels or a wide range o basic uncions, includ-ing suden evaluaions, program nancing, and proessional developmen.Te Children’s Zone operaes he Gems program in our locaions—hree o hose siesreceive public unding rom Universal Pre-K and he ourh, which is a Head Sar program,receives a blend o public unding rom Head Sar and Universal Pre-K. All o he Gemssies are augmened by privae donaions. Te Children’s Zone’s unique public-privae nan-cial srucure enables hem o keep many adminisraive burdens in he back oces a head-quarers and ou o heir classrooms. Bu even he exibiliy ha comes wih privae andphilanhropic dollars isn’ always enough o work around some major bureaucraic hurdles.ake or insance he Children’s Zone’s eor o concurrenly se up a new Head Sar pro-gram and consruc a new building o house heir adminisraive oces and one o heircharer schools. In he spring o 2001, hey began rening a hree-classroom soreron on Wes 117h Sree or he new Head Sar program. A ew monhs laer hey held a ground- breaking ceremony on a recenly purchased parcel o land ha would evenually be he sieo a glisening new $43 million headquarers and charer school complex.Over he nex hree years, six sories o glass and concree were designed and buil inManhatan, and he doors o he new building opened in December 2004. Bu jus aew blocks souh, he new Head Sar remained mired in red ape. Te Head Sar space would no open or anoher several monhs unil he sar o he 2005-06 school year.
3Center or American Progress | Not the Ceiling, but the Floor
“Tere was wrangling over licensing, over square ooage, over archiecs’ designs,” saysShana Brodnax, senior manager a he Zone, recalling he challenges o opening heHead Sar Gems. I ook our years or he Head Sar o launch. “I was quie an ordeal jus o be able o do wha he communiy needed.Clearly pleased wih he resul o all heir hard work, Canada noneheless hins o a bio rusraion. “Tere’s no dierence beween a 4-year-old who needs help in Head Sarand one who needs help in oher sysems.” Coninuing, he says, “i coss us an awul loo money o provide wo dieren ses o audi maerials” or separae Head Sar andUniversal Pre-K programs. Canada poins ou ha’s money and ime ha could be speneducaing children.
 The back office meets the bureaucracy
Te many laurels heaped on he Harlem Children’s Zone can obscure he magniude o he diculies hey and heir sudens ace. Naionwide 80 percen o Arican Americanand Hispanic public school sudens score below grade level on sandardized ess o mah and English. In Harlem 31 percen o amilies live on less han $15,000 per year.
  And each year abou 18.4 percen o 4-year-olds enering Childrens Zone preschoolprograms score as “delayed” or “very delayed” on he Bracken Basic Concep Scale, arigorous, naionally normed learning assessmen. Ta proporion is slighly higher hanhe 15.9 percen expeced based on he ool’s norms; sill some o heir preschoolersscore much lower han one migh anicipae.
“Occasionally, some kids don’ even regiser on he Bracken. Ta’s he degree o chal-lenge we’re acing,” says Kae Shoemaker, he Children’s Zone’s energeic direcor o policy and special projecs. o address hese problems, he Children’s Zone uses every ool in he book. All sudens a heir Promise Academy charer schools, which willevenually enroll children rom kindergaren hrough 12h grade, atend school or morehours o he day and more days o he year han heir radiional public school peers.Even he pre-kindergaren Harlem Gems sudens have a school day ha runs rom 8a.m. o 5:45 p.m., Monday o Friday, Sepember hrough Augus. For each class o 20Gems, here are a leas ve aduls working as eachers and eacher assisans.Shana Brodnax is he Childrens Zone rewall beween governmen bureaucracy andhe organizaions early childhood programs. She poins ou ha i is her job o “makesure ha he programs don’ eel he pressure and srain” o he various ederal and saereporing requiremens. “Wha I reuse o do is see i [bureaucraic red ape] impac hekids. Bu rankly, I have ha luxury.”Like all o Canadas depuies, Brodnax is erven in her commimen. “My job is o savehese kids. No in heory, bu in ac. Any ime I have o spend arguing abou minuiae isin direc violaion o wha I’m supposed o be doing.

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