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Dallas Schools Can Improve With Hard Work And Money, Says Harlem Reformer

Renowned education reformer Geoffrey Canada told Dallas school and business leaders they could better their own schools with money, hard work and high standards. Canada improved long-failing Harlem schools with his Harlem Children’s Zone, launched in 1983. 

Canada said changing bad schools for the better isn’t rocket science. But it takes smart, committed leaders, high expectations, patience, money, and top teachers. He said countries that outperform U.S. students pick future instructors come from the top of the class. Here, he said education students come from the bottom third. That has to change. He also said we need better data to evaluate both students and teachers.

“So all over America this issue about evaluating teachers is a hot button issue. It’s silly. Of course we should evaluate teachers. We should know whether or not this professional has the skills, needs the skills, has to be trained or removed when it comes to educating a child.”

Canada, famous for his successful turnaround efforts in Harlem schools, said we also need to look at the hours students spend in school each day, and the number of days they attend school each year.

“Kids in America go to school shorter periods of time than almost any other highly educated country and we refuse to look at this issue," Canada said. "And the 4th thing – we have to think about how we connect after- school support, tutoring supports, so that our kids who are struggling are  actually getting the additional time on task that they need.”

Canada grew up in Harlem, went to college, then with a Harvard education degree, came back to his neighborhood to improve education. Over time, what is called the Harlem Children’s Zone grew from a 24-block area to now 97 blocks serving more than 10,000 kids and 7,000 adults. Four years ago, President Obama asked him to spread the formula to 20 other cities, Dallas not among them.  Canada said the plan is working better in some cities than others, but the Harlem success can be duplicated. And he said, that  can include Dallas.

Canada also told the packed Real Estate Council Speaker Series lunch crowd that his Harlem program uses no government funding -- hence his pitch to these business leaders that they get involved in local school improvement efforts.  Canada said private funding is essential to a prosperous city and country, and delivering good education is not rocket science. But  it is hard work.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.