Paul Tough

Writer & Speaker

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Philadelphia Forum


Attention Philadelphians: Next Monday, March 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion about Whatever It Takes sponsored by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The event will be hosted by Hallam Hurt, a neonatologist at CHOP, and will include remarks from Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist whose research appears in the second chapter of the book. Check out the flyer above for more details.

5 comments on “Philadelphia Forum

  1. Angela Chan says:

    Hi, Paul. Congratulations on your book, and thanks for sharing the story of Geoff Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone! I wish I had discovered your blog earlier and had not missed your visits to Philadelphia, but I hope it’s not too late to ask some questions.

    As HCZ continues to be a model of success and if it is really replicated in other cities, it will undoubtedly have implications for what quality education is. As a teacher, this gives me hope, but I also have some questions regarding Promise Academy.

    In your description of that first year of the middle school, you emphasized Mr. Canada’s intense focus on test results. It almost seemed as if teachers were giving children the message that success in life is defined by a test score. Did teachers and administrators feel morally conflicted? Did they feel that relevant and engaging curriculum had to be sacrificed? Or maybe the rationale was that it was more important to get kids onto even ground?

    In your book you also cited studies that show children who receive early interventions would not need those interventions in middle school. Did you see less of an oppressive testing culture in the elementary school? In your book, Mr. McKesey, principal of the elementary school, set up an impressive system for meeting the needs of every child. But is there also more room for creativity in the elementary school? Do they use the extended day to teach noncognitive skills such as “patience, persistence, self-confidence, the ability to follow instructions, the ability to delay gratification”, which are equally important for success? Is the expectation that kids whose parents were in Baby College and who started with the Harlem Gems would eventually not need the intensive “drop-everything-and-cram” method when they reach middle school?

    Recently I spoke to the Practitioners Institute because I was interested in visiting HCZ. Unfortunately, they can only work with organizations that are in the position to implement the model in their own cities. They did suggest that I contact the charter schools directly to request a visit but emphasized that the schools themselves are only a part of HCZ, and that without the extensive network of resources, the schools themselves would not be successful. This really makes sense to me. Without the conveyor belt model, our efforts become fragmented and unconnected as we fail to follow through in the life of a child.

    I wonder about the possibility of transforming a large public school system such as Philadelphia’s into something like HCZ. I feel there are already resources scattered throughout the city. If we can connect already existing resources strategically, perhaps it won’t cost our local government a whole lot more in this time of financial crisis.

    When you visited Philadelphia, what was the reaction of your audience? Were there people who were open to advocating for this model? I also heard that HCZ’s model is already being replicated here. Do you know if this is true?

    Again, thanks for shedding more light on how to tackle poverty, and I look forward to your continued work and insights on this issue.

    Angela Chan

  2. Paul Tough says:

    Hi Angela. Thank you for writing. A few replies:

    1. Yes, I do think that during those first couple of years, a lot of the teachers and leaders at the Promise Academy middle school were conflicted about the emphasis on testing — including Terri Grey, the principal. But I think others at the school felt that the focus on the tests was something like a necessary evil — that in order for the kids to become the well-rounded, well-educated, creative people everyone wanted them to become, they first needed more than anything to master the basic reading and math skills that the state test measured, and that if they didn’t acquire those skills soon, they’d be at a real disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

    2. Yes, I think the elementary school has been able to go a little easier on the test prep — though high test scores are still an important goal there. They definitely do teach non-cognitive skills. And absolutely, the idea is that when these kids get to middle school, they’re not going to need the same kind of emergency remedial training in reading and math that the first cohorts of middle-school students received.

    3. I really enjoyed my visit to Philadelphia. The audience that Hallam Hurt at the children’s hospital gathered together seemed very interested in trying to bring something like the HCZ to the city. I haven’t heard anything about the model being replicated so far, but my sense is that there are a lot of resources there, and an eagerness to better coordinate them. I hope that translates into a new kind of program for kids in Philadelphia.

    Thanks again for your comment.


  3. Frankie Lancos says:

    Paul – Whatever it Takes is a great book. We are looking to replicate the Harlem’s Children Zone in Philadelphia, the creation of a multiblock, school centered, community in North Philadelphia that supports children from cradle to college. Do you know of anyone in Philadelphia who is looking to replicate the Harlem’s Children Zone? Thank you!


  4. Paul Tough says:


    Thanks very much for reading the book. I’m glad to hear you’re hoping to replicate the Zone. That’s an exciting project.

    And yes, I do know of some people in Philadelphia who are at least interested in replicating. I’d suggest you get in touch with Hallam Hurt, the pediatrician who organized the event that this post refers to. You should be able to reach her through this web page.

    Best of luck, and please keep me posted.


  5. Angela Chan says:

    Hi, Paul. Thank you for your responses to my earlier questions above.

    And hi, Frankie. (I hope you will read this.) I’m very excited to know someone is working to replicate the HCZ here in Philadelphia. Do you mind letting me know who you’re working with and what stage you’re at?

    I also very much want to see a project like HCZ in Philadelphia. Back in February, I dropped off a copy of Whatever It Takes and a letter for the Mayor. Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr wrote back to say that the City is aware of the HCZ model and that they’re interested in applying for funds if President Obama does dedicate funding to replicate the model. She also said city departments and the School District are trying to align city services based on the HCZ model. So I guess the local government is interested, or say they’re interested, in bringing some form of the model to the city.

    I’m wondering– ideally, who is in the best position to start up a model like the HCZ? Should the nonprofit sector take the lead? The City? Neighborhood schools? How do we get the right school to be involved?

    Paul, I think you spoke about the challenges of having the public school system fit into the model, mainly because it doesn’t have the flexibility to do everything that’s needed. I agree, and I think it also doesn’t yet have the culture. But do we need public schools to be involved in order to truly transform neighborhoods, since public schools probably serve the largest number of students in a neighborhood? How is it working out in Harlem? Are there more children in the public school system or more in the Promise Academies within the 90 plus block area of HCZ?

    Frankie, are you working with a charter school or a neighborhood public school? I would really love to hear more about your project.

    Paul, your blog is a great way for people to keep up with the most recent stories about the HCZ. I look forward to checking in again.


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