Harlem (NY) Children's Zone – Promise Academy Charter Middle School

Program Goals/Target Population
The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is a 97-block area in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, NY, that combines "no excuses" charter schools with communitywide initiatives to address some of the main problems that underprivileged children face every day, such as inadequate schools, high-crime neighborhoods, and health issues. One important component of the HCZ Project is the Promise Academy Charter Middle School, which aims to provide students in grades 6–8 with a well-rounded, high-quality education.

The Promise Academy middle school serves predominately low-income, minority students in Harlem who are usually 2 or 3 years behind grade level. While the community programs offered by HCZ are available to anyone living near the area, the charter middle school is not open to all students. Because of the limited amount of space available, admission to the Promise Academy is only offered to students whose numbers are randomly selected during the middle school lottery. The school began in 2004 with 100 sixth graders, and by 2009, there were 700 middle school students in the system.

Program Components
The Promise Academy combines structural reforms with wraparound services to provide students with a comprehensive college preparatory program. The Promise Academy provides an extended school day and year, coordinated afterschool tutoring, and additional classes on Saturdays for anyone who needs extra help with homework. In the classroom, strong focus is placed on mastering basic skills, especially literacy and mathematics skills. Students have more than 2 hours of literacy instruction and more than 90 minutes of mathematics instruction every day. Students also explore coursework in the arts and sciences.

In addition, many students spend 10 or more hours a day in school. An average school day runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is a 20 percent increase over a typical school day. Students are also given the opportunity to participate in afterschool programs, such as photography or music activities, that run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The academic year is 210 days of school, which includes a mandatory 25-day summer program. Only 180 days of school are required by law.

The Promise Academy also runs a health clinic in the middle school building that provides students with free medical, dental, and mental-health services. Students are screened upon entering the school, and they receive regular check-ups through the Children’s Health Fund. Students also receive incentives for achievements (such as money or trips), nutritious and freshly made meals, bus fare, and other intangible benefits, such as support from committed staff members.

Additional Information
The Promise Academy Charter Middle School is part of the HCZ Project that provides a continuum of services focusing on the developmental needs of children in Harlem. In addition to the middle school programs, the Project includes elementary school programs that are available to students in grades K–5. However, the evaluation research examining the effectiveness of the elementary school programs has not yet reached the rigor of the research looking at the middle school programs.

Intervention ID

11 to 14


Study 1

The results of the study by Dobbie and Fryer (2010) showed that enrollment in the Promise Academy Charter Middle School run by the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) has the potential to eliminate racial gaps in both math and English Language Arts (ELA) test scores between white and African American middle school students in New York City (NYC), New York.


Math Scores

The academic data showed that in fourth and fifth grade, prior to entering the Promise Academy, lottery winners, lottery losers, and the average black student in NYC had virtually the same math test scores, which were roughly 0.75 standard deviations behind the average white student in the city. The intent-to-treat (ITT) analysis showed that, compared to the control group, lottery winners had a modest but significant increase in math test scores in sixth grade, followed by a more substantial increase in seventh grade and an even larger increase in eighth grade. Lottery winners were 11.9 percent more likely to be performing on grade level in math in the sixth grade, 16.3 percent more likely in the seventh grade, and 27 percent more likely in eighth grade.


The treatment-on-treated (TOT) analysis, which looked at the effects of actually attending the charter middle school, showed a similar pattern. There was a convergence in test scores between students who attended the Promise Academy middle school and the average white student in NYC. In other words, Promise Academy students had nearly caught up to the average white student in New York City public schools in math test scores after 3 years of schooling. The TOT analysis found that lottery winners who enrolled in the charter middle school scored 0.338 standard deviations higher in sixth grade math, 0.371 higher in seventh grade math, and 0.745 higher in eighth grade math than the control group. The results were statistically significant in all 3 years.


ELA Scores

As with math scores, lottery winners, losers, and the average African American student in NYC had similar ELA scores, which were roughly 0.65 standard deviations behind the average white student in the city. ITT analysis showed there were no significant differences in ELA scores between the lottery winners and losers until eighth grade. In the eighth grade, Promise Academy students had significantly higher scores than the control group, although the treatment effect was not as strong on ELA scores as it was on math scores (lottery winners scored 0.196 standard deviations higher in eighth grade). The TOT analysis found that scores for students enrolled in Promise Academy had 0.279 standard deviations higher in eighth grade ELA compared to the control group, but there was no effect on sixth- and seventh-grade ELA scores.


Absences and Matriculation

Compared to the control group, lottery winners had fewer absences in the first 180 days of school in every grade. Lottery winners were 2.85 days less absent in sixth grade, 2.31 days less absent in seventh grade, and 3.9 days less absent in eighth grade. There were no significant differences between lottery winners and losers in matriculation.


Elementary School Results

The researchers also analyzed academic results for students in the elementary school portion of the Promise Academy. Overall, Promise Academy students in elementary school significantly improved their math and ELA scores, and reported significantly fewer absences than the control group. The results suggest that the effects of attending the charter elementary school could potentially eliminate any racial gaps between white and black students in NYC. However, the limitations of this analysis make it impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about the treatment effect, and the results should be interpreted with caution. (For more information on the analysis limitations, please see the “Evaluation Methodology” section.)

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