Bronx native Geoffrey Canada, 59, is the high-profile founder and chief executive of one the country's best-known educational experiments, the Harlem Children's Zone.
With their emphasis on preparing students for college, Canada's privately run, publicly funded charter schools are credited with achieving better results than nearby public schools in Harlem. HCZ cites test results showing 83 percent of third graders at one of its schools scored at or above grade level in math.
The program has won the backing of the Obama Administration and has sparked imitators in other cities across the country.
But Canada's HCZ approach is based on more than schools. The effort, which has expanded to cover an estimated 17,000 children in a 100-block area of Harlem, includes social services, such as a health clinic, parenting classes and early childhood development.
Discussing Administration programs based on the HCZ philosophy, Obama said that when an area suffers from poverty, unemployment and violence as well as poor schools, "then we can't just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community."
In a 2009 report, Stanford University's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found more charter schools underperform traditional public schools than do better. But the center's separate 2010 report on New York City found the reverse was true there.
CREDO has not yet analyzed New Jersey charter schools. Its latest report, on Pennsylvania charters, which are concentrated in Philadelphia, found a major divide on standardized test results.
Some 30 percent of charter school students there do better in math, and 25 percent in reading. But even more lag behind traditional school students, 46 percent in math and 39 percent in reading.
While Canada's approach has earned celebrity plaudits, from the President to Oprah Winfrey to Stephen Colbert, he has had some stumbles, at one point canceling a middle-school program and dropping its students after low test scores.
As a result, critics say Canada, like some other charter school operators, skews test results by turning away poor performing students. Canada disputes that characterization, although he acknowledges falling short so far of his initial promise to stick with all students.
Canada also is known for the catch phrase, "Waiting for Superman," describing his childhood disappointment when he learned there was no superhero coming to save his poor neighborhood. But Canada himself triumphed over the odds, earning degrees from Bowdoin College and Harvard University.
Canada was lionized in a 2010 documentary of the same name by Davis Guggenheim. But the film was discredited after Guggenheim admitted staging some scenes not involving Canada.
— JOE TYRRELL, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM