Promise Academy Charter Schools

Promise Academy Charter Schools in the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) are schools that follow the “No Excuses” model and are available by lottery to low income New York City children. Promise Academy schools have a longer school day and year than traditional public schools with an emphasis on academic achievement, arts, and physical fitness. Schools have a culture of high behavioral and academic expectations, and offer intense tutoring in math and english language arts. Schools also provide students and families with character development, healthy lifestyle, and leadership skills instruction. Schools selectively recruit, hire, and retain high-quality teachers, use frequent feedback and student achievement to evaluate and incentivize teachers, and limit teachers’ administrative responsibilities. Promise Academy schools provide free medical, dental, and mental health services to all students; additional social and community services are available to families living in the HCZ (WWC-Promise Academy 2018, ). HCZ Promise Academy schools serve as a cradle to career pipeline, offering services and support to children and families every step of the way from birth through college graduation (CSSP-McCarthy 2017).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

  • Increased college enrollment

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced teen pregnancy

  • Reduced incarceration

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that students offered Promise Academy entry have higher academic achievement than those who apply but do not win the admittance lottery (, , ). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects (WWC-Promise Academy 2018).

Students offered admission to the Promise Academy appear to increase mathematics and english language arts achievement more than youth who do not win admission (, ). Six years after winning the admission lottery, students appear to have higher academic achievement and academic attainment than non-admitted peers (). Academy students are absent from school less frequently () and appear more likely to enroll in college (). Girls offered admission appear less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years than non-admitted peers, and boys who attend the Promise Academy may be less likely to be incarcerated (, ). Increases in student achievement may lead to increased earnings, and a decreased likelihood of committing crimes or developing health-related disabilities later in life ().

Effects appear to be driven by the Promise Academy charter school, not the additional social and community services available through the Harlem Children’s Zone (, Brookings-Croft 2010).

Research suggests that when the Promise Academy model is not implemented with fidelity, desired results are not achieved. In Philadelphia, for example, improved student outcomes were not maintained after the first year, largely due to funding cuts and changes in school district leadership (Stratos 2015). Additional research is needed to determine whether the Promise Academy model can be effectively scaled ().

Case studies suggest five core principles support the success of the Promise Academy model: serve an entire neighborhood comprehensively and at scale; create a pipeline of support; build community among residents, institutions, and stakeholders;  evaluate program outcomes and provide feedback; and cultivate a culture of success rooted in passion, accountability, leadership, and teamwork (CSSP-McCarthy 2017).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The Promise Academy is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in New York City. In 2017, the HCZ served nearly 13,500 youth ages 0-23 (HCZ-PA), and the HCZ Practitioners Institute shared information about the HCZ approach with more than 450 groups from 44 states and Washington DC, as well as 141 groups from 68 other countries (CSSP-McCarthy 2017).

The US Department of Education funds Promise Neighborhoods, inspired by the HCZ, to support children from cradle to career with health, social, educational, and community services. Over 50 communities serving 200,000 children are planning or have implemented Promise Neighborhoods nationwide. School model varies by neighborhood (PNI).

The Promise Neighborhoods Institute Communities of Practice provide a platform for Promise Neighborhoods across the country to support each other’s work (PNI-Communities of Practice).

Implementation Resources

HCZ-PA - Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). Promise Academy K-12 Charter Schools.

PNI-Communities of Practice - Promise Neighborhoods Institute (PNI). Communities of practice.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Dobbie 2011* - Dobbie W, Fryer RG. Are high-quality schools enough to increase achievement among the poor? Evidence from the Harlem Children’s Zone †. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. 2011;3(July):158–87.

NBER-Dobbie 2013* - Dobbie W, Fryer Jr. RG. The medium-term impacts of high-achieving charter schools on non-test score outcomes. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); 2013.

Yeh 2013* - Yeh SS. A re-analysis of the effects of KIPP and the Harlem promise academies. Teachers College Record. 2013;115(4):1-20.

Brookings-Croft 2010 - Croft M, Whitehurts GJ. The Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and the broader, bolder approach to education. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution; 2010.

WWC-Promise Academy 2018 - What Works Clearinghouse. WWC intervention report: Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy charter schools. 2018:1-7.

Dobbie 2015* - Dobbie W, Fryer Jr. RG. The medium-term impacts of high-achieving charter schools. Journal of Political Economy. 2015;123(5):985-1037.

CSSP-McCarthy 2017 - McCarthy K, Jean-Louis B. Harlem Children’s Zone: Friends of evidence case study. 2016:1-8.

Stratos 2015 - Stratos K, Wolford T, Reitano A. Philadelphia’s renaissance schools initiative after four years. Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education Perspectives on Urban Education. 2015;12(1).

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

HCZ-PA - Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ). Promise Academy K-12 Charter Schools.

PNI - Promise Neighborhoods Institute (PNI). Promise Neighborhoods Network Sites.

CSSP-McCarthy 2017 - McCarthy K, Jean-Louis B. Harlem Children’s Zone: Friends of evidence case study. 2016:1-8.

PNI-Communities of Practice - Promise Neighborhoods Institute (PNI). Communities of practice.

Date Last Updated

Jan 25, 2019