Promise Academy Charter Schools

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 HCZ1, 2. 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 graduation3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

  • Increased college enrollment

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced teen pregnancy

  • Reduced incarceration

What does the research say about 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 lottery2, 4, 5. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects1.

Students offered admission to the Promise Academy appear to increase mathematics and english language arts achievement more than youth who do not win admission2, 5. Six years after winning the admission lottery, students appear to have higher academic achievement and academic attainment than non-admitted peers4. Academy students are absent from school less frequently5 and appear more likely to enroll in college2. 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 incarcerated2, 4. Increases in student achievement may lead to increased earnings, and a decreased likelihood of committing crimes or developing health-related disabilities later in life5.

Effects appear to be driven by the Promise Academy charter school, not the additional social and community services available through the Harlem Children’s Zone5, 6.

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 leadership7. Additional research is needed to determine whether the Promise Academy model can be effectively scaled8.

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 teamwork3.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated 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 0-239, and the HCZ Practitioners Institute shared information about the HCZ approach with more than 450 groups from 44 states and Washington, D.C., as well as 141 groups from 68 other countries3.

The U.S. 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 neighborhood10.

Implementation Resources

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

PNI-Peer learning - Promise Neighborhoods Institute (PNI). PNI peer learning tool.


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

2 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.

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

4 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.

5 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.

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

7 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).

8 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.

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

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