Obama’s Vision, Harlem’s Reality

If you want to see what President Barack Obama’s vision for the future of American education looks like, look no further than East 120th Street, where high standards, committed teachers and a robust, private-sector approach have already been implemented with remarkable success at the Harlem Village Academy. If the White House needs a model for the federal government to point to as proof that Mr. Obama’s plan will yield benefits, it could do no better than to pay a visit to this outstanding charter school.

Four years ago, when the first fifth graders walked through the doors of Harlem Village Academy, they mirrored the sad decline of New York City public schooling, their scores placing them in the nation’s bottom 20th percentile. Last year, those same students ranked No. 1 in math out of all the non-selective public schools in the state. Properly motivated and challenged—kids are in classes from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.—students who otherwise were headed toward becoming members of the forgotten, adrift community of under-educated New York teens have instead thrived and established themselves firmly on the road to college.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s commitment to charter schools—which operate with public money but are not subject to union control—has not made him popular with the teacher’s union. The argument goes that charter schools increase the gap between educational haves and have-nots. That’s ridiculous. Charter schools provide those parents who can’t afford private schools with choices. And they raise the bar for non-charter schools, which is good for everybody.

Over 100 charter schools will be up and running come September, compared with 17 when Michael Bloomberg took office. As Barack Obama begins the long, hard road of bringing American public school students up to par with our competitors overseas, New Yorkers can take pride that the bold experiment has already begun in our city, with great results.