He has been interviewed on NBC Nightly News and the Tavis Smiley Show; he has been profiled as the ABC News "Person of the Week"; and, to put the seal on his recent explosion into the limelight, Geoffrey Canada '74 has been on "Oprah."
Canada has been popping up all over the media to build enthusiasm for the already acclaimed documentary, "Waiting for Superman," of which he is a subject.
"Superman" will not be screened at Portland's Nickelodeon Cinemas until October 22. Brunswick's Regal Cinemas has no plans to show the movie, while Eveningstar Cinema has put in a request to the distributor and is waiting to hear back.
The documentary highlights Canada's connection to the College through his life-long commitment to the common good.
"Waiting for Superman" is directed by Davis Guggenheim, who teamed up with Al Gore to create "An Inconvenient Truth." "Superman" investigates why America has stagnated or fallen behind other developed countries in every category of scholastic achievement.
The film chronicles the stories of five students around the country as they and their families struggle to navigate the public school system. The movie vilifies policy makers and teachers unions for their poor stewardship of the system while it heralds Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Michele Rhee, the Washington, D.C. superintendent of schools, and Canada, the President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) as the "superheroes" who will lead the way on education reform that the country so desperately needs.
The film's trailer features Canada saying, "either the kids are getting stupider, or something is wrong in the education system."
Canada has been at the HCZ since 1983 and has been president and CEO since 1990. Under his leadership, HCZ evolved from a program designed to provide support and social services to one block in Harlem into a center that has been lauded by President Barack Obama. HCZ serves 10,000 children over 100 blocks of upper Manhattan.
Canada's crowning achievement is the HCZ Project, which launched in 1997. The HCZ Project is designed to cultivate an environment of "college-oriented peers and supportive adults, a counterweight to 'the street' and a toxic popular culture," according to the HCZ website. The program provides education, resources and support to its participants from birth to college. Canada could not be reached for comment.
The HCZ Project includes the Baby College for families with children zero to three years old; two charter schools—Promise Academy I and Promise Academy II—where 100 percent of third graders in 2008 tested higher than the New York State average in math; and a support system for students attending New York City public schools in the zone.
Canada's approach is ambitious. HCZ not only facilitates the successful education of students, but it also provides health and social services, after-school and pre-school programs, and a broad range of community-building initiatives. Canada's philosophy is governed by the conviction that student achievement is contingent upon a support system that extends beyond the classroom.
Yet his approach is not without skeptics. Although the Promise Academies have extraordinary success rates, they represent the exception, not the rule in charter schools. Charter schools have received a lot of attention in the escalating education reform debate, and are featured prominently in "Superman." Studies have shown that charters are not necessarily the golden ticket out of the quagmire.
A 2009 study from researchers at Stanford University found that 37 percent of charter schools perform worse on evaluations than public schools, 46 percent performed no better and just 17 percent outstripped public schools.
Obama has called for $200 million dollars in the 2011 federal budget to fund 20 projects that will replicate the HZC in other communities around the country. Whether these parallel projects will bear fruit remains to be seen.