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New Yorker Summit: Geoffrey Canada

I’ve been to quite a few conferences and almost without exception, the best speakers and presenters are people who are actually doing things in the trenches…not the folks who write books about them. The engaging and whip smart Geoffrey Canada outlined the four factors he uses to achieve success with his organization in educating kids in Harlem.

1. We have to tackle everything at the same time. Small programs touching unconnected parts of kids lives aren’t that effective.

2. They start working with kids from birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. If they don’t let them get behind, later superhero-type interventions (which don’t often work) are not needed.

3. Scale is important. If you work with lots of kids, their collective action reinforces itself with little further effort.

4. Accountability and evaluation is needed. Canada said that if bad teachers aren’t teaching the kids, they should be fired.

Canada also cautioned about complacency in business. He said that businesses, left to their own devices, find comfortable resting places without periodically refreshing their values and goals.

Update: Canada was the subject of a recent segment on This American Life. (thx, andrew)

Update: The Harlem Children’s Zone has been hit hard by the financial crisis and had to lay off staff. (thx, elaine)