China is investing heavily in education, he warned, adding: “They understand the new struggle for global dominance is no longer [based on] how many nuclear weapons you have—it’s how many engineers you’re producing.”

The success of the Harlem Children’s Zone has led President Obama to include $210 million in his 2011 budget proposal for a new federal initiative called “Promise Neighborhoods,” which would replicate the project in other communities.

Some critics of the Harlem Children’s Zone say it isn’t realistically scalable or sustainable as a model for education reform. Canada dismissed such criticism by pointing out how much the United States spends on its prison system.

In 1973, he said, the nation incarcerated 300,000 people per year. Today, that figure has exploded to 2.4 million per year.

“We lock up more people per capita than any other nation,” Canada said, noting that the U.S. spends $35,000 to $40,000 per year for each incarcerated person. “How is it that we’re allowed to spend huge amounts of money on children after they’ve failed—and not before?”

He added: “That is not sustainable as a plan.”