Opinion
Education Opinion

The Newark School Reform Fiasco

By Walt Gardner — May 16, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When Mark Zuckerberg announced on Oprah almost four years ago that he would give $100 million over five years to reform Newark’s persistently failing schools, the news was electric. But today the picture there is still bleak for reasons that serve as a cautionary tale (“Schooled,” The New Yorker, May 13).

If there’s one overall lesson that can be drawn, it’s that the best intentions are not enough. It’s what I call the philanthropic paradox. Education reform too often is seen as something done to people, rather than something done with people. It’s the reason that 77 members of the clergy signed a letter in mid-April urging Gov. Chris Christie to put a moratorium on the school reform plan. It’s also seen in the election of Ras Baraka as the new mayor of Newark (“Newark’s Voters Choose New Mayor and New Path,” The New York Times, May 14). His victory is being interpreted as an expression of voter resentment toward outsiders, particularly Wall Streeters promoting school privatization (“Ras Baraka’s Victory in Newark Could Revitalize New Jersey Progressives,” The Nation, May 14).

It’s to Zuckerberg’s credit that he acknowledged from the beginning his ignorance about urban education and philanthropy. Accordingly, he stipulated that then-Mayor Cory Booker would have to raise a second $100 million before releasing his matching dollars. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before $20 million of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to various consulting firms.

This kind of spending has happened time and again in other school districts that were intent on reform. Yet it seems to be an affliction that cannot be cured. I realize it’s imperative to have a realistic plan in place before money is spent. But it’s hard to understand what expertise consultants bring to education that educators don’t already know. It’s a telling commentary that six months after Zuckerberg’s original announcement Newark still had no superintendent, no comprehensive strategy and no progress toward a new teachers’ contract.

Whether it can be called progress is debatable, but the only evidence of change I see is that New Jersey state law now makes tenure much harder to get and much easier to lose. Moreover, raises for the first time are given only to teachers rated effective or better under the district’s new evaluation system. This could mean bonuses of between $5,000 and $12,500 for top teachers.

Lost in the details is the effect on student learning. Under a plan known as One Newark, parents were able to choose among 55 district schools and 16 charter schools, with preference given to students from the poorest families and those with special needs. The purpose was to free students from failing neighborhood schools. But One Newark was one of the most contentious issues in the recent election.

I don’t think that philanthropists can possibly grasp the enormity of the educational problems they are trying to solve. The advice they get from high-priced consulting firms is not the same as teaching in inner-city public schools. That’s why almost all of Zuckerberg’s $100 million has been spent or committed, with little to show for it. He would have been better off relying on his wife’s advice from the outset that teachers are not miracle workers. She correctly understood that what happens in class is overwhelmingly dependent on what students bring to class.

I repeat: the best intentions are not enough.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center & Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Addressing Disparities of Black Students with Disabilities
Nearly two years of the pandemic have taken a toll on our nation’s students – especially those in the Black community and who are living with disabilities. But, as they say, in every crisis comes
Content provided by Easterseals

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education U.S. Has Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for Both Kids' Shots and Boosters
Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste.
4 min read
A healthcare worker receives a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
A healthcare worker receives a second Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
Paul Sancya/AP Photo
Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)