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The Challenge In Newark: How a $100 Million Donation Could Not Reform Schools

The Challenge In Newark: How a $100 Million Donation Could Not Reform Schools

When Mark Zuckerberg pledged a $100 million donation to Newark, N.J.'s failing schools in 2010, many were optimistic that the sizeable funding would be enough to turn education in the city around. After all, 40 percent of Newark's third through eighth grade students in 2010 were not at grade level and most did not graduate.

According to The Hechinger Report, journalist Dale Russakoff spent four and a half years tracking the Zuckerberg donation in Newark and found that even a donation of that size could not be the answer to help its schools given the lack of oversight and direction from the beginning.

Russakoff is releasing a new book called “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” and sat down with The Hechinger Report to discuss a general overview of her findings from her research into Newark's education issues.

Russakoff lays blame on many things, but first and foremost, describes a flawed way of Newark officials viewing education reform as the central culprit.

Two of the major figureheads behind the reform- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark’s then-Mayor Cory Booker- set out to make Newark a national model for which education reform could be based on. This, Russakoff said, was the first problem.

"Education in any city is not something that you can bring a model to and fix it. It’s a very human, granular, history-based challenge. And to see it as something that you can have a startup model for, that you can create a proof point and then scale up nationally, is just a complete misconception," she said.

Further, the breakdown of the spending of Zuckerberg's donation proved to be ineffective.

$50 million went to teacher's contracts in order to hold teachers more accountable, but according to Russakoff, a lack of enforcement created minimal change on the classroom level.

And while Russakoff says the $25 million that went to charter schools in the city ended up producing excellent charter schools for children, she slams the $20 million that went to paying off consultants to help guide the reform.

"There was this notion that consultants had the answers, and you could hire expertise, and pay for it at enormous prices, on the assumption that this was going to bring the magic answer, the silver bullet to Newark. And it was an enormous amount of money that went towards something that really didn’t have a lot of returns. I don’t think you could find any way that consultant money helped children."

Russakoff says that the Newark problem is not an isolated problem- that America's school systems in general frequently face an issue when its comes to "who's in charge."

...there was Cory Booker, Chris Christie and Mark Zuckerberg. If, through their reform effort, they could take the Newark school district and turn it into a model for all urban school districts, that would be a prize for the education reform movement. And I saw the children and their right to an education as the ultimate prize. The subtitle of the book is 'Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?' I think that’s the prize all those forces will keep fighting for.

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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