Thursday, December 23, 2010

It is Always Year Zero

Dana Goldstein:

Despite success stories like CLI's, the Newark schools have been portrayed as almost uniquely terrible since Zuckerberg's donation was announced September 24 on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In press appearances celebrating the donation, New Jersey governor and rumored GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie, who has addressed state budget deficits in part by cutting $819 million in education spending, has repeatedly called the performance of the Newark school system "an obscenity." The city needs "an entirely new plan" for education, Christie told Winfrey. Zuckerberg chimed in that Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will be able to "implement new programs in Newark and really make a difference," thanks to the grant.

None of the men mentioned Newark's pre-existing six national Blue Ribbon schools, cited for excellence in closing the achievement gap, nor have they pledged to scale up or replicate promising reform programs already operating in the city, such as the Global Village Zone, an effort to coordinate instruction, teacher coaching and family social services in seven high-need neighborhood schools in the city's Central Ward.

The public conversation about the Zuckerberg donation—which, even with its intended matching grant, will equal only about 4 percent of the district's $940 million budget each year for five years—ignored the cyclical nature of education reform in Newark since the 1960s, when the district first experimented with "schools within schools" and, in 1971, became the site of the longest teachers union strike in an American city. "National foundations and all sorts of nonprofits and entrepreneurs and hedge-fund people have all thought, when they have an idea they think would work, Gee, let's do it in Newark," MacInnes says. "That creates one of the real problems, which is that Newark is always willing to open its bank account to receive outside funds and start projects to try out these ideas, but that is all done in a setting where there's very little coherence."

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