Friday, September 24, 2010

Let's See...North Star or Newark Central...

Everyone’s abuzz over Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million to Newark Public Schools on the condition that the State turn over control to Mayor Cory Booker. Here’s some choice quotes:

From detractors of the donation:
Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, (fresh from his guest appearance on Jersey Shore [JK!]): “Vouchers is not going to happen.”

David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center: “It would be improper under the law for the governor to try to delegate authority to the mayor.”

Ras Baraka, Dual-Job Holder as Principal of Newark Central High and South Ward Councilman: "Charters are proverbially considered a part of the Newark Public Schools. We need teachers badly, but who's to say it's going to happen? The real issue is democracy and what to me looks like the buying of a school system. That's bizarre. No one can disagree Newark is in need of reform but it can't be bought.As for the governor, after he rails on about dual jobs he's going to give the mayor another one - education czar."

John Sharpe James, son of the former Newark mayor Sharpe James, who was convicted on five counts of fraud for rigging the sale of nine city lots to his mistress and prosecuted by none other than United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Chris Christie: "We still have a structural deficit in the city and police and firefighters face layoffs. The streets are a warzone and the Newark Schools System has a billion dollar budget. Much of that money will be eaten up by school construction costs."

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver: “The devil is in the details.We have to be very careful in terms of the intrusion into the public system and any donor that would provide funding to the Newark schools system, but I do want to examine what strings come with it.” The donation was designed to “circumvent the local community and local control.”

Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators: "You got to admit, it’s a first for the country and New Jersey is right up there leading the way. Paying $100 million for the right to determine who runs a city’s schools. Maybe Bill Gates can pick some mayors in our biggest cities."

From supporters of the donation (not counting Newark’s mayor and NJ’s governor):

Steve Adubato, founder of the Blue Ribbon Charter School and the Robert Treat Academy: "It's a great day."

Derrell Bradford,
Executive Director of E3: ““I can’t imagine that anything the mayor and governor would do jointly wouldn’t mirror [an education reform agenda] pretty closely.”

Hmmm. We’ll keep looking.

The widespread skepticism is understandable, although there will be some strings of accountability tied to the money. Newark will get stock controlled by a foundation and unless some benchmarks are met Zuckerberg gets his money back. And what’s the alternative? Newark's best schools are charters, and families are regularly turned away for lack of seats.

Meanwhile, maybe someone should ask the kids at Newark Central High, presided over by proverbial South Ward Councilman and Principal Ras Baraka, how they would feel about a choice to attend a different public school.

(Here’s the 2008-2009 DOE info on Newark Central: 61.2% of graduating seniors failed the language arts High School Proficiency Assessment, 75.9% failed the math portion, a grand total of 4.6% graduated from high school through the HSPA and 72.3% relied on the Special Review Assessment, now replaced by the Alternative High School Assessment because a DOE review determined that it was impossible to fail the SRA. Average SAT scores are 330 for math and 350 for verbal. 15.2% of graduates go on to four-year colleges. Average teacher salary is $84,200. Cost per pupil is $19,305.)

Now that would be a triumph of democracy and local community control.


schoolfinance101 said...

The reality is that two of Newark’s most acclaimed charter schools – Robert Treat and North Star both serve far fewer of the lowest income children than nearby Newark Public Schools (43% to 47% compared to over 70% NPS) and very few children with disabilities (3.8 to 7.8% compared to 18.1% NPS) or limited English skills. It may be ‘working’ for them, but that’s not scalable reform. Eventually someone has to serve all of those other kids.

NJ Left Behind said...

Hi, Bruce. You're right -- scalable reform is essential. What do you suggest?

schoolfinance101 said...

I'd be willing to give them a shot to expand under much tighter conditions of serving comparable populations. If they can show that their approach is actually more effective with similar kids, then great - scale up. But right now, we don't have that evidence. Our best evidence applied in context so far favors the early childhood stuff, but that doesn't necessarily sustain the kids all the way up the line - unless we also improve the system above/beyond that. There are likely a number of things that can be done to alter the teacher workforce in Newark without even going down the road of using value added assessment, or "merit" pay. More on this topic at some point.