Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Newark's $200 Million Education Experiment: Who Are the Winners?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Newark's $200 Million Education Experiment: Who Are the Winners?

Article excerpt

Five years ago this week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg started the school year with a historic $100 million gift to the struggling Newark, N.J., school district, part of an ambitious reform plan he'd developed alongside then-Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), now a presidential hopeful: with $200 million total, how quickly could the power trio transform a city's failing schools? Newark is still waiting for an answer, but thanks to an Associated Press investigation released today, one thing is clear: it takes more than five years.

Fixing Newark's schools posed an enormous challenge: citing corruption and low performance, the state had taken over in 1995, but not much changed in the next fifteen years. But Booker and Christie's goals were even more far-reaching: to convince skeptics of the new, business-minded school reform that its techniques could rapidly improve failing schools, according to a 2014 essay by New Yorker writer Dale Russakoff. They even accompanied Zuckerberg to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to announce his donation to Newark's 48,000 K-12 students.

As AP reports, the goal to expand charter schools has certainly succeeded: in the five years since reform got underway, the number of Newark students attending a charter has more than doubled, to 48 percent.

Charter schools are publicly-funded and privately-run, and the charter movement claims they're a great way to innovate without the hassle of overhauling a complete district system, with its miles of paperwork, bureaucracy, and teacher union regulations. They were first promoted as something like "lab schools" where fresh ideas could be tested, then implemented wholesale, if they proved successful. Advocates say charters are key to closing the nation's shameful educational inequalities, particularly between poor or minority students and their white or wealthier peers. …

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