Booker’s battle for choice in Newark

Mayor Cory Booker is fighting a battle for Newark, writes Steven Malanga. Booker can’t lure middle-class people back to the city if he can’t do something about the “atrocious” school system. The state, which took control in 1994 to stem mismanagement and corruption, “has poured billions of dollars into the city’s schools, so that Newark now spends nearly $17,000 per pupil a year — about 75 percent more than the national average.”

Yet the money has done little good, since the state has pursued few educational innovations and hasn’t taken on entrenched educational interests (above all, the teachers’ union), which still control much of the system. Student performance has continued to plummet. . . . E3 executive director Dan Gaby bluntly describes the system as “in crisis,” estimating that it spends an astonishing $1.3 million for every qualified student it manages to graduate from high school.

Booker hopes to take control of the system, appoint a strong chancellor and expand school choice. Reforms include:

. . . closing and replacing chronically failing schools (Newark has some 30 of them), letting parents choose which schools within the system to send their kids to, and inviting more operators of successful private schools into the city to run charter schools. “I have stopped going to lotteries for admission to charter schools because I was so saddened to see parents who have run out of options for their children,” Booker says.

Booker has thrown his weight behind a state bill, sponsored by Democratic legislators, that gives tax credits to companies that contribute to a scholarship fund for Newark students who want to attend private schools or jump to public schools in better-performing districts.

Of course, the teachers’ union strongly opposes the tax-credit idea. Keep kids in a system that can’t provide a decent education for $17,000 a year.

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  1. rifraf says:

    To say that Newark’s “schools are bad” is not exactly accurate, actually the issue is that Newark’s student population (mostly poor African Americans) is highly skewed toward the low IQ end of the bell curve for intelligence. As James Coleman showed during the late 1960s it is not the quality of the schools per se (buildings, teachers, spending etc) but rather the quality of the students (i.e. their IQ distribution) that is the crucial factor in determining if a school is “good” or “bad”. As Arthur Jensen observed in his famous 1969 Harvard Education Review paper the cause of low IQ (and thus low academic achievement) in low IQ minority populations is probably to a large extent due to ethnic genetic differences.

    There is no evidence that special schools, private schools, charter schools, etc. are able to substantially raise the performance of a non-selected group of lower class African American students. In two recent papers Robert Bifulco (of U Conn) and Helen Ladd (of Duke) showed that charter schools in North Carolina have failed completely in raising the performance of poor blacks (in fact their segregation and performance is WORSE in charter schools!). Brian Gill of RAND in a new study of Philadelphia’s charter schools and privately managed public schools has found the same thing, no improvement of African American students’ academic achievement.

    As Richard Rothstein has shown in several articles, all the claims by Kati Hancock and Abigail Thernstrom that special public schools or special private and charter schools can raise the academic performance of mainstream poor African American students are invariably BOGUS BOGUS BOGUS. Abigail Thernstrom sputters on about the high academic achievement of Rafe Esquith’s class at Hobart Elementary School in LA, but she neglects to mention that there are essentially no African American students in the class, instead they are mostly Korean-American students, well DUH!, as Arthur Jensen showed in his classic review article “Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability” (June 2005 issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law) Korean-Americans as East Asians have higher IQs than most Americans, so no surprise that they end up in Esquith’s gifted class at Hobart Elementary. Similarly NCLB has totally failed to raise the performance of African American students, the states that claim otherwise have dumbed down their achievement tests in order to have more students show up as proficient; but the black students always remain about one standard deviation lower than whites in Math achievement which pretty much mirrors their one standard deviation lower IQ test measure of intelligence.

  2. Hobart Elementary, where Rafe Esquith teaches, is 79 percent Hispanic, 18 percent Asian (mostly Korean) and 2 percent black. His class, mostly composed of gifted students, is a mix of Mexican, Central American and Korean students nearly all of whom speak English as a second language.

  3. It’s not so much the awful schools as it is the violent crime and perception of bad crime – Yuppies and hipsters who don’t have kids will live in an area with poorly performing public schools as long as they don’t fear getting robbed when they walk outside…Much of Newark, including downtown, does not “feel” safe at night.

    Rifraf – All excellent points that no politicians or big media outlets will touch with a ten foot pole…However, the performance problems are exacerbated by major cultural problems (which, while highly correlated to IQ are not immutable).

    And just to add another point – There are lots (hundreds, maybe thousands) of native Newark students (also Irvington, EO, and Orange) who illegally attend other public school (in Union, Belleville, Bloomfield, Maplewood, West Orange) by claiming residency with extended family. They literally take NJTransit and commute to school. Nobody seems to mention that either. I grew up in Jersey City and went to Dickinson HS (another mostly-crappy inner city high school, but not as bad as others) and I knew a couple kids that were doing that.