Newark kids use Facebook to protest rats, guns

Two weeks after Facebook’s founder promised $100 million to improve Newark schools, students used Facebook to organize a protest against their high school’s inability to control gangsta, rodent and insect infestations.

On Thursday, students at Barringer High School in Newark walked out of class in protest, saying their school is unsafe and unsanitary.

Students tell The Star-Ledger of Newark there are rats, mice, cockroaches, spiders, guns and fights in the hallways.

During the afternoon protest, students left the building in waves of 10 or 20, but some said security guards blocked doors to prevent anyone from going outside.

Students spread the word of the protest on Facebook.

Mark Zuckberg’s donation was conditioned on Gov. Chris Christie giving Newark Mayor Cory Booker control of the schools, something the governor may lack the authority to do.  It’s not clear how this will be resolved.

The money wasn’t likely to make a difference, writes Rick Hess. Newark is spending $940 million this year,  more than $22,000 per pupil, and graduates less than half the students.  (And can’t keep the schools free of rats.) An extra $100 million over four years, even if it generated matching funds, is not significant.

Furthermore, Zuckerberg missed the chance to “use the money to leverage hard-to-win changes.”

It’s hard for even far-seeing union leaders to convince veteran union members to accept reforms to evaluation, tenure, or pay policies. It’s much easier if they can tell their members that such changes are what it will take to unlock new funds. District leadership reluctant to close half-empty facilities, overhaul operations, or push for cuts in benefits will find its path somewhat easier if such measures will open doors for new funding. As in any negotiation, one’s leverage is greatest before signing on the dotted line. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg missed an important opportunity to provide political cover to Booker and Christie, or to ensure that his money would be well spent.

Superintendents don’t have much discretionary money, so $50 million a year could make a difference, “if spent smart,” Hess concedes. But the signs aren’t promising.

Booker is promising to solicit ideas from the community, seems none too eager to suggest tough measures, and Zuckerberg didn’t push or demand tough medicine. This sounds to me like a formula for more tepid measures to boost professional development, add programs, tweak curriculum, and the rest.

The legal problems give Zuckerberg a chance to rethink the donation. If he can’t condition the donation on mayoral control, he can condition it on agreement to make difficult changes.  Of course, that lets an outside philanthropist dictate school policy, which will be very unpopular.

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  1. The school has a rodent infestation, and somehow this gets around to teacher’s union bashing?

  2. I wish he’d used that money to give scholarships to let kids escape bad schools. Given what Newark is already spending, money is not likely to be the main reason for the system’s problems.

  3. I think it is important to recognize how much creative initiative was taken by these high school students who started a Facebook protest.
    Facebook is too often dismissed as a mindless wasteland only good for teenagers to plan parties.
    These students responded immediately to Mark Zuckerberg in a sophisticated way that will affect him. Teachers would do well to inspire kids to use Facebook for social justice or protesting.

  4. Wow. $22,000 per year per student and they are failing. We’re expats and my daughter attends a private international school. Tuition is paid by the company, but runs around $25,000 per year.

    We have class sizes no bigger than 20 (most around 16), teachers aids in every kindergarten and first grade class and 1 aid per four classes in the older grades. We have gym teachers, computer teachers, music teachers, German and French teachers, librarians, school nurses, and “learning support” teachers for the kids that struggle.

    I’m not sure of the amenities at the high school, but from looking through the year book they seem to have a similar set up.

    Plus, our schools are 100% rat free and sparkling clean.

    What do we not spend money on? Oh yes, administration.

    I think someone is wasting some money there in Newark.