Did reform fail in Newark?

School reform failed in Newark, according to most reviewers of Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, writes David Steiner in Education Next. However, the “stubborn facts” in this “compellingly readable book . . . complicate this conclusion out of all recognition.”

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“The combination of an extraordinary (and perhaps extraordinarily naive) 2010 donation of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the high-octane political antics of Mayor Cory Booker, and the very dedicated but consultant-reliant and at times tone-deaf district leadership of Cami Anderson converge to create an education drama of the first order,” writes Steiner, who is a John Hopkins education professor.

Five years later, Newark’s district-run schools had improved on some measures, but achievement scores were flat.

However, the city’s expanding charter schools proved to be a “success story,” Steiner writes. “Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math” per year of schooling compared to similar students in district schools, concluded a 2012 CREDO report. Expanding the city’s charter sector helped many students.

Russakoff praises “public school teachers who kept their heads down and did wonderful work in their classroom,” writes Steiner.

(These teachers) took it upon themselves to glean many lessons from the city’s best charter schools, and found charter school leaders eager to help. They organized themselves as a nonprofit agency through which they raised private money to purchase the rigorous, early literacy program, developed at the University of Chicago for kindergarten through third grade, that was used in the two leading charter networks—the TEAM schools of the national KIPP organization and North Star Academy, a subsidiary of Uncommon Schools.

Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, opposed the reforms. But, as principal of a low-performing high school, he “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement.”

Newark schools have improved, writes Chris Cerf, who was state commissioner of education and is now superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Graduation rates are way up, he writes. “More students attend beating-the-odds schools.”

The Zuckerberg money made a huge difference in Newark, and continues to do so today. Yet The Prize has caused some philanthropists to question additional investments in public education, reading the book as a call to double down on charters since “districts are not fixable.”

School choice is the most powerful tool for change in Newark, writes Rashon Hasan, a school board member, in Education Post.

How to spend Zuck’s bucks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan celebrated the birth of their daughter by pledging to give 99 percent of their wealth — $45 billion or so — to worthy causes, such as “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” They’ll make do with the remaining $450 million.

They’ve come in for a lot of criticism and kibbitzing.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Some want to tell them how to spend the money:  Don’t try to change things like Bill Gates!

Anil Dash advises funding “people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.”

Others accuse the couple of trying to dodge taxes. (Giving away 99 percent of your money is not a great way to save money.)

In response, Zuckerberg explained why they set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as an LLC rather than a traditional foundation. They want flexibility.

“This enables us to pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates.”

. . . “If we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not. And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC.”

The Initiative will focus on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities,” he wrote.

“Our education work has been funded through a non-profit organization, Startup: Education, the recently announced Breakthrough Energy Coalition will make private investments in clean energy, and we also fund public government efforts, like the CDC Ebola response and San Francisco General Hospital.”

The money will be wasted, predicts Gawker’s Sam Biddle. He sneers at Facebook’s support for Summit’s personalized learning platform — with no understanding of what it is.

The Washington Post describes the couple’s plans to provide private schooling and health care for low-income families in a heavily minority community, East Palo Alto.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Zuck’s bucks: Are Newark kids learning more?

In 2010, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to turn Newark’s schools into a “symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Mayor Cory Booker raised another $100 million. 

In The Prize, Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff describes what happened. “It feels like a wash,” she tells the Newark Star-Ledger‘s Tom Moran. “Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not.”

Reforms didn’t tackle poverty and family dysfunction, she says. District schools don’t provide “extra teachers, tutors, social workers, counselors, and a dean of students whose job it is to be sure there’s an adult in every child’s life.” The best charters do provide extra support, because they get much more money to the classroom.

Only about half the money that goes into the district actually reaches the classroom. . . . The rest is spent inside the bureaucracy. There is supposed to be an economy of scale in a big system, yet the charters, which get less money per kid, get more money in the classroom.

. . . the district spends $1.200 per child on custodians. KIPP charter schools spend $400.

Newark spends $22,300 per student in district schools, writes Moran. Russakoff would like to see “a forensic audit to find out why this money doesn’t reach the classroom.”

Newark students are better off, even though “reformers blew the politics” and triggered a huge backlash, argues Moran.

Nearly a third of the city’s students now are in charters, and Newark has some of the best urban charters in the country, according to a study by Stanford’s CREDO.

For example, TEAM Academy students — 92 percent are black and 88 percent eligible for a subsidized lunch — beat the state average on reading and math tests. Ninety-five percent of TEAM high school graduates enroll in college.

District-run K-8 schools are doing no worse, Moran writes, and reading proficiency and graduation rates have improved in the high schools.

In  Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera mourns the children “left behind” in district-run schools. But he also wonders where the money is going.

The KIPP charter network, which runs Spark, gets $16,400 per Spark pupil, of which $12,664 is devoted to the school. The district schools get $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 trickles down to the schools. Money that the charter school is spending on extra support is being soaked up by the bloated bureaucracy in the public school system.

Zuckerberg has pledged to donate $120 million to start new district and charter schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and improve existing schools. It will include “listening to the needs of local educators and community leaders.”

Are Newark schools improving?

Two years after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million gift to the Newark Public Schools, are Newark schools improving?

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a former principal, wants local control — that is, mayoral control. The state of New Jersey took over the low-performing district nearly 20 years ago making Newark “a laboratory for experiments in top-down reforms,” he writes in the New York Times.

You might think that Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 to kick-start a foundation for Newark schools would have been a game changer. But little funding went directly to Newark’s schools. Instead, the first $1.3 million was wasted on a poorly conducted community outreach campaign. Then another $100 million, including funds from Zuckerberg, went to a program for teacher merit pay.

Principals were given the power to re-interview teachers for their jobs and in some cases hire new teachers. But the rejected teachers joined a pool of floating staff members in the “rubber room” downtown, until reassigned to other schools or bought out. So even as Newark teachers worked without a contract, the state went on a hiring and cash-incentive spree.

Superintendent Cami Anderson’s have “plunged the system into more chaos,” writes Baraka.

Billionaire power

Darrell West’s U.S. Billionaires Political Power Index ranks the rich by clout rather than dollars.

Powerful billionaires interested in education include Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, Penny Pritzker, Mark Zuckerberg and Alice Walton.

Hire math teachers in K-5

Americans stink at math but we can fix that, writes Hung-Hsi Wu, an emeritus math professor at Berkeley and the author of Understanding Numbers in Elementary School Mathematics.

Elementary teachers — generalists required to teach every subject  — are dependent on math textbooks that don’t teach “learnable math,” writes Wu.  “It is not realistic to expect all of them to summon up the superhuman energy to learn mathematics at the expense of all their other duties.”

Common Core Standards place even higher demands on  teachers’ content knowledge, he writes.  The solution is “to require K-5 math classes to be taught only by math teachers.”

Wu suggests that Mark Zuckerberg, who’s giving $120 million to Bay Area schools, target a few districts willing to train math teachers to teach K-5 students.

A few elementary schools already hire math or math/science specialists, though I don’t know of any that start in kindergarten.

Many elementary teachers don’t see themselves as “math people.” Should we hire teachers who understand and like math in elementary schools?

Zuckerberg gives another $120 million

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan will give $120 million to Bay Area schools in “underserved communities,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will donate $120 million to public schools in the Bay Area.

Helping improve the quality of public education in this country is something we both really care about,” write Zuckerberg and Chan in an op-ed essay. Chan was a teacher and is now a pediatrician.

They live in Palo Alto, which has excellent public schools, within easy walking distance of East Palo Alto, a perennially low-performing district.

Zuckerberg gave $100 million gift to Newark public schools and was criticized for spending too much on consultants and failing to raise test scores. But there are signs of progress, the op-ed argues.

Newark now has the leading teacher contract in the country that was developed with teachers to reward good performance. New district and charter schools run by organizations with a track record of success have started, as well as 50 new principals. Across the district, the graduation rate has grown by 10%. It’s still too early to see the full results in Newark, but we’re making progress and have learned a lot about what makes a successful effort.

In the Bay Area, the first $5 million will go to high-poverty school districts in East Palo Alto and Redwood City and to “high-need” San Francisco schools, reports the Mercury News. (East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood district has received millions of dollars from high-tech donors over the years with few results.)

They’ll work with partners “to start new district and charter schools that give people more high-quality choices for their education,” Zuckerberg and Chan write. They also pledge to listen to “local educators and community leaders so that we understand the needs of students.” Priorities are providing computers and connectivity, teacher and principal training and parent outreach.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic — and coding

Audrey Hagan, left, and Amelia Flint, both 8, learning to code last month at an event in Mill Valley, Calif. Jason Henry for The New York Times

Computer coding for kids is a “national education movement that is growing at Internet speeds,” reports the New York Times.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. — Seven-year-old Jordan Lisle, a second grader, joined his family at a packed after-hours school event last month aimed at inspiring a new interest: computer programming.

“I’m a little afraid he’s falling behind,” his mother, Wendy Lisle, said, explaining why they had signed up for the class at Strawberry Point Elementary School.

Code.org, a tech-industry group, is offering free curricula and pushing districts to add programming classes — and not just in high school. In nine states, students earn math — not elective — credits for computer science classes. Chicago’s public school system hopes to make computer science a graduation requirement in five years.

In Mill Valley, elementary school children and their parents solved animated puzzles to learn the basics of computer logic. Many parents see coding as “a basic life skill,” says the Times. Or perhaps the “road to riches.”

Some educators worry about the industry’s heavy role: Major tech companies and their founders, including Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have put up about $10 million for Code.org. The organization pays to train high school teachers to offer more advanced curriculums, and, for younger students, it has developed a coding curriculum that marries basic instruction with video games involving Angry Birds and hungry zombies.

The lessons do not involve traditional computer language. Rather, they use simple word commands — like “move forward” or “turn right” — that children can click on and move around to, say, direct an Angry Bird to capture a pig.

Computer programming should be taught in every school, said Hadi Partovi, the founder of Code.org and a former executive at Microsoft. It’s as essential as “learning about gravity or molecules, electricity or photosynthesis.”

I’m not convinced that everyone needs to learn programming in order to use computers. And it’s not the only way to learn logic.

My three-year-old nephew was playing Angry Birds on his tablet today, prepping for his future as a high-tech zillionaire. That 7-year-old in Mill Valley is so far behind.

Newark backlash: ‘Raheem still can’t read’

Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools, writes Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker. They Got an Education.

Zuckerberg put $100 million into transforming Newark’s failing public schools.

Almost four years later, Newark has new principals, new schools and a new teachers’ contract that ties pay to performance, writes Russakoff. It doesn’t have higher test scores.

And people are angry about plans to move students to new schools and lay off teachers and support staff.

Newark’s public schools have been “a source of patronage jobs and sweetheart deals for the connected and the lucky,” writes Russakoff.

As Ross Danis, of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, put it, in 2010, “The Newark schools are like a candy store that’s a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling.”

The ratio of administrators to students—one to six—was almost twice the state average. Clerks made up thirty per cent of the central bureaucracy—about four times the ratio in comparable cities. Even some clerks had clerks, yet payroll checks and student data were habitually late and inaccurate.

Elected mayor in 2006, Booker raised money from philanthropists to open charter schools, which drew students “in wards with the highest concentrations of low-income and black residents.”

“Charter schools received less public money per pupil, but, with leaner bureaucracies, more dollars reached the classroom,” writes Russakoff. Achievement rose significantly.

Zuckerberg’s $100 million — matched by another $100 million in donations — was supposed to help the district-run schools. In two years more than $20 million was spent on consultants.

Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Superintendent Cami Anderson “gave principals more flexibility and introduced new curricula aligned to the Common Core standards.” She closed low-performing schools and created “renew schools.” She let principals hire and fire teachers, added math and literacy coaches, bought smart boards and paid “renew” teachers to work a longer day and two extra weeks in the summer.

However, her plans created a massive backlash in Newark.

Booker thinks Newark could be a national model of urban education in two or three years, but he isn’t there to fight for the reforms. He was elected to the U.S. Senate.

The city is voting today on a new mayor. The mayor’s race pits radical Councilman Ras Baraka, who was principal of low-performing Central High, against Shavar Jeffries, a former assistant state attorney general who helped start a successful charter school.

The Newark backlash could have been avoided, says Jeffries. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” Reformers “have to build coalitions and educate and advocate,” says Jeffries. “You have to persuade people.”

Baraka won the election.