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.