A few thoughts on the unlikely alliance…

Posted on September 24, 2010



Today was the day of the big Oprah-Christie-Booker-Zuckerberg event, which I guess we can all watch around 4pm if we really want to. I’ve been trying to dig up any information I can, without wasting too much time on this, because there are certainly more important things to get to. That said, I do have a few brief comments in response to specific points and issues raised.

In an effort to get a good soundbite, Mayor Booker commented on Oprah that “You can not have a superior democracy with an inferior system of education” a comment that has now been re-tweeted over a hundred times. Here’s the thing. This whole situation is about a philanthropic contribution from a single wealthy individual, which has been described in the media as a contribution that carries with it a stipulation that the Governor grant unprecedented power to the Mayor to control Newark Public Schools. Anyone else seeing the contradiction here? My basic summary points are:

  • We should be concerned and skeptical any time a single individual uses their wealth to buy substantive changes to public policy.
  • Setting aside Booker’s loose use of the term democracy, I have to ask: Is it really democratic to have a single individual pay to alter the very structure of state and local government?

Would that be “democracy hypocrisy?”

Next on my list – the nature of the preferred reforms. We have little specific information on the types of school reforms that Mark Zuckerberg would like to see implemented in Newark or whether he has any specific interest in promoting certain education reforms. Zuckerberg provides some insights in this interview: http://techcrunch.com/2010/09/24/techcrunch-interview-with-mark-zuckerberg-on-100-million-education-donation/. Perhaps the most striking part of the interview is here:

So that – that way Cory is really aligned towards one – like this is his top priority. He just got re-elected by a pretty big margin and it’s his biggest priority. Then, so now – so that’s kind of what we’re doing, I mean, the idea is fund him and basically support him in doing a really comprehensive program to get all these things in place that they need to get done. [DELETE: So we should close down schools that are failing, get a lot of good charter schools and figure out new contracts for teachers so that better teachers can get paid more money, that more for performance as opposed to just based on how long you've been there. Have a lot of programs that are after schools that to keep kids healthy and safe and I mean, Newark, isn't the safest city. So that's the basic thing. And I mean for...]

I was particularly intrigued by that part in brackets, after DELETE – where Zuckerberg or the interviewer interpreting Zuckerberg seems to be suggesting a strong preference for massive charter expansion, closing public schools, and pushing for teacher contracts tied to student achievement data. The implication across media sources yesterday and today has been that the preference for these specific types of reforms across this seemingly diverse set of individuals – Zuckerberg, Oprah, Christie and Booker – validates the public interest in moving quickly toward accomplishing these public policy objectives. Setting aside the issue that fast-tracking these reforms under these circumstances is built on buying – with a big $$ gift – a change in state and local governance, I offer the following comments regarding this new unlikely alliance and these specific reform strategies:

  • It’s interesting to see such an eclectic cast of characters unify around a set of unproven and ill-conceived school reform strategies to hoist upon the children of Newark.
  • The fact is that major research organizations including the National Research Council, American Education Research Association, National Council on Measurement in Education, American Psychological Association and others have advised strongly against misusing student testing data to evaluate teacher effectiveness and there are many technical and statistical as well as practical reasons for their conclusions. With all due respect, a consensus vote in favor of these flawed policies from our Governor, the Newark Mayor, Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t change that.

More Information:http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/category/race-to-the-top/value-added-teacher-evaluation/

  • The reality is that two of Newark’s most acclaimed charter schools – Robert Treat and North Star both serve far fewer of the lowest income children than nearby Newark Public Schools (43% to 47% compared to over 70% NPS) and very few children with disabilities (3.8 to 7.8% compared to 18.1% NPS) or limited English skills. It may be ‘working’ for them, but that’s not scalable reform. Eventually someone has to serve all of those other kids.

Data link: https://sites.google.com/site/schoolfinancepolicy/Home/NJCharters.xls?attredirects=0&d=1

Update from the Star Ledger: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/facebook_ceo_mark_zuckerberg_s.html

Apparently the “deleted” section has been removed from the interview, but I’m not the only one who saw it!

A few pictures related to my comment on charter school demographics:


And here are the 2009 assessment results for NPS and Newark Charter schools. As you can see, the very low poverty charters do very well. But they just aren’t comparable to NPS schools. Other higher poverty charters, which are still actually much lower poverty (and low or no special ed) than NPS schools, are actually distributed among the NPS schools, regardless of test subject or grade.


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