… it was a lack of them.
The New Yorker story on the $100 million push to turn around schools follows the predictable narrative, but it’s clear from the story that the problems lay with Booker bringing Cami Anderson, one of his former strategists, in to oversee the whole mess.
The Newark school system is already a giant money sink paid for by suburban taxpayers. $100 million wasn’t going to make a difference.
The plan that Zuckerberg had agreed to fund to the tune of $100 million involved reforms that Booker and Christie couldn’t legally carry out, at least without major teachers’ union payoffs and others that Anderson wouldn’t carry out.
The plan called for an “infusion of philanthropic support” to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations; build sophisticated data and accountability systems; expand charters; and weaken tenure and seniority protections.
These were good things, but Booker didn’t have anyone to carry it out and bringing in Anderson was a mistake.
Christie appointed Anderson in May, 2011. It quickly emerged that she differed with her bosses about the role of charter schools in urban districts. She pointed out that, with rare exceptions, charters served a smaller proportion than the district schools of children who lived in extreme poverty, had learning disabilities, or struggled to speak English. Moreover, charter lotteries disproportionately attracted the “choosers”—parents with the time to navigate the process. Charters in Newark were expected to enroll forty per cent of the city’s children by 2016. That would leave the neediest sixty per cent in district schools.
So Booker brought in someone with a public school welfare state mentality to reform public schools. Which meant reform was never going to happen.
Anderson acknowledged the successes of the top charter schools, but Newark faced the conundrum common to almost every urban school system: how to expand charters without destabilizing traditional public schools. Christie and Booker agreed to her request for time to work on a solution, even though Zuckerberg and other donors had already committed tens of millions of dollars to expand charters.
Instead of focusing on charters and producing results, Anderson began playing around with the system, alienated parents and opened the way for demagogues like Raz Baraka, the son of racist bigot Amiri Baraka to take over.
And wads of money were spent on consultants with no notable gain.
During the next two years, more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation.
And the unions as always stood in the way.
Soon afterward, in November, 2012, the Newark Teachers Union agreed to a new contract that, for the first time, awarded raises only to teachers rated effective or better under the district’s rigorous new evaluation system. Those who got the top rating would receive merit bonuses of between five thousand and twelve thousand five hundred dollars.
All of this came at a steep price. The union demanded thirty-one million dollars in back pay for the two years that teachers had worked without raises—more than five times what top teachers would receive in merit bonuses under the three-year contract. Zuckerberg covered the expense, knowing that other investors would find the concession unpalatable. The total cost of the contract was about fifty million dollars.
And that’s your $100 mil. Throwing money at a government welfare program is like throwing rocks at an avalanche. The whole system is corrupt and exists to siphon away money.