School Reform is Hard

The New Yorker’s Dale Russakoff has a long and fascinating article on the high-profile Newark school reform, and the quagmire it has become.  Do read the whole story, but basically the outline is that Cory Booker and Chris Christie wanted to reform the terrible public schools in Newark, and got Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million (matched with another $100 million from other sources) to the process.  And it doesn’t really seem like it’s working.

A few scattershot comments here:

As the article notes, much of the underlying problem here is the poverty of Newark.  It’s unlikely that a place with a $40,000/year higher median income would have the same problems.  But, on the other hand, so what?  If you believe that the only way to solve education is to solve poverty first, well…  why do we even have a public education system, then?

I think the article demonstrates the ways in which wealthy individuals really do not have as much of an ability to influence the world as some people would have you think.  Zuckerberg donated $100 million, guys!  And it’s all gone.  The school district’s base revenue is $1 billion.  Is there anything that makes us think that $100 million spent by a billionaire in any other way would have created more of an impact on the political process?

And finally, school reform is just hard.  I sympathize with Booker’s initial desire to impose a top-down system, and I think that there’s ample evidence that in fact a public support process really would water down any reforms to nothing, and involve all the vested interests bleeding out the money.  See, well, all school reform everywhere for an example of this.  But the top-down approach meant that as soon as there were any missteps, all of those same vested interests had a single target to demonize.

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