Fast Company

What Mark Zuckerberg's Money Is Doing in Newark

Fast Company wrote about what we (and many innovative thinkers) would do to fix public schools with $100 million (post your ideas below!). Now Newark's public schools, the recipients of that sum from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, are rolling out their true plan. "We want to make Newark the centerpoint of education reform in the nation," David Nachtweih, spokesperson for the Partnership for Education In Newark, tells Fast Company. Here's how they plan to do it.

Step 1: Get Even More Money

The Foundation for Newark's Future is raising a matching fund of $100 million from private donors and foundations, for a total of $200 million. "I think the idea behind any matching grant is to get folks from all over the place involved in this and make it a partnership," says Nachtweih. It's also worth noting that even $200 million, to be spent over five years, is not all that much when you consider the annual budget of the Newark Public Schools is $470 million.

Step 2: Ask People What They Want

Rutgers and NYU is teaming with the Partnership for Education in Newark to conduct an academic study to find out what parents and citizens want from their schools. "We held 11 community forums, knocked on 66,000 doors and received 20,000 short form surveys that engaged Newark in the process of reform. We are now partnering with Rutgers and NYU on a longer-form survey that will speak with 1,500 Newarkers and gauge their response to a variety of different reforms, including changing teacher tenure and closing low performing schools. Rutgers and NYU will analyze the data from this 1,500 page survey, along with all the data from the canvassing and community forums to produce one report in March that outlines the key reforms Newarkers think are most essential," says Nachtweih. They also commissioned a separate audit of budget & operations.

Step 3: Present Your Findings

Mayor Cory Booker highlighted the city's 22% high school graduation rate, limited autonomy for school leaders, and a top-heavy bureaucracy with twice the administrators per student as the state average in a blistering public forum.

Step 4: Find a New Chief

NPS is conducting a "national search" for a new superintendent to try to implement some of these findings.

It's hard to see anything truly new about this recipe for reform. A community survey sounds promising, but the results won't be released until March. Meanwhile, Booker and his team have already identified "school choice," "principal empowerment," and "accountability" as priorities for reform, which sounds like some of the same old, Michelle Rhee-style recipe for change.

Update: Nachtweih responds: "No plan has been rolled out. I gave you an update on our efforts which highlighted our work to date and some of the themes that have begun to emerge. The matching grant process was laid out at the beginning of this effort when Mark Zuckerberg made the initial donation. To say we're now trying to get more money is inaccurate. It was part of this process from day 1."

How Would You Spend $100 Million To Save Education?

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[Image: Flickr User Ludovic Toinel]

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