By John Gallagher,
Money & Investing Writer
In 2010, Facebook’s (NASDAQ: FB) founder, CEO, and philanthropist Mark Zuckerberg teamed up with New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, and Newark’s mayor, Corey Booker, to form the Foundation for Newark’s Future with a goal of reforming Newark, NJ’s failing public school system.
Newark has one of the largest poverty rates in the nation with 44 percent of children living below the poverty line, making it an attractive destination for investment in youth through education.
Mark Zuckerberg was “looking for a city that was ready to revolutionize urban education,” and he trusted the tandem of Corey Booker and Chris Christie to lead the charge.
Shortly after, Zuckerberg announced on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, that he would make a $100 million donation to Newark schools, which was to be matched by other philanthropists, totaling $200 million in support.
The New Yorker’s Dale Russakoff spent years reporting on Newark schools following the Zuckerberg donation and released a 25 page story, “Schooled,” examining the impact made by this tremendous investment.
After paying consultants $20 million in the first two years following the donation, the consultants recommended that the city close eleven of the district’s lowest performing schools and open more charters or themed public schools.
After Christie appointed Cami Anderson as superintendent in 2011, she took the reins of reforming the Newark district schools.
Her prime initiatives were to close and consolidate twelve of the lowest performing K-8 schools into renew schools.
She gave the lowest income families and those with special needs the first choice in picking from fifty-five district schools and sixteen charter schools.
This was good in concept, but it caused a large number of students to relocate and safety became a concern as students had new commutes to school, which sometimes meant walking through violent areas.
Anderson had plans to provide bus service to students, but this wasn’t clearly communicated with parents and it left many families upset with this change that was meant to bring positive results.
Another expensive change that occurred was the reformation of the teacher’s contract.
“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.”
Reformation of the teacher’s contract was the top point on Booker’s six point reform agenda, but it ended up being more costly than initially predicted.
The Union required $31 million to account for the previous years that teachers worked without the raises and the total cost of the contract ended up being around $50 million.
The goal of the contract was to fairly compensate top performing teachers, but it still takes the best teachers an average of nine years to earn a salary of $60,000.
Test scores and college readiness are still far lower than they should be among Newark’s youth, despite the immense amount of money poured into the schools.
It is difficult to transform the lives of the youth when these most of these kids are dealing with poverty and other difficult situations outside of the classroom.
The goal was to make Newark the national model for how to turn around a school district and unfortunately, this has not happened yet.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 6th print edition.
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