Saturday, September 12, 2015

When good intentions fall short in fixing schools - The Washington Post

When I saw the photo - of Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker - announcing the Harvard dropout Facebook CEO's huge donation to the Newark Public Schools I knew enough to be very skeptical.  Christie alone was enough to spoil the party - guaranteeing that attacks on the teacher's union would be part of the plan.  I don't know how to fix the Newark Public Schools - but firing teachers and eliminating their job security is surely not among them. - gwc
When good intentions fall short in fixing schools - The Washington Post

Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?
By Dale Russakoff
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 246 pp. $27
Five years ago, a cluster of superstars aligned for an unprecedented and ambitious reform of Newark’s long-struggling school system. Two formidable politicians, Newark’s Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, and New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, put aside partisan differences and conspired to overhaul the Brick City’s schools. The revamp sought to open more charter schools, change the teachers’ contract to more easily fire weak teachers and reward high-performing ones, and aggressively close schools with lagging test scores.
These reforms are being tested and debated in cities across the country, but Booker and Christie enlisted some particularly deep pockets to help bring them to Newark: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million in grant money with the condition that the New Jersey politicians find donors to match it. When the earnest young billionaire, the suave mayor and the tough-talking governor announced the gift during an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in September 2010, raising another $100 million seemed easy. With free publicity, ample political capital and gobs of Silicon Valley cash, what could go wrong?
Just about everything, it turns out, as documented in former Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff’s incisive new book, “The Prize.” Russakoff gives her accounting in chapters that (roughly) alternate between the stories of key leaders — especially Booker and Newark school Superintendent Cami Anderson — as they attempt to impose top-down reform on a skeptical community, and the tales of educators and students working to improve their own lives and schools. The narrative is rooted in vivid, sometimes incongruous events, from the buffet dinner at a Sun Valley townhouse where Booker first pitched his vision to Zuckerberg, to the bloody handprints that a charter school leader found on the walls of her school one morning, detritus of a late-night brawl involving nine young men.
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*Sarah Carr is the author of “Hope Against Hope,” which tells the story of the New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina. She directs the Teacher Project, an education reporting fellowship at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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