Education circles are buzzing this week with news of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's decision to donate $100 million to the Newark schools. Newark mayor Cory Booker is raising matching funds from other donors, including Bill Gates, with the goal of trying to turbo-charge education in this city.
It's an interesting question: can a massive infusion of cash change a dysfunctional system? No one is denying that Newark has big problems. Only about half its students graduate from high school. One thing it does lead the nation on? The number of sick days the teachers take. According to this Wall Street Journal article, about 7% of Newark teachers are absent on any given day, vs. 4% in the average urban district.
The issue, though, is that Newark does not suffer from a lack of funding. The district spends well over $20,000 per student. Los Angeles, with its dysfunctions, does not spend nearly as much per pupil. If the $200 million disappears into the same pit as the rest of Newark's funding, then it's unclear why anything would change.
Over at the Core Knowledge blog, Robert Pondiscio argues that Zuckerberg should have given his millions in X-Prize fashion. That is, set a goal such as an urban district graduating 80% of its 9th graders four years later, or hitting a certain NAEP target. Any district that hits such a goal gets a massive infusion of (well-deserved) cash.
It's an interesting idea with merit. But what's done is done - I do hope Zuckerberg's gift helps turn Newark around. In recent years, I've seen some great stuff going on there, from the private Christ the King Prep school to events in the Prudential Center. Only 30 minutes from New York, the city has great potential. But it's unclear what will become of it.