Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mr. Zuckerberg, Here's What You Get for That $100 Million

            As many here at the NAIS conference have commented, we find it ironic that we are ensconced in the Gaylord National Conference Center when the theme is “Advancing the Public Purpose.” It’s a sterile, artificial environment fairly removed from D.C. itself, which tempts us from across the harbor. I draw some hope, however, from the fact that less than a decade ago this land was a wasteland surround by urban decay.
            I draw less hope from some follow-up news regarding something I posted about several weeks ago: Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million dollars to improve the Newark, New Jersey, public schools. The good news: they have managed to double the money by finding some other sources. The bad news: how the money is being used. They are asking people what they want, preparing a report of the findings, and finding a new superintendent. What actions do they expect to take? School choice, principal empowerment, accountability—the same old, same old. If you want, you can read the article here. But I warn you that I found it rather depressing.
            I really don’t mean to be casting stones. I can’t imagine trying to solve the problems in a public school district like Newark’s, which has a graduation rate around 22%. Educators there face all the challenges we associate with a large public school system in a depressed urban area. Besides that, they have chosen to have twice the number of administrators per students than the state average. Also, while $200 million is a great deal of money, when spread over five years it’s not much considering the annual budget is $470 million.
            At the same time, I have to question how Newark is spending the money. And I have to wonder what Zuckerberg is thinking, given his ultimate goal of using his creation to change the world in positive fashion. After all, what’s Einstein’s definition of insanity?

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