Raining money in Newark

On Oprah’s national television show Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, accompanied by Governor Christie and Newark mayor Cory Booker, announced he will make a $100 million gift to the Newark school system spread over five years.  Zuckerberg’s gift is in the form of a “challenge grant.”  Newark has to raise an additional $100 million over five years, bringing the total philanthropic bounty to $200 million. 

Meanwhile, the Newark school system spends approximately $26,000 per student, approximately 48% more than the state average of $17,620 per student, according to the governor’s office.   The governor’s office includes federal aid to New Jersey schools as well as state and local spending in its calculations. 

No matter how the total spending per student figure is calculated, the cost per student in Newark as well as the other designated Abbott districts is an exercise of throwing taxpayer’s—mostly suburban–dollars at intractable problems–poor performance of children on standardized tests, relatively low academic skills, and an abysmal high school graduation rate. 

Thus, the questions that deserve answers include:  How is Newark’s $940 million school budget allocated?  Why does Newark school’s need more money when current per student expenditures have not created academic success for most of Newark’s public school students? 

Because of the dismal academic performance of Newark’s schools, the State of New Jersey has controlled the city’s schools for many years.  Although the state controls Newark schools, costs per student have increased uninterrupted with no appreciable improvement in the children’s academic success. 

So while “reform” of the Newark and other urban public schools is in the “air,” proponents of educational change apparently still cling to the idea that the 19th century model of “factory” size schools is indeed not obsolete.  While major changes have occurred in many areas of society, public education is still wedded to a model that is more than 200 years old.  It is time for a new education paradigm, at least in urban areas.

Both the educational establishment and the political overseers who control the purse strings have done, in general, a horrible disservice to the children of inner city schools, while suburban taxpayers have been disenfranchised, being taxed but not represented in urban school decision making.  Thus, while Mark Zuckerberg’s gift is noble and undoubtedly made with good intentions, the conflating of schooling and education needs to be addressed. 

The truth of the matter is that schooling and education are two separate phenomena.  In many instances, education and schooling are in “sync,” especially in higher education and graduate school, because the goals of mature students are clear cut, for the most part.  There are many self taught individuals who have become successful in their own right; Bill Gates, a Harvard University drop out, comes to mind.  However, for the vast majority of teenagers, getting a degree to learn skills in order to become a productive member of society is “internalized” by the time they are 17 years old, and individuals who purse careers in medicine, law, and other fields are highly motivated to do well in graduate and professional schools. 

Ideally, all students should be taught one-on-one.  That would be prohibitive in a public school.  But one-on-one education is the norm in a family setting, where parents and older siblings teach their younger brothers and sisters.  In addition, one-on-one teaching also occurred in the one room schoolhouse where older students taught youngsters.

In other words, given the cost of large urban schools and the general lack of high educational success cries out not for just reform but an “extreme makeover” of public education.

Mark Zuckerberg’s generous gift could be the beginning of implementing reforms to achieve several goals:  reducing the cost per pupil of urban schools, relieving the tax burden of suburban taxpayers, and creating learning environments so youngsters in our cities will grow up to become financially independent productive adults in New Jersey. 

 

Murray Sabrin spent four years teaching in the New York City public schools and has been a member of the business school faculty at Ramapo College since 1985.  He writes on public policy issues and politics at www.MurraySabrin.com

 

 

 

Raining money in Newark