Newark has some of the worst schools in the nation despite spending absurd amounts of money on them. It’s a billion dollar school district that routinely gets ten-cent performance. Twenty years ago, the neglect and corruption was so bad that the state took over. But that has not improved things.
A few years ago, Christ Christie and Cory Booker, backed by $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg, pushed to overhaul the school system. The result, spelled out in this long and depressing New Yorker piece, was just another chapter of catastrophe. Some plans were made — maybe good plans, maybe crappy ones. But before you could say “Joe Clark”, the entrenched establishment took over. The union grudgingly agreed to pay bonuses to teachers who did well. But the price was insane:
The union demanded thirty-one million dollars in back pay for the two years that teachers had worked without raises—more than five times what top teachers would receive in merit bonuses under the three-year contract. Zuckerberg covered the expense, knowing that other investors would find the concession unpalatable. The total cost of the contract was about fifty million dollars. The Foundation for Newark’s Future also agreed to Anderson’s request to set aside another forty million dollars for a principals’ contract and other labor expenses. Zuckerberg had hoped that promising new teachers would move quickly up the pay scale, but the district couldn’t afford that along with the salaries of veteran teachers, of whom five hundred and sixty earned more than ninety-two thousand dollars a year. A new teacher consistently rated effective would have to work nine years before making sixty thousand dollars.
The seniority protections proved even more costly. School closings and other personnel moves had left the district with three hundred and fifty teachers that the renew principals hadn’t selected. If Anderson simply laid them off, those with seniority could “bump” junior colleagues. She said this would have a “catastrophic effect” on student achievement: “Kids have only one year in third grade.” She kept them all on at full pay, at more than fifty million dollars over two years, according to testimony at the 2013 budget hearing, assigning them support duties in schools.
The superintendent ran into a firestorm of opposition to any proposed changes. Some of the proposals were probably bad ideas, true. And she handled it poorly, spending more time and effort talking to outside consultants than to parents and local politicians. But in the end, the people did what they always do: rallied to the anti-reformers. This culminated in one of the ringleaders against reform and a shill for the unions being elected mayor on Tuesday. So the people of Newark can look forward to more spending, more bullshit and more failure. Three years and hundreds of millions burned for nothing. It was exactly what I feared would happen when I heard of Zuckerberg’s plans.
Oh, wait. There’s one group that did well. You’ll find them throughout the piece:
Ultimately, Zuckerberg and matching donors paid the firm and its consultants $2.8 million, although Cerf emphasized that he personally accepted no pay, and he left the firm in December, 2010.
During the next two years, more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties:
With a federal school-improvement grant, he extended the school day, introduced small learning academies, greatly intensified test prep, and hired consultants to improve literacy instruction.
Using $1.8 million from the Foundation for Newark’s Future, she hired the nonprofit consulting group TNTP, in part to develop more rigorous evaluation systems. In her first year, the foundation gave her a four-million-dollar grant to hire consultants at her own discretion.
Anderson spent much of the fall working with data analysts from the Parthenon Group, an international consulting firm that received roughly three million dollars over two years from Newark philanthropy.
This is education reform in the United States. This is Arne Duncan’s America. Consultants and professional “educators” are paid millions to come up with elaborate plans. Sometimes those plans are implemented in a half-assed way. The teachers scramble to meet whatever metric or scheme has been handed down. The plan fails. More money is spent. More consultants are hired. More concessions are made to the unions. The leaders of the reform get elected to higher office. And ultimately nothing changes. Later rinse repeat.
It’s a pretty sweet gig if you’re a politician or a consultant or an “educator”. The only people that lose, really, are the taxpayers. And the kids. And the parents. And the actual teachers.
The more I read stories like this, the more I come to believe that it is impossible to fix the system. The interests, at least in Democrat-run inner cities, are too entrenched and far too skilled at manipulating the public and the media. I’m not going to say I’m in favor of privatizing the whole smash just yet. But … man … when I read something like this it makes that option look awfully tempting.