Can a school system that wastes $1 billion per year waste another $200 million?

If you’ve been wondering “What happened to Mark Zuckerberg’s big donation to the Newark schools?”, this week’s New Yorker magazine has the answer for you: “Schooled” by Dale Russakoff.

According to Russakoff, most of the money seems to have been spent on consultants:

The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

One goal was to attract young smart people to work as teachers, but it turned out that old not-necessarily-smart people were entitled to all of the money under union contracts that required teachers be paid according to seniority.

in return for union support, the legislature left seniority protections untouched….

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 [i.e., more than $150,000 per year including pension commitments and other benefits]. A new teacher consistently rated effective would have to work nine years before making sixty thousand dollars.

Zuckerberg’s donation attracted another $100 million in matching funds, but it was nowhere near enough:

Improbably, a district with a billion dollars in revenue and two hundred million dollars in philanthropy was going broke. Anderson announced a fifty-seven-million-dollar budget gap in March, 2013, attributing it mostly to the charter exodus. She cut more than eighteen million dollars from school budgets and laid off more than two hundred attendance counsellors, clerical workers, and janitors, most of them Newark residents with few comparable job prospects. “We’re raising the poverty level in Newark in the name of school reform,” she lamented to a group of funders. “It’s a hard thing to wrestle with.”

Did having a charismatic political superstar as mayor help?

Meanwhile, [Cory Booker] was managing a busy speaking schedule, which frequently took him out of the city. Disclosure forms show $1,327,190 in revenue for ninety-six speeches given between 2008 and May, 2013. “There’s no such thing as a rock-star mayor,” the historian Clement Price, of Rutgers University, told me. “You can be a rock star or you can be a mayor. You can’t be both.”

More: read “Schooled”

7 thoughts on “Can a school system that wastes $1 billion per year waste another $200 million?

  1. Strangely enough I have not met a single young teacher that I have been impressed with. My experience with two kids have been that the older teachers were the best. Young teachers were all touchy-feely and taking things way too personal. “Oh no! He said he hates me! The tragedy! Why won’t he love me! I am trying so hard. I am giving them stickers and everything…” They were extremely inflexible and their attempts of justice and equality meant that everything was dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Kevin licked a glue stick so now nobody gets glue sticks. or “He does not respect me. You MUST make him respect me.” Respect and trust are earned not commanded. And if you call his parents because he won’t put on his winter jacket for recess and send him to the principal for rolling his eyes you are running away from the battles.

    Correction there was one young substitute history teacher who was quite good but she only lasted a few months until the regular came back.

  2. Wasn’t the donation just a hugely PR diversion to limit the negative publicity fallout from the move “The Social Network”? If so, it wasn’t particularly effective at that either.

  3. If I may, the opening question is redundant — the answer is clearly yes.

    Having said that, a few more thoughts. Once upon a time schooling was a progressive ideal meant to empower the individual to give each person both the ability to interact in full with the institutions and to avoid the swindles and injustices uneducated people are more easily victims of. Thus, literacy and numeracy has clear practical goals. Unfortunately the modern education system has different aims (personal growth? self expression? diversity? I would not know), and is facing new and peculiar challenges — when I was in school, had a kid caused trouble the parents would have taken the side of the teachers, nowadays if a kid causes trouble parents tend to excuse the kid. Finally, once upon a time education was a sure way for upward social mobility, something that is either not true today or is true in a much less broad sense. Hence parents do not demand their kids to make an effort in school (which is more like a glorified daycare), and kids internalise the lesson ‘why bother’.

    So, given the fact that schools are saddled with the responsibility to fix all society’s problems (as opposed to just teach the curriculum), parents approach schools with a high level of entitlement while having very low demands on their spawn, how can schools not be bad?

  4. tekumse: I don’t know if older teachers are on average better than younger ones. Being a good teacher is part art (the ability to teach is probably more an art than a science) and part knowledge. The problem of our schools is not that we do not control the “art” part of teaching, which would be in any case very difficult to do, is that we don’t even control for that aspect of the teaching profession that is easy to measure: knowledge. Our kids are taught Spanish, French, Latin, you name it… by teachers who themselves don’t speak those languages, mathematics teachers with “30 maths credits…”

    Why have we as a society give control of our public education to “The Three Stooges” is a question for future historians.

  5. I don’t know about other public school systems, but in NYC where I live, a Nobel Prize laureate who writes in French and worked twenty years as a teacher in a Catholic school could not work as a French teacher in a public school if he lacks the required number of French language credits, and/or the proper “official school teacher education.”

    The article posted by Philip contains a quote that compares TFA teachers with pilots with just a few flying hours. The analogy is not valid. A pilot who is as incompetent as many public school teachers are would not survive to accumulate any flight time. Many “experienced teachers” have “crashed the plane” every day they went to work. And, in NYC at least, once they are “in the system” for a few years they get tenure so they can remain employed until they get to make more than $100k/year (not counting the pension).

  6. “Only” $20 million went to consultants. Another $25 million went to warehouse senior teachers who were unfit to teach but could not be fired because they had tenure. Most of the money that Newark spends on it its schools goes for administrative expenses, building repairs, custodians, etc. – it is one of the chief sources of jobs in a city that doesn’t have much private industry. Educating the children is sort of beside the point.

    No one has ever been able to achieve success in teaching an inner city school population, so it hardly makes a difference where or how the money is spent – no matter what you are not going to weave that straw into gold. Not with the billion they already spend and not with Zuckerberg’s $200 million and not with another billion. Newark already spends more than most districts, for little measurable result. Charters achieve “success” by cream skimming and even then their achievements are measurable only in relation to dismal urban school standards.

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