The New Yorker‘s fascinating story about Cory Booker and Chris Christie’s grand plans for Newark’s schools, courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg’s millions. If you haven’t read it by now, you should. The plan was an ambitious and enormously expensive attempt to reconfigure the school system, and at least according to the New Yorker, it was also quite a boondoggle. Its changes are also likely a target of incoming Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a noted foe of Booker’s and Christie’s agenda for education reform.In a piece building off the New Yorker, Reihan Salam marvels at the amount spent per student after the reform efforts hit full force in 2010: $26,000. As he says, you could do a lot with that kind of money, so why didn’t Newark? Because, he argues, pouring massive amounts of cash into an already dysfunctional system only magnifies the dysfunction:
If you really care about public education, calling for more spending is exactly the wrong thing to do. Pouring more money into dysfunctional schools gives incompetent administrators the excuse they need to avoid trimming bureaucratic fat and shedding underutilized facilities and underperforming personnel. It spares them the need to focus on the essentials, or to rethink familiar models. The promise of constant spending increases is what keeps lousy schools lousy. When private businesses keep failing their customers year after year, they eventually go out of business. When public schools do the same, they dupe taxpayers, and the occasional tech billionaire, into forking over more money.
Salam goes on to make a point that should be familiar to TAI readers: that an important part of education reform is avoiding the temptation to throw money at centralized, one-size-fits-all plans. We need a flexible system—one that gives states, districts, and even principals and teachers the freedom to experiment and to adopt the models that work best in their particular circumstances.