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Edu-topia in newark
The Problem with Top-Down Education Reforms

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.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “If you really care about public education, calling for more spending is exactly the wrong thing to do.” Duh!

  • johngbarker

    “centralized, one-size-fits-all plans.” This may be bad for schools but it is certainly helpful for the vendors of consulting services, test prep and remedial education.”Race to the Top” was designed for this purpose. Newark was paying a thousand dollars a day for some of “reformers” who can now blame bureaucracy and teacher unions for their incompetence. If they really knew their business or cared, the consultants would have stopped this train wreck in the first six months.

  • ShadrachSmith

    The trouble with public education is that the customers have no say in the funding, so actually educating individual children doesn’t count for much, budgetarily speaking. If the parents spent the funds where they wished, with free bussing and wait lists, our schools would improve dramatically. Granted there would be some lunatic fringe schools. But we would be a lot better off than we are now.

  • rambler

    Newark will be a national model for another failed dem plan. No plan is aggressive enough to counter act decades of dem rule in a totally dems controlled state. Zuckie wasted his money. Want to fix Newark, then take a wrecking ball to Trenton!

  • Corlyss

    “Its changes are also likely a target of incoming Newark Mayor Ras Baraka,”

    What’s the matter with these I*di*ot voters in Blue states? Don’t they read anything outside their bubbles? Electing these crypto-communists tyrant wannabes repeatedly to office where they can do the most damage? Every thoughtful person in Newark should flee as soon as possible and leave it to the Lotus-Eaters.

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