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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Education, Show Business, and Facebook

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
Is it a good idea for the mayor to be "given" educational control by the governor?

Many details have yet to emerge, of course, but based on what you have read and heard, what do you think?

Newark is an urban community of more than 80 schools that has had many difficulties, but also some successes. Historically, Newark has been poorly served by its school and civic leaders. It was taken over by the state after scandals and continued abysmal test scores, dropout rates, and other indicators of lack of student success in school and life.

Recently, Governor Christie relieved Superintendent Janey of his job (seemingly out of the blue but possibly part of a plan) well before his attempted reforms had a chance to take root. Prior to the firing, the governor's budget cuts to public education devastated the progress of the superintendent's plans and led to the dissolution of an exemplary group of social and emotional learning (SEL), and social-emotional and character development (SECD) practitioners that had assembled in Newark under the leadership of Clare Shade and Sharon Orosz.

The funding is coming from the Facebook founder and billionaire, just at the moment of release of the film about his life. (I don't think this is a coincidence.) His $100 million must be matched by an equal amount, which of course diverts potential resources from the rest of New Jersey's schools.

But truth be told, the lure of celebrity is greater than the lure of education, and it's not likely that much of the $100 million match that emerges would have found its way into the state's educational coffers for the benefit of students.

Some say that the funding will go toward expansion of successful charter schools and to policies that are not favored by teachers' unions. That would certainly be consistent with the governor's modus operandi and would suggest that the incoming superintendent will not have a lot of latitude beyond the governor's preferences. It's also not clear what will happen to the Newark schools that just received millions of dollars in turnaround funds, with its attendant constraints.

A lawsuit denying the governor's rights to turn Newark schools over to the mayor also seems imminent, according to the Education Law Center. The Center is also concerned about the disproportionate allocation of resources to one district, among the more than two dozen urban areas in New Jersey facing funding cuts and fighting failure.

While the story is unfolding and our opinions will evolve, it's important to express your ideas, concerns, and questions. Perhaps we can ensure that those making potentially devastating decisions in the coming weeks and months will hear your voices.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Danielle's picture

I have to be honest when I first heard about the gift I immediately thought, "What a wonderful opportunity for the school district!" I never thought once about the other 550 districts. I have not been following the story, as it seems you have been reading up on it. Nonetheless Thank you for educating me on such a serious subject.

Christine's picture

I have a deep sense of frustration about this issue. Gov. Christie has not proven himself to be one with an understanding of education, nor has he surrounded himself with people who can make sound decisions regarding education (ie: former Commissioner of Education Schundler). My prediction is that the donated funds and the state funds will be squandered when they are sent to Newark schools. Gov. Christie unilaterally withdrew state funding from successful public schools without investigation. And now he will send 100 million dollars to a failing system. Furthermore, to give the mayor control of the funds is yet another example of Christie's abuse of the laws and regulations in our state. Is there past precedence for this action?

Sheri Thurmond's picture

If there are 550 school districts in New Jersey, then the money should be split evenly between the school districts. I think one problem with education is the fact that so many states depend on a lottery to give education more money when we all know that that does not happen. I believe that lottery money should be extra money for schools not the "sole supporter" of education in the state. In Georgia, where I live, schools are cutting teachers, increasing class sizes, and giving furlough days because there is a shortage of money. Why should teachers and students have to suffer because the government likes to spend money on worthless items?

Jones's picture

I do not know much about this situation but I will definitely conduct my own reseach! Please tell me more about it.

Based on what I have read, I agree that the money should be split amongst the other districts as well. Its only fair especially if we want all of our students to have an equal opportunity to learn. That is a lot of money that could truly help many areas. Seeing 550 school districts move a step in the right direction brings me more satisfaction than just the limited district. All students deserve the best! not a selected few!

Wanda Davis's picture
Wanda Davis
English Department Chairperson

My concern with this donation is that the plans for spending the funds has yet to be revealed. I read an article that said the deal was in the works for a while before the donation was solidified, but when it was announced, no one unveiled an action plan. I want to know what is going to happen to the money, and more importantly, why hasn't anyone talked about putting the money to use.

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