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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
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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.

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Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Comments (15) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Luke Allen's picture

I believe the first step in education reform should be to take the politicians out of the equation. The second would be to take any "experts" who have never had full-time experience in a K-12 classroom and put them in a classroom, full-time for at least two years before they are eligible to be in a decision making role. Third, stop touting charter schools as the answer until every school has the right to hand pick its student body.

Ben's picture

I think that it's great when private companies step up and help out districts in need. But at the same time, monies should be dispersed to all area schools and should be shared equally with the districts in need and not given to just one school. With the politicians and the public pushing for changes in education, there is an even stronger need for support and funding. But what we see happening is the opposite. The groups that want to see an increase in education have crippled the schools by taking money away from public education and support they need to succeed. The voucher system and charter schools, do nothing to improve local schools and seem to just line the pockets of the charter owners.

Kelly Flynn's picture
Kelly Flynn
Former high school teacher and author of Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill

I agree with Luke Allen--take the politicians and the self-proclaimed experts out of the reform equation. It is completely illogical that they run the show and teachers are left out. Even the MSNBC Teacher Town Hall was a joke. Sure, they may have had 8,000 comments, but they were all from teachers TO teachers. We were preaching to the choir. When are teachers going to have an opportunity in front of a national audience like Gates and Christie and Zuckerberg did?
Kelly Flynn, author of Kids, Classrooms, and Capitol Hill: A Peek Inside the Walls of America's Public Schools.

James Brenneman's picture

I totally agree with this. There are too many education professors and experts that would never stand a chance in a classroom setting - them versus a roomful of students.

Marc Young's picture

The education budget always involves a large amount of money. Large amounts of money always attract politicians. Politicians think they know how to direct money toward education and in my 30 years of teaching I haven't seen them improve the quality od education. Education and technology continually allow for education to change and grow. Decisions need to be made by educators.

T. Day's picture
T. Day
Private College Educator

Education as a profession has squandered a lot of good will over the years. It doesn't help that practically every office in every industry contains at least one very competent person who left teaching because of lousy management, union incompetence, or burn-out. Like most occupations or industries, teachers have been notoriously poor at self-regulating themselves. Higher education has performed much worse with many or most teachers admitting the worst classes they suffered through in their formal education were "education" courses.

At our private college, we recently had a series of presentations about managing classrooms, dealing with difficult students, fighting through the "disabled student" morass, and evaluation tactics; all presented by "experts" from the local state university's education department. Universally, these presentations were received as being horribly disorganized, marginally relevant, and poorly presented. As a result, our faculty as asked that the school refrain from allowing these "experts" access to our time.

Something has to happen to turn around the direction of public education in the US. Maybe the politicians will have a better handle on it than education experts. It's hard to imagine they will do a worse job. The current system's concentration on pedigree over ability has done students a terrible disservice.

Maurice Elias's picture
Maurice Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

The strong consensus about the Newark donation reflects an understanding that education is a professional activity that needs to be separated from politics, as well as theatrics. Our children cannot be props in an adult "power and ideology" melodrama.

Maurice Elias's picture
Maurice Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

The strong consensus in the comments reflects an understanding that education is a professional activity that must be separated from politics. Our children can no longer be props in adults' Power and Ideology melodramas.

Meredith Ribeiro's picture
Meredith Ribeiro
1st Grade Teacher, Urban School District

Sorry my response is a bit late. Initially, I thought this was really great of MZ. However, as a teacher in an urban neighbor of Newark, I thought more about the situation and wondered why we are letting a 26 year old with no experience (other then being a former student) calling the shots in one of NJs largest and poorest school district. I don't really feel any better with our Governor and Mayor Booker calling shots either. Neither has any teaching or educational leadership experience either. I would love to see this money do something that the district could otherwise not afford, something over the top and unique - much what charter schools and vocational/technical schools are supposed to be doing. I don't believe the money should pay for regular, required programming and education. How about getting more parents and families involved in their children's education?

Ray Tango1's picture

I am unbelievably pumped for Saturday night when Husker football starts. Kim and I found a club that we're joining called North Texans for Nebraska and they're getting the pay-per-view game. I guess some times they make runzas and have Valentinos Pizza at their game parties too. How they get the valentinos, I have no idea.

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