George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Education, Show Business, and Facebook

October 13, 2010

What do you think about the situation in the Newark public schools? Do you think it's a good idea for the governor of New Jersey to engineer a $100 million gift, and matching funds, to just one district of more than 550 in New Jersey? 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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