“How School Reform Can Help Everyone but the Students”

I recently came across this thoughtful article on Newark School District reforms, buttressed by millions of dollars of cash from Mark Zuckerberg, that essentially indicates that a giant dose of money and the addition of charter schools in of themselves won’t reform failing school districts overnight. Another lesson from Newark is that reforms that are blocked by entrenched interestsNewark are never going to be easy, and there will be some failures along with the successes, particularly if parents are not a critical part of the process.

The key quote from this is from one of the teachers who stayed on at a public school until the bitter end, finally migrating to a charter due to greater flexibility in adapting to the needs of parents and children as well as the greater amount of money that makes it to the classroom. The section in full that encapsulates her story is below.

Reformers often wave away the import of parental neglect and assume that they can fix poverty through improving schools. That may be a skewed social perspective; but Russakoff’s reporting offers anecdotal evidence that good schools can actually change parents. Princess Williams, the teacher-heroine of The Prize, at first refused to abandon her public school for a charter. Armed with extra money from the reforms, she spearheaded a school improvement effort centered on engaging with parents and offering wrap-around services for families. Her successes bringing parents in and helping them help their children were truly inspiring. But she grew frustrated with the district’s inflexibility and finally decided to leave for a charter school. Williams concluded that charters were simply better able to allocate resources where they’re needed.

She’s right. Newark public schools spend $19,650 per pupil, but only $9,604 reaches the classroom. Charters spend $16,400, but $12,664 reaches the classroom. [emphasis is mine – MO]. Students in Newark charter schools learn roughly twice as much in a year as kids in public school. After all the dust settles, the charter schools launched with Zuckerberg’s money will be left standing: By 2017, 10,000 children who would have been in public schools will be enrolled in charters.

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