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This past week, Mark Zuckerberg, owner and founder of Facebook, donated $100 million dollars to the Newark New Jersey public school system. A charitable act worthy of the Oprah show, the donation is a sizable portion of the Newark district’s entire yearly budget. Though Mr. Zuckerberg, a billionaire seven times over, can well afford the write off, it was nonetheless a monumental gesture in a economy thirsting for charity.
I was listening to a radio commentary regarding this donation and the concern voiced by the commentator was whether or not private interest should make such donations to public schools. Why shouldn’t they? The commentator feared interference from donors regarding educational policy and politics. Is that like what happens when special interests donate to political campaigns? Does anyone tremble over the repercussions of that? Just how much influence could someone like Mr. Zucherberg have over an entire school district like Newark New Jersey anyway? The Newark Public School system has been awash in poor student performance, declining graduation rates and increasing dropout rates for over two decades. Maybe a little outside influence could do the district some good.
Perhaps instead of worrying about private interest funding for public education we should instead be concerned with how many legislators, politicians and public figures have stock in for profit after school programs like Slyvan Learning Centers, Kaplan Inc. and Huntington Learning Centers. Poor academic performance is a lucrative business, and there are many who are profiting from the backs of kids who fail year after year due to poorly designed standardized tests. Tests that the teachers loathe and schools do not see purpose in except to marginalize kids and rank schools in “performance”. The worse the rankings, the greater the apparent need for program improvement interventions which only provide another level of useless bureaucracy and futile assessment programs. There always seems to be plenty of district money to spend on program improvement, even when other areas like the arts suffer because of it.
Perhaps someone like Mr. Zucherberg will force the Newark school district to take a fresh approach to the old problem. Maybe rethink entrenched bureaucracy, bloated administrations and worthless programs that add little or nothing to the overall success of the students. Money talks, and when it is $100 million you can bet that there will be alot of people listening.