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Schooled Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark's schools. They got an education, Part 1


Ohanian Comment: The article below is part of a book to be released--to great acclaim--on Sept. 8. There is a book review in the Sunday New York Times and here are some pre-publication blurbs.


"Washington Post reporter Russakoff's fascinating study of the struggle to reform the Newark school system reveals the inner workings of a wide range of systemic and grassroots problems (charter schools, testing, accountability, private donors) plaguing education reform today. Russakoff's eagle-eyed view of the current state of the public education system in Newark and the United States is one of the finest education surveys in recent memory." --Publishers Weekly, STARRED

"This is of one the most disturbing and powerful books I've read in years. The point of this story is not that the well intentioned Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $100 million to help those less fortunate. The point is they gave it to the wrong people. This deeply researched story left me cheering for teachers, crying for schoolchildren, and raging at politicians. With The Prize, Dale Russakoff demonstrates why she is one of the great nonfiction voices of our time."--James McBride, author of The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird

"Dale Russakoff managed to get amazing access to the inside story of Mark Zuckerberg's giant gift to Newark's schools. And she shows how it all fell apart, derailed and compromised by arrogant reformers, ambitious politicians, and short-sighted special interests. An essential history of the modern education-reform movement, both infuriating and inspiring."--Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character


The Prize is a riveting cautionary tale. Despite the best intentions of philanthropists and politicians, big money and big data will not save urban education, as long as reform efforts are undemocratic and overlook the realities of poor children's lives. With her deep ties to Newark, only Dale Russakoff could have told this poignant story. The Prize is essential reading for anyone who cares about how to give hope to America's most vulnerable kids."--Dana Goldstein, author of The Teacher Wars

"The fight for, or over, the children of Newark might have been "merely" an important story about the future of public education in America, but in Russakoff's accomplished hands--and with a cast of characters including Chris Christie, Cory Booker, and Mark Zuckerberg--it has become a Shakespearean spectacle of cross-purposes: ambition, altruism, and just about any human drive that invites an equal and opposite reaction."--Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home


By Dale Russakoff

Late one night in December, 2009, a black Chevy Tahoe in a caravan of cops and residents moved slowly through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Newark. In the back sat the Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, and the Republican governor-elect of New Jersey, Chris Christie. They had become friendly almost a decade earlier, during Christie's years as United States Attorney in Newark, and Booker had invited him to join one of his periodic patrols of the city's busiest drug corridors.

The ostensible purpose of the tour was to show Christie one of Booker's methods of combatting crime. But Booker had another agenda that night. Christie, during his campaign, had made an issue of urban schools. "We're paying caviar prices for failure," he'd said, referring to the billion-dollar annual budget of the Newark public schools, three-quarters of which came from the state. "We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over. It's outrageous."

Booker had been a champion of vouchers and charter schools for Newark since he was elected to the city council, in 1998, and now he wanted to overhaul the school district. He would need Christie's help. The Newark schools had been run by the state since 1995, when a judge ended local control, citing corruption and neglect. A state investigation had concluded, "Evidence shows that the longer children remain in the Newark public schools, the less likely they are to succeed academically." Fifteen years later, the state had its own record of mismanagement, and student achievement had barely budged.

Christie often talked of having been born in Newark, and Booker asked his driver to take a detour to Christie's old neighborhood. The Tahoe pulled to a stop along a desolate stretch of South Orange Avenue, where Christie said he used to take walks with his mother and baby brother. His family had moved to the suburbs in 1967, when he was four, weeks before the cataclysmic Newark riots. An abandoned three-story building, with gang graffiti sprayed across boarded-up windows, stood before them on a weedy, garbage-strewn lot. Dilapidated West Side High School loomed across the street. About ninety per cent of its students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, and barely half of the freshmen made it to graduation. Three West Side seniors had been shot and killed by gangs the previous school year, and the year before that, on a warm summer night, local members of a Central American gang known as MS-13, wielding guns, a machete, and a steak knife, had murdered three college-bound Newark youths, two of them from West Side. Another West Side graduate had been badly maimed.

In the back seat of the S.U.V., Booker proposed that he and Christie work together to transform education in Newark. They later recalled sharing a laugh at the prospect of confounding the political establishment with an alliance between a white suburban Republican and a black urban Democrat. Booker warned that they would face a brutal battle with unions and machine politicians. With seven thousand people on the payroll, the school district was the biggest public employer in a city of roughly two hundred and seventy thousand. As if spoiling for the fight, Christie replied, "Heck, I got maybe six votes in Newark. Why not do the right thing?"

So began one of the nation's most audacious exercises in education reform. The goal was not just to fix the Newark schools but to create a national model for how to turn around an entire school district.

The abysmal performance of schools in the poorest communities has been an escalating national concern for thirty years, with universities, governments, and businesses devoting enormous resources to the problem. In the past decade, a reform movement financed by some of the nation's wealthiest philanthropists has put forward entrepreneurial approaches: charter schools, business-style accountability for teachers and principals, and merit bonuses for top performers. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created Race to the Top, a $4.3-billion initiative to induce states to approve more charter schools and to rate teachers based on student performance.

Christie's response to Booker--"Why not do the right thing?"--reflected the moral tone of the movement. Reformers compared their cause to the civil-rights movement, aware that many of their key opponents were descendants of the old civil-rights establishment: unions and urban politicians determined to protect thousands of public jobs in cities where secure employment was rare. Decades of research have shown that experiences at home and in neighborhoods have far more influence on children's academic achievement than classroom instruction. But reformers argued that well-run schools with the flexibility to recruit the best teachers could overcome many of the effects of poverty, broken homes, and exposure to violence. That usually meant charter schools, which operated free of the district schools' large bureaucracies and union rules. "We know what works," Booker and other reformers often said. They blamed vested interests for using poverty as an excuse for failure, and dismissed competing approaches as incrementalism. Education needed "transformational change." Mark Zuckerberg, the twenty-six-year-old head of Facebook, agreed, and he pledged a hundred million dollars to Booker and Christie's cause.

Almost four years later, Newark has fifty new principals, four new public high schools, a new teachers' contract that ties pay to performance, and an agreement by most charter schools to serve their share of the neediest students. But residents only recently learned that the overhaul would require thousands of students to move to other schools, and a thousand teachers and more than eight hundred support staff to be laid off within three years. In mid-April, seventy-seven members of the clergy signed a letter to Christie requesting a moratorium on the plan, citing "venomous" public anger and "the moral imperative" that people have power over their own destiny. Booker, now a U.S. senator, said in a recent interview that he understood families' fear and anger: "My mom--she would've been fit to be tied with some of what happened." But he characterized the rancor as "a sort of nadir," and predicted that in two or three years Newark could be a national model of urban education. "That's pretty monumental in terms of the accomplishment that will be."

Booker was part of the first generation of black leaders born after the civil-rights movement. His parents had risen into management at I.B.M., and he grew up in the affluent, almost all-white suburb of Harrington Park, about twenty miles from Newark. Six feet three, gregarious, and charismatic, Booker was an honors student and a football star. He graduated from Stanford and went on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and then to Yale Law School. Ed Nicoll, a forty-year-old self-made millionaire who was studying law at Yale, became one of his close friends. He recalled Booker telling inspirational stories about his family during abstract class discussions, invariably ending with a point about social justice. "He got away with it and he enchanted everyone from left to right," Nicoll said. "In a class where everybody secretly believed they'd be the next senator or the next President of the United States, it was absolutely clear that Cory had leadership written all over him."

Instead of pursuing lucrative job prospects, Booker worked as a lawyer for Newark tenants; he was paid by a Skadden fellowship in 1997. He lived in low-income housing in an area of the Central Ward that was riddled with drugs and crime, and he got to know community activists and members of the national media. Later, CBS News and Time featured him staging hunger strikes to demand more cops in drug corridors. He ran for city council with enthusiastic support from public-housing tenants. Nicoll took time off before going back to finance to help Booker raise money. His advice was simple: tell wealthy donors your own story. Over lunch at Andros Diner, Booker told me that Nicoll taught him an invaluable lesson: "Investors bet on people, not on business plans, because they know successful people will find a way to be successful."

Booker raised more than a hundred and forty thousand dollars, an unheard-of sum for a Newark council race. A Democratic operative said of enthusiasts on Wall Street, "They let Cory into their boardrooms and offices, introduced him to people they worked with in hedge funds. As young finance people, they looked at a guy like Cory at this stage as if they were buying Google at seventy-five dollars a share. They were talking about him being the first black President before he even got elected to the city council, and they all wanted to be a part of that ride." In the spring of 1998, Booker, at the age of twenty-nine, edged out the four-term councilman George Branch.

The school-reform movement, then dominated by conservative white Republicans, saw Booker as a valuable asset. In 2000, he was invited to speak at the Manhattan Institute, in New York. He was an electrifying speaker, depicting impoverished Newark residents as captives of nepotistic politicians, their children trapped in a "repugnant" school system. "I define public education not as a publicly guaranteed space and a publicly run, publicly funded building where our children are sent based on their Zip Code," he said. "Public education is the use of public dollars to educate our children at the schools that are best equipped to do so--public schools, magnet schools, charter schools, Baptist schools, Jewish schools."

Booker told me that the speech launched his national reputation: "I became a pariah in Democratic circles for taking on the Party orthodoxy on education." But he gained "all these Republican donors and donors from outside Newark, many of them motivated because we have an African-American urban Democrat telling the truth about education." He became a sought-after speaker at fund-raisers for charter and voucher organizations, including a group of hedge-fund managers who ultimately formed Democrats for Education Reform. They supported Democrats who backed reforms opposed by teachers' unions, including the 2004 U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, Barack Obama.

There was no question that the Newark school district needed reform. For generations, it had been a source of patronage jobs and sweetheart deals for the connected and the lucky. As Ross Danis, of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, put it, in 2010, "The Newark schools are like a candy store that's a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling."

The ratio of administrators to students--one to six--was almost twice the state average. Clerks made up thirty per cent of the central bureaucracy--about four times the ratio in comparable cities. Even some clerks had clerks, yet payroll checks and student data were habitually late and inaccurate. Most school buildings were more than eighty years old, and some were falling to pieces. Two nights before First Lady Michelle Obama came to Maple Avenue School, in November, 2010, to publicize her Let's Move! campaign against obesity--appearing alongside Booker, a national co-chair--a massive brick lintel fell onto the front walkway. Because the state fixed only a fraction of what was needed, the school district spent ten to fifteen million dollars a year on structural repairs--money that was supposed to be used to educate children.

What happened inside many buildings was even worse. In a third of the district's seventy-five schools, fewer than thirty per cent of children from the third through the eighth grade were reading at grade level. The high-school graduation rate was fifty-four per cent, and more than ninety per cent of graduates who attended the local community college required remedial classes. Booker was elected mayor in 2006, and, with no power over district schools, he set out to recruit charter schools. He raised twenty million dollars for a Newark Charter School Fund from several Newark philanthropies; from the Gates, Walton, Robertson, and Fisher foundations; and from Laurene Powell Jobs. With his encouragement, Newark spawned some of the top charter schools in the country, including fifteen run by Uncommon Schools and KIPP. Parents increasingly enrolled children in charters--particularly in wards with the highest concentrations of low-income and black residents, which had the worst public schools. Many district schools were left with a preponderance of the students who most needed help.

It wasn't always this way. The Newark public schools had a reputation for excellence well into the nineteen-fifties, when Philip Roth graduated from the predominantly Jewish Weequahic High School and Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), the late African-American poet, playwright, and revolutionary, attended the predominantly Italian-American Barringer High School. But Newark's industrial base had been declining since the Depression, and it collapsed in the sixties, just as the migration of mostly poor African-Americans from the rural South reached its peak. Urban renewal, which was supposed to revive inner cities, displaced a higher percentage of poor residents in Newark than in any other city. As slums and dilapidated buildings were bulldozed to make way for office towers and civic plazas, displaced families were concentrated in five large housing projects in the city's Central Ward. The program became known, there and elsewhere, as "Negro removal."

Middle-class whites fled the city. Interstate 280, which linked downtown to the western suburbs and had an exit for Livingston, where the Christies moved, decimated stable Newark neighborhoods. Within a decade, the city's population shifted from two-thirds white to two-thirds black. According to Robert Curvin, the author of the forthcoming book "Inside Newark," it was the fastest and most tumultuous turnover of any American city except Detroit and Gary, Indiana. Remaining white students transferred out of largely African-American schools, where substitutes taught up to a quarter of the classes. "In schools with high Negro enrollments," the N.A.A.C.P. reported, "textbooks were either not available or so outmoded and in such poor condition as to be of no value." Some classrooms contained nothing but comic books.

Many in Newark still refer to the 1967 riots as "the rebellion." A flagrantly corrupt and racist Italian-American political machine controlled City Hall and the school district. The mayor, Hugh Addonizio, previously a U.S. representative, said, when he returned, "There's no money in Washington, but you can make a million bucks as the mayor of Newark." In 1970, he was convicted, with four others, of having extorted $1.4 million from city contractors. The next two mayors, Kenneth Gibson and Sharpe James, both African-American, also became convicted felons. Booker is the first Newark mayor in fifty years not to be indicted.

In 1967, Governor Richard Hughes appointed a committee to investigate the causes of the riots. The report concluded of urban renewal, "In the scramble for money, the poor, who were to be the chief beneficiaries of the programs, tended to be overlooked." And, because of "ghetto schools," most poor and black children "have no hope in the present situation. A few may succeed in spite of the barriers. The majority will not. Society cannot afford to have such human potential go to waste."

The legislature rejected a bid by Hughes to take over the schools, and the cycle of neglect and corruption continued. In 1994, Department of Education investigators found that the district was renting an elementary school infested with rats and containing asbestos and high levels of lead paint. The school board was negotiating to buy the building, worth about a hundred and twenty thousand dollars, for $2.7 million. It turned out to be owned, through a sham company, by two school principals prominent in Italian-American politics. (They were indicted on multiple charges and acquitted.) In a series of rulings in the nineties, the state Supreme Court found that funding disparities among school districts violated the constitutional right to an education for children in the poorest communities. The legislature was instructed to spend billions of dollars to equalize funding. In 1995, the state seized control of the Newark district. Christie, though, has allocated less than is required for low-income districts, pleading financial constraints.

Decades after the Hughes report, Newark's education system was still dominated by "ghetto schools." Forty per cent of babies born in Newark in 2010 received inadequate prenatal care or none at all--disadvantaged before drawing their first breath. Forty-four per cent of children lived below the poverty line--about twice the national rate--and many were traumatized by violence. Ninety-five per cent of students in the school district were black or Latino.

The history of abandonment and failed promises sowed a deep sense of isolation and a wariness of outsiders. "Newark suffers from extreme xenophobia," Ronald C. Rice, a city councilman, said. "There's a feeling that whites abandoned the city after the rebellion but there will come a time they will come back and take it away from us."

Early in the summer of 2010, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped "Confidential Draft," titled "Newark Public Schools--A Reform Plan." It called for imposing reform from the top down; a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. "Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously," the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to "make Newark the charter school capital of the nation." The plan called for an "infusion of philanthropic support" to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations; build sophisticated data and accountability systems; expand charters; and weaken tenure and seniority protections. Philanthropy, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Christie approved the plan, and Booker began pitching it to major donors.

In the previous decade, the foundations of Microsoft's Bill Gates, the California real-estate and insurance magnate Eli Broad, the Walton family (of the Walmart fortune), and other billionaires from Wall Street to Silicon Valley had come to dominate charitable funding to education. Dubbed "venture philanthropists," they called themselves investors rather than donors and sought returns in the form of sweeping changes to public schooling. In addition to financing the expansion of charter schools, they helped finance Teach for America and the development of the Common Core State Standards to increase the rigor of instruction.

At the start of Booker's career, Ed Nicoll had introduced him to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist named Marc Bodnick, who became an admirer. Bodnick was an early investor in Facebook, and he married the sister of Sheryl Sandberg, who later became the company's chief operating officer. In June, 2010, Bodnick tipped off Booker that Mark Zuckerberg was planning "something big" in education. Bodnick also told him that in July Sandberg and Zuckerberg would be attending a media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Booker was scheduled to speak. Booker said Bodnick told him to be sure to seek out Sandberg, who would connect him to Zuckerberg.

Booker by then was a national celebrity. Since his election as mayor of Newark, he had won widespread attention for presiding over a major decline in homicides--from a hundred and five in 2006 to sixty-seven in 2008. That year, for the first time in almost half a century, there were forty-three days without a single murder. Developers were negotiating deals to build the first downtown hotels in forty years, the first supermarkets in more than twenty. Philanthropists were paying to redevelop parks. A popular cable-TV series--"Brick City," a reality show about Booker's battle against crime--was about to begin its second season. Booker spoke at college commencements and charity dinners and appeared on late-night talk shows. His Twitter following, which was more than a million, outnumbered Newark residents almost four to one. Oprah Winfrey, a friend since the early two-thousands, pronounced him the "rock-star mayor of Newark."

Booker met Zuckerberg over dinner on the deck of the Sun Valley retreat of Herbert Allen, the New York investment banker who hosted the conference. Zuckerberg invited Booker to go for a walk. He said that he was looking for a city that was ready to revolutionize urban education. Booker remembered responding, "The question facing cities is not 'Can we deal with our most difficult problems--recidivism, health care, education?' The real question is 'Do we have the will?'" He asked, Why not take the best models in the country for success in education and bring them to Newark? You could flip a whole city! Zuckerberg told reporters, "This is the guy I want to invest in. This is a person who can create change."

Zuckerberg was disarmingly open regarding how little he knew about urban education or philanthropy. Six years earlier, as a sophomore at Harvard, he had dropped out to work on Facebook. He had recently joined Gates and Warren Buffett in pledging to give half his wealth to charity. He'd never visited Newark, but he said he planned to learn from the experience and become a better philanthropist in the process.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, whom he met at Harvard, embarked on education philanthropy as a couple, but they brought different perspectives. Chan grew up in what she has described as a disadvantaged family in Quincy, Massachusetts. Her Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant parents worked eighteen hours a day, and her grandparents took care of her. Chan was the first in her immediate family to go to college, and credited public-school teachers with encouraging her to reach for Harvard. While there, she volunteered five days a week at two housing projects in Dorchester, helping children with academic and social challenges. She had since become a pediatrician, caring for underserved children. She came to see their challenges at school as inseparable from their experience with poverty, difficulties at home, and related health issues, both physical and emotional.

Zuckerberg told me that he had been more influenced by a year, after college, that Chan spent teaching science at an affluent private school in San Jose. People that he and Chan met socially often "acted like she was going to do charity," he said. "My own view was: you're going to have more of an impact than a lot of these other people who are going into jobs that are paying a lot more. And that's kind of a basic economic inefficiency. Society should value these roles more." Zuckerberg had come to see teaching in urban schools as one of the most important jobs in the country, and he wanted to make it as attractive to talented college graduates as working at Facebook. He couldn't succeed in business without having his pick of the best people--why should public schools not have the same?

Zuckerberg attracted young employees to Facebook with signing bonuses far exceeding the annual salary of experienced Newark teachers. The company's workspace had Ping-Pong tables, coolers stocked with Naked juice, and red-lettered motivational signs: "STAY FOCUSED AND KEEP SHIPPING"; "MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS"; "WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN'T AFRAID?" In the Newark schools, nothing moved fast, and plenty of people were afraid. Like almost every public-school district, Newark paid teachers based on seniority and on how many graduate degrees they had earned, although neither qualification guaranteed effectiveness. Teachers who changed students' lives were paid on the same scale as the deadwood. "Who would want to work in a system like that?" Zuckerberg wanted to know.

A month after their walk in Sun Valley, Booker gave Zuckerberg a six-point reform agenda. Its top priority was a new labor contract that would significantly reward Newark teachers who improved student performance. "Over the long term, that's the only way they're going to get the very best people, a lot of the very best people," Zuckerberg told me. He proposed that the best teachers receive bonuses of up to fifty per cent of their salary, a common incentive in Silicon Valley but impossible in Newark. The district couldn't have sustained it once Zuckerberg's largesse ran out.

Booker asked Zuckerberg for a hundred million dollars over five years. "We knew it had to be big--we both thought it had to be bold, eye-catching," he said. Zuckerberg stipulated that Booker would have to raise a second hundred million dollars, and that he would release his money only as matching dollars came in. Booker also promised that the current superintendent would be replaced by a "transformational leader." Christie recounted his call from Booker afterward: "He said, 'Governor, I believe I can close this deal. I really do. I need you, though.'" Christie did not grant Booker's request for mayoral control of the schools but made him an unofficial partner in all decisions, beginning with the selection of a superintendent.

Zuckerberg and Chan flew to Newark Liberty Airport and met Booker and Christie in the Continental Airlines Presidents Club. Booker got Zuckerberg to agree to announce the gift on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," timed to coincide with the dテャテつゥbut of the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman,'" and its major marketing campaign. The film chronicled families' desperate efforts to get children out of failing traditional public schools and into charters, and blamed the crisis largely on teachers' unions.

Sheryl Sandberg, who vetted the agreement for Zuckerberg, e-mailed updates to Booker's chief fund-raiser, Bari Mattes: "Mark is following up with Gates this week. I will call David Einhorn"--a hedge-fund manager--"this week (my cousin). Mark is scheduling dinner with Broad. . . . AMAZING if Oprah will donate herself? Will she? I am following up with John Doerr/NewSchools Venture Fund." Doerr is a venture capitalist.

Ray Chambers, a Newark native who made a fortune in private equity and for decades had donated generously to education, learned of the deal and offered to coテャテつカrdinate a million-dollar gift from local philanthropies as a show of community support. But Mattes wrote to Booker in an e-mail, "I wouldn't bother. $1 M as a collective gift over 5 years is just too insignificant for this group." The e-mails were obtained by the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey.

On September 24, 2010, the team described their plan for Newark on "Oprah." "So, Mr. Zuckerberg," Oprah asked, "What role are you playing in all this?" He replied, "I've committed to starting the Startup: Education Foundation, whose first project will be a one-hundred-million-dollar challenge grant." Winfrey interrupted: "One. Hundred. Million. Dollars?" The audience delivered a standing ovation. When Winfrey asked Zuckerberg why he'd chosen Newark, he gestured toward Booker and Christie and said, "Newark is really just because I believe in these guys. . . . We're setting up a one-hundred-million-dollar challenge grant so that Mayor Booker and Governor Christie can have the flexibility they need to . . . turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation." This was the first that Newark parents and teachers had heard about the revolution coming to their schools.

Zuckerberg knew that there had been resistance to education reform in other cities, particularly in Washington, D.C., where voters had rebelled against the schools chancellor Michelle Rhee's autocratic leadership and driven Mayor Adrian Fenty from office. But he was confident that Booker, twice elected by wide margins, had the city behind him. On the day of the "Oprah" announcement, Zuckerberg posted a note on his Facebook page saying that Booker would focus as single-mindedly on education in his second term as he had on crime in his first.

A very different picture of Newark appeared, however, in the daily reports of the Star-Ledger. The city was experiencing its bloodiest summer in twenty years. As Booker negotiated the Zuckerberg gift, he was facing a potentially ruinous deficit, aggravated by the recession. He was laying off a quarter of the city's workforce, including a hundred and sixty-seven police officers--almost every new recruit hired in his first term. The city council was in revolt over Booker's bid to borrow heavily from the bond market to repair a failing water system. Meanwhile, he was managing a busy speaking schedule, which frequently took him out of the city. Disclosure forms show $1,327,190 in revenue for ninety-six speeches given between 2008 and May, 2013. "There's no such thing as a rock-star mayor," the historian Clement Price, of Rutgers University, told me. "You can be a rock star or you can be a mayor. You can't be both."

Three days after "Oprah," Booker appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" with Christie and Arne Duncan, and vowed, "We have to let Newark lead and not let people drop in from outside and point the way." But Newark wasn't leading. As matching dollars were pledged, Zuckerberg's gift moved from his foundation, in Palo Alto, into the new Foundation for Newark's Future, in Newark. F.N.F.'s board included the Mayor and those donors who contributed ten million dollars or more. (The figure was later reduced to five million, still far beyond the budget of local foundations.) F.N.F. agreed to appoint a community advisory board, but it wasn't named for another two years, and by then most of the money was committed==primarily to new labor contracts and to the expansion and support of charter schools. In one of the foundation's first expenditures, it paid Tusk Strategies, in New York, $1.3 million to manage the community-engagement campaign. Its centerpiece was ten public forums in which residents were invited to make suggestions to improve the schools. Bradley Tusk had managed Michael Bloomberg's 2009 reテャテつォlection campaign and was a consultant to charter schools in New York.

Hundreds of residents came to the first few forums and demanded to be informed and involved. People volunteered to serve as mentors for children who lacked adult support. Shareef Austin, a recreation director at Newark's West Side Park, said, "I have kids every day in my program, their homes are broken by crack. Tears come out of my eyes at night worrying about them. If you haven't been here and grown up through this, you can't help the way we can." Calvin Souder, a lawyer who taught for five years at Barringer High while he was in law school, said that some of his most challenging students were the children of former classmates who had dropped out of school and joined gangs.

Austin said that he and others who volunteered to help were never contacted: "I guess those ideas look little to the people at the top, but they're big to us, because we know what it can mean to the kids."

Booker participated in several of the meetings. He was excited to hear principals asking for more autonomy--one of his goals. He told one crowd, "It's destiny that we become the first city in America that makes its whole district a system of excellence. We want to go from islands of excellence to a hemisphere of hope."

Meanwhile, teachers worried about their students' bleak horizons. David Ganz devised a poetry exercise for his all-boys freshman literacy class. He put the word "hope" on the board and gave students a few minutes to write. Fourteen-year-old Tyler read his poem to the class:

We hope to live,
Live long enough to have kids
We hope to make it home every day
We hope we're not the next target to get sprayed. . . .
We hope never to end up in Newark's dead pool

Another student, Mark, wrote, "My mother has hope that I won't fall victim to the streets. / I hope that hope finds me." And Tariq wrote, "Hope--that's one thing I don't have."

Booker asked Christopher Cerf, his longtime unofficial education adviser, to plan the overhaul. Cerf, then fifty-six, had become a central switching station for the education-reform movement. Until 2005, he led Edison Schools, a for-profit manager of public schools. He attended Eli Broad's management training program for public-school leaders. In 2006, he became chief deputy to the New York schools chancellor, Joel Klein, sometimes called the "granddaddy of reform." For the Newark project, Cerf created a consulting firm, Global Education Advisers. Booker solicited grants from the Broad Foundation and Goldman Sachs, to begin paying the firm.

Cerf set out to develop a "fact base" of Newark's financial, staffing, and accountability systems so that a new superintendent could move swiftly to make changes. He explained to me, "My specialty is system reform--micro-politics, selfishness, corruption, old customs unmoored from any clear objectives." Ultimately, Zuckerberg and matching donors paid the firm and its consultants $2.8 million, although Cerf emphasized that he personally accepted no pay, and he left the firm in December, 2010. That month, Christie chose Cerf to be New Jersey's education commissioner, which meant that the district's chief consultant went on to become its chief overseer.

Speaking to representatives of Newark's venture philanthropists, Cerf said, "I'm very firmly of the view that when a system is as broken as this one you cannot fix it by doing the same things you've always done, only better." It was time for "whole district reform." Newark presented a unique opportunity. The district, Cerf said, "is manageable in size, it's led by an extraordinary mayor, and it's managed by the state. We still control all the levers." With no superintendent in place, Cerf's office effectively ran the schools, with the consultants providing technical support.

During the next two years, more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg's gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation. Many of the consultants had worked for Joel Klein, Teach for America, and other programs in the tight-knit reform movement, and a number of them had contracts with several school systems financed by Race to the Top grants and venture philanthropy. The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, "Everybody's getting paid, but Raheem still can't read."

Continued here.


— Dale Russakoff
The New Yorker, part 1

2014-05-19

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/19/schooled

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