Monday, January 03, 2011

Asking a $100 Million Question

The WSJ's Barbara Martinez with an excellent article on the outreach effort in Newark, the first step associated with Mark Zuckerberg's grant.  It's good to see the union leader saying positive things:

Workers and volunteers armed with pocket warmers are wrapping up an ambitious canvassing plan this week: knock on every door of this downtrodden city to ask citizens how they would go about fixing the city's schools.

The effort was sparked by a $100 million challenge grant made in September by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. His money is contingent on Newark Mayor Cory Booker raising another $100 million from private sources—a goal that the mayor said he'll have no problem reaching. In announcing the gift, Mr. Booker promised that he would launch a campaign to hear what Newarkers thought was hampering the city's school system, which graduates only half its students from high school despite spending $22,000 per pupil.

The campaign ends this month, with nearly 50,000 doors knocked on, 20,000 questionnaires completed and thousands of calls made. Workers have hit welfare offices, high-school basketball and football games and homeless shelters. They have conducted evening and Saturday forums at schools and neighborhood centers. More than 100 community groups have signed on to help.

…"The country is watching Newark," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, through a spokesman. "We're very optimistic."

The door-to-door campaign will result in a report to be issued next month based on the feedback from the citizens. After that, the mayor and a new superintendent will "begin the vital reforms that they and the community know are needed," said a spokesman for Partnership for Education in Newark, or PENewark, which is leading the outreach efforts.

…Still, others see an opportunity for change with the thawing of the relationship between Mr. Booker and the president of the Newark Teachers Union. After being a thorn in the mayor's side for years, Joseph Del Grosso now speaks favorably of the mayor. After the announcement of the Zuckerberg gift, "we spoke for the first time in seven years," Mr. Del Grosso said. "We've become pretty friendly."

Mr. Del Grosso said he's not opposed to big changes like tying teacher evaluations to student progress and creating opportunities for teachers to earn more based on performance. "We want to achieve something" with the $200 million, "and not let it be another boondoggle," he said.


Asking a $100 Million Question


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