RealClearEd Today 05/14/2014: Let's Get Engaged
Good morning, it's Wednesday May 14. This morning at RealClearEducation we have news, commentary, analysis, and reports from the top of the education world. Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun writes today about the Gallup-Purdue Index of college and life outcomes and the role of student engagement in education and society. As we do each weekday we'll update the site throughout the day with new content - on our main page as well as sidebars that focus on specific parts of the education sector in depth. At the bottom of this email are just a few highlights of all the new material on our site this morning.
It's Mark Zuckerberg's birthday! The billionaire Facebook founder was born on this date in 1984. One of his presents this year is a new mayor in the city where he pledged $100 million to help improve the schools - Newark, N.J.
Yesterday, former high school principal and city councilman Ras Baraka defeated former assistant attorney general Shavar Jefferies to serve as Newark's next mayor. Baraka isn't the first principal to become a city's chief executive but he may be the first one who was also featured on a Fugees album.
Newark has emerged as a flashpoint in the education debate. And as is usually the case in these situations, all manner of misinformation is freely tossed around. An insightful article in The New Yorker this week showed the caricature of Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson as a charter school booster is borne of ignorance. Anderson has repeatedly raised concerns about charter schools and believes that the school district is an essential part of education delivery. Within the education reform community, Anderson's known as someone who is not hostile to charters but also appreciates their limitations. That's one reason she's had cool relations with charter school leaders in New Jersey.
That tension is understandable and a natural outgrowth of different theories of action. Less clear is the teachers' union endgame in Newark. Other than setting fire to reform efforts, riling up parents, and saying "no." it's hard to see where the union wants to actually take Newark's public schools. Absent some sort of vision and a strong condemnation of past practices, one is left wondering if their goal isn't a return to the kleptocracy that preceded Anderson so long as that restores previous labor practices and personnel policies.
You don't have to be a fan of reform, Anderson, or charters to get that Newark's educational status quo was absolutely unacceptable. Meanwhile, despite the noise, there has been progress in Newark. For instance, graduation rates are up (for real, not through credit recovery scams), more kids are in pre-K and the district is finally improving persistently low-performing schools.
There are low expectations for the new mayor's commitment to taking the tough steps to continue to improve Newark's schools. "Hopeless" is how one connected Newark education leader described him. But sometimes politicians surprise. Although his powers are formally limited, leadership can involve a variety of strategies so the new mayor could be a catalyst for positive change. He could start by toning down the poisonous rhetoric and figuring out ways to bring the community together rather than divide it over its schools.
Except for the ideologues and professional advocacy class, that would get a lot of likes.