How Would You Spend $100 Million?

How would you spend $100 million? If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the most successful social network on the planet, you spend it trying to improve one of the most unsuccessful public school districts in America: the one in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2010 Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark Public School System on condition that then-Mayor Corey Booker, a Democrat, and Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, directed how the money was spent. Booker was a school choice supporter, and Christie took on the powerful teachers unions.

Five years later, Zuckerberg’s money has apparently been spent on consultants and teacher compensation, with little to show in the way of better educational outcomes. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed explained how this was just one more failed top-down reform attempt by private and non-profit donors working with government education systems.

Booker and Christie were unable to fundamentally change the top-down school system that put bureaucrats and unions, rather than parents, in control.

It’s amazing what lessons can be (re)learned when you spend $100 million dollars in ways guaranteed not to improve education. Hopefully, all of us will learn from this failure that you can’t reform the public school system just by giving it more money. Next time, give the money to the parents to spend on the schools and educational resources of their choice.

Portland Public Schools’ New Ombudsman Should Be Independent

By Joel Grey

In response to parent complaints, Portland Public Schools will create a new ombudsman position. An ombudsman is a person within an organization who provides accountability and investigates complaints.

It’s a good thing for public schools to have an ombudsman. An ombudsman is dedicated to listening to parents’ concerns and preventing abuses within the system. Accountability is important because people will often get away with whatever they are able to, and an ombudsman makes it harder to escape independent oversight.

The problem here is that the school district has placed the ombudsman within the public relations department, reporting directly to chief of community involvement and public affairs, rather than to the superintendent. The job of public relations isn’t to investigate and stop abuses within the system; it’s to improve the public’s view of the schools. Placing an ombudsman in a PR department makes it appear to parents that the position is just for show.

An ombudsman should be as independent as possible and report to the highest level of an organization―in this case, directly to the superintendent. This is what Newark Public Schools does, and it is a common practice. Without independence, the ombudsman may appear to parents to be simply a tool to placate their criticisms without effecting real reform.

Joel Grey is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.