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Reform Gone Wrong: Despite $100 Million From Facebook, Newark Schools Still Screwed Up

Infighting and a lack of transparency in decision making are hampering reform and losing the trust of the community.


Last September, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously went on the Oprah Winfrey Show to announce that he'd sent a $100 million friend request to the troubled Newark, New Jersey schools. Six months later, only $1 million of those funds has been spent and the community is bickering over how to best use the $99 million balance that's being held by the foundation that Zuckerberg started to administer the funds, Startup Education.

Controversy started right off the bat when Zuckerberg attached strings to the money, like demanding that Newark Mayor Cory Booker be given control of the city's schools. Due to abysmal academic performance and mismanagement, the 40,000 student-strong district has been under state control since 1995 and mayoral control is prohibited by New Jersey law. Governor Chris Christie went ahead and opted not to renew school superintendent Clifford Janey's contract—a new superintendent still hasn't been hired—and said Booker would play an "advisory" role to the schools.

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Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty Is an Education Reformer for Hire

Fenty is jumping into the public speaking circuit as an "national leader in the area of urban education reform."

Washington, D.C. voters may have given former mayor Adrian Fenty the boot over his support of schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, but now he's available for hire on the public speaking circuit as a "national leader in the area of urban education reform"

Fenty's being represented by Manhattan-based speakers bureau Greater Talent Network. According to his bio, Fenty

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Year in Review 2010: Urban School District Leadership in Transition

Almost every major urban school districts saw leadership shakeups this year. Here are some of the biggest.

What do Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C. all have in common? In 2010, the heads of these major urban school districts-superintendents, chancellors and CEOs-either resigned, were fired, or announced that they'd be out the door come 2011. If you're looking for a job in school district, these cities might just be hiring.

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Just days ago, it seemed like teachers' unions were going to be toppled from their powerful perches. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan had enacted a series of policies that were seen as hostile to the unions. In cities, such as Washington, D.C. and New York, chancellors and mayors actively antagonized them. And the movie that could become the An Inconvenient Truth for education more or less features unions as the enemy of school reform.

This Tuesday, however, the unions may have shown that they haven't lost their clout just yet. According to Ben Smith over at Politico, the teachers' union played a role in the defeat of Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrain Fenty (and, by proxy, his Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee). Smith says that the American Federation of Teachers doled out $1 million to usher the aggressive reformers out of office.

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The last time I visited the nation's capital was in May. At that time, the idea of current Mayor Adrian Fenty not winning reelection seemed laughable. Fast-forward one summer, and that event is looking more and more like reality. A recent Washington Post poll has Fenty behind by 10 points to challenger and current City Council Chairman Vincent Gray in the Democratic Mayoral Primary—which in, heavily Democratic Washington, is the mayoral election.

One major consequence of a Fenty loss is the likely dismissal or resignation of current D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is easily one of the most recognizable names in the fight for education reform, along with Geoffrey Canada, Arne Duncan, and Joel Klein. Fenty essentially staked his entire tenure on Rhee, who moved with brusque alacrity to change everything from school lunches to the system's use of test score data. Her crown jewel was renegotiating the District's contract with its teachers to add in a lot more accountability and strike at the heart of teacher tenure.

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