RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And now, to a story of a helping hand from another young star. Last fall, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million gift to improve public schools in Newark, New Jersey. Since then, other donors have pledged tens of millions in matching funds. The plan for how to spend the money is now taking shape, and a new superintendent is coming in to lead the effort to reform the city's schools. But as Nancy Solomon reports, the huge infusion of money from private sources has fueled fears that New York's public school system will be privatized.
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NANCY SOLOMON: Unidentified Man: You can have your charters but never cross the doorway of our public schools. Take your pound of flesh.
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LUCIOUS JONES: Folks are having an issue with the transparency. And they're having an issue with trust.
SOLOMON: Lucious Jones, a parent and PTA member, says Mayor Booker's reform plan was presented fully formed without involving parents.
JONES: There's been no community meetings. There are parents, there are community people who really want to be involved. They want to be in on the ground floor. We want to see community schools. We want to see functioning traditional public schools.
SOLOMON: Paul Trachtenberg, a Rutgers professor of education law says this gives too much control of public institutions to private donors.
PAUL TRACTENBERG: It's driven by corporate notions of how one might run a more efficient system of schooling, not really by focusing on professionalization of education. But rather, the reverse of de-professionalizing the schools, and assuming that if you're successful as a corporate manager, you can run a school system.
SOLOMON: A few days after Tractenberg made these comments, Governor Chris Christie announced he would hand over the operation of five underperforming schools in New Jersey to private companies. Trachtenberg says he fears Newark is headed in the same direction, privatizing education through for-profit school operators and charter schools.
CORY BOOKER: I think that's a horrible characterization, frankly.
SOLOMON: Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
BOOKER: The focus of the Zuckerberg grant is not to fund charter schools. It will be going towards traditional district schools. So that is just a falsehood.
SOLOMON: Mayor Booker says he intends to focus on extending the school day and shortening the summer break. He also wants to focus on hiring quality teachers, providing better training for the teachers already in Newark, and reducing administrative staff and regulations.
BOOKER: We want to make our principals real school leaders and instructional leaders by liberating them of a lot of the compliance of a huge central bureaucracy. So this is some of the things we know we're going to be doing: focusing on the classroom, focusing on the teachers, focusing on independence, on autonomy of schools. But at the same time, higher levels of accountability.
SOLOMON: The mayor says he's planning to add more community representatives onto the board. But so far, he's failed to convince some of his long-time supporters, such as Reverend Bill Howard at Bethany Baptist Church.
BILL HOWARD: So when I say to him, talk to educators, he's says to me: I'm talking to the educators, except I can't meet any he's talking to.
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HOWARD: You know, he's asked me who he should talk to? I've recommended people. They haven't heard from him yet. So the mayor may prove to be absolutely right. He may prove that the ideas he has are the ones we've been waiting for. But poor me, I just don't think so.
SOLOMON: For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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