Newark, New Jersey made headlines this past week when its teachers union agreed to a new system of teacher compensation that would trade certain guaranteed salary increases for merit-based bonuses. The bold plan, backed by union President Joe Del Grosso as well as Governor Chris Christie, is funded by $50 million by the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.
This sort of private investment in education has yielded substantial opposition. According to Diane Ravitch, the education philanthropy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is “inflicting incalculable damage on our public schools and on the education profession.” (N.B. The Foundation’s stated goal on their website is to make “sure high school students graduate ready for success and prepared to earn postsecondary degrees.” Sounds pretty malicious.) Especially at a time when school districts nationwide are forced to scour couches for leftover pennies, this opposition is illogical and unjustified. Even if every idea funded doesn’t work perfectly, private investment in education provides a great opportunity to encourage innovation and help kids.
Given budget constraints, it isn’t surprising that school districts are reluctant to diverge from the status quo. Most of the billions we spend on education in this country are already allocated to contracts and other mandatory costs, leaving precious little discretionary funding. To put it bluntly, the money just isn’t there.
Private investment changes the equation. Districts such as Newark have the opportunity to experiment and explore to make the changes that their schools sorely need. Who are Ravitch and others to say that under-resourced districts desperately trying to stay afloat shouldn’t take money that is offered to them? It is traditionalist ideology extended to the absurd.
To be honest, I find it puzzling–and somewhat comical–that many of the same people that lament poor education funding are trying to stop private investment into education. Corporate conspiracy theories aside, I have trouble understanding why more money in education is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is a great sign that philanthropists and business leaders are finally acknowledging the urgency of creating an educational system that serves all students. I hope that other districts follow Newark’s lead and welcome outside investment as an opportunity for innovation.