$1 Million Survey on Newark Public School Reform Proves Inconclusive

The first $1 million in funds raised to match Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to the Newark Public Schools was spent on a consultant-led effort, PENewark, to survey Newark residents on their concerns about the city's education system. Now experts from Rutgers and NYU asked to analyze the results of the two-page, six-question survey say its results are inconclusive–mostly because the survey was too short and its questions too leading. 

This is no big surprise. When I was reporting my Nation magazine feature on school reform in Newark, during October and November, longtime community advocates were very skeptical of the survey effort. Civil rights and education reform veteran Junius Williams told me:

Those of us who've been in the community and involved in this whole question of school reform for years, not just months, I think we already know what people want. They want a good school, a safe school. They want to feel welcome in that school as parents, and they want a teacher who knows what he or she is doing and is culturally sensitive. I don't think you're going to find too much variation on that theme. So what are you going to do with that information once it comes in?

Now it turns out there's nothing much at all that can be done with the results of these 20,000 surveys, because they did not fairly or coherently gauge support for specific reform policies. 

The consultants who worked on the first survey, SKDKnickerbocker, have now (updated: in partnership with Rutgers and NYU) created a longer version that asks detailed questions about the perceived performance of traditional public schools and public charter schools in Newark. One problem I see, right off the bat, is that the survey doesn't explain the difference between these two types of schools, which will cause confusion. Most people, whether in Newark or on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, simply don't understand how charter schools are created and governed and how they select their students–and they may not know which schools in their neighborhood are charters vs. traditional publics. 

On the upside, the new survey does ask respondents to rate their enthusiasm for a long list of reforms, including a longer school day and year, performance pay for teachers, replacing neighborhood schools with charter schools, increased testing, decreased testing, more focus on the arts, and more social supports, such as home visits and social skills training. The survey also measures support for mayoral control of the Newark Public Schools, which is being sought by Cory Booker. 

A note on the consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, which is coordinating this effort: The group has a reputation for working with "independent" candidates such as Mike Bloomberg, Charlie Crist, and Joe Lieberman; they also represent Michelle Rhee in her post-chancellor life, in which she is advising Florida's incoming Republican governor, Rick Scott, and launching Students First, an effort to raise $1 billion in support of improving the country's teaching corps and counterbalancing the power of teachers' unions. 

SKD's education reform strategy is very focused on growing grassroots, public support for complex education reform goals such as weakening tenure protections and expanding the charter school sector. That's why they like to get their clients on "Oprah." So their survey effort needs to be seen in that light–more of an attempt to create buzz around school reform than to objectively measure public support for various policies. 

4 thoughts on “$1 Million Survey on Newark Public School Reform Proves Inconclusive

  1. Bernie Duffer

    Do school reform efforts always have to go around in circles?

    Inconclusive results, flawed survey instrument, $1 million. I was a graduate student in Educational Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University when “A Nation at Risk” was published. We faced similar problems and were having similar debates…25 YEARS AGO. Frustrating, demoralizing.

    Reply
  2. Jane Doe

    Good reporting starts with good facts. Even reporting from the “left” requires the right facts in order to make truly significant and powerful argument.

    This is inaccurate, “Now experts from Rutgers and NYU asked to analyze the results of the two-page, six-question survey say its results are inconclusive–mostly because the survey was too short and its questions too leading.”

    This is inaccurate, “The consultants who worked on the first survey, SKDKnickerbocker, have now created a longer version that asks detailed questions about the perceived performance of traditional public schools and public charter schools in Newark.”

    Two points that matter.

    When are those of us on the left going to realize that the sloppiness with which we collect our information and put together our facts is drastically undermining our positions.

    Reply
  3. Newarker

    Dana, there are some factual mistakes here: SKDKnickerbocker did not design any of the surveys. Rather, researchers and staff from Rutgers’ Newark Schools Research Collaborative and NYU’s Metrocenter for Urban Education designed both the long and short form survey.

    Source: link to penewark.org

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Luznar

    Simply put: ALL of America’s woes will be addressed when our nation makes public education the priority it ought to be. Because the health of our public schools affects each and every American citizen, every financial background and race, and our country’s future welfare, E Cubed Alliance on Facebook.

    For America, 1 Million Miles – We CAN do this, so whether you walk/run/row/bike/skate/whatever your cup of tea, PLEASE send each week’s mileage to Jesse Turner at turnerj@ccsu.edu with the subject line “Million Miles Challenge”. Our total will appear each Tuesday night on Facebook’s “Children Are More Than Test Scores”. Give your team or individual names with your totals & personalize with pictures and tag lines.

    Will you PLEASE help us?

    Reply

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