Today’s Star-Ledger describes a program in Newark, the Law and Education Empowerment Project (NJ LEEP), that offers highly-motivated students an intensive remediation program in order to prepare them for college. The children undergo a rigorous admissions process in 8th grade and then commit to spending the next four years attending courses in grammar, writing, and life skills, two hours a day, five days a week (plus occasional Saturdays). This year all 24 graduates of NJ LEEP have been accepted to colleges, including Smith, Princeton, Mt. Holyoke, and College of New Jersey.
Each successful graduate receives $35,000 per year for college tuition.
Great, right? What’s not to like?
NJ LEEP is a good example of a public education program, albeit after school hours, that incorporates elements anathema to anti-school reformers. It’s very selective, and children can be suspended if not compliant with the high demands of the curriculum. It’s privately funded. And, worst of all, its Board of Directors includes the types of professional derided by Anti-Reformer Grande Dame Dr. Diane Ravitch.
NJ LEEP’s Board includes Dr. Jerry Webman, a Senior Investment Officer and Chief Economist for Oppenheimer Funds; Ed Bankole, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Structured Risk Analytics LLC; Susan L. Blount, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Prudential Financial, Inc.; Jeff Isaacs, Managing Director and Chief Operations Officer of the Goldman Sachs & Co. There also law school professors and other academics on the Board, whom I assume are inoffensive.
Just how do Dr. Ravitch and her followers feel about these investment professionals? They “love to get public funding to manage schools that enroll minority children” because “it enables them to fantasize that they are part of the civil rights movement of our day.” They are “mean-spirited, ignorant, arrogant people.” And, in a speech posted at the national organization Parents Across America (Save Our Schools- NJ is an affiliate), she postulates,
Let’s be clear about what NCLB has really accomplished: It has convinced the media and major philanthropies and Wall Street hedge fund managers that American public education is a failure and that radical solutions are required. The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted rightwing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools.
NJ LEEP has successfully incorporated private funding and public education. Is that success a result of a cabal of diabolical financiers or people devoted to rescuing poor kids from failing schools? I’d argue that it’s the latter.
That’s why it’s specious to pose an absolute dichotomy of private/public funding, or private/public management of American education. Sometimes the most creative programs meld the two. Demonizing private money may make great copy but it does nothing for getting kids into college.