Tag Archives: Education policy

Facebook: Where’s The Gratitude?

Imagine finding yourself in this frustrating situation. You wish to give to a worthy cause, but you’re unable to find any one who is happy to accept your contribution!

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg must be feeling that frustration today. The Indian government recently ruled that the firm’s Free Basics service, which provides complimentary internet access to Facebook and a few other web based services, is illegal in that nation.

Why? Apparently, the Indians classify Facebook as an internet service provider because it provides web access as well as a web-based service. Thus, the firm is required by Indian law to allow users to access any online site and service, and not just a chosen few.

That principle is known as net neutrality in the United States. Although it has been debated throughout the government from time to time, it is generally the law of the land in America as well.

This isn’t the first time that Zuckerberg or his firm has been rebuffed for giving away funds or services. Several months ago, he and his wife were criticized for the legal structure of a charitable organization that received 99% of his Facebook stock.

And a few years ago, the citizens of Newark, New Jersey severely criticized him for failing to establish appropriate goals for a $100 million gift to the public education system of their city. Instead of generating gratitude, the gift precipitated immense rancor in the local community.

Of course, Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t yet ready to resign from his firm and manage his charitable investments on a full-time basis, as Bill and Melinda Gates did when they left Microsoft to found their global charitable foundation. He’s still fully immersed in the business of managing the world’s most successful social network.

Nevertheless, if he does intend to give away more money or resources, he might wish to pay more attention to managing those charitable activities. Otherwise, he’s likely to continue wondering why he isn’t receiving the slightest amount of gratitude from the beneficiaries of his largesse.

New York: The Politics of Local Control

In your local town, someone must decide when to instruct road crews to shut down street lanes. Someone must decide when to expand classroom hours in public schools. And someone must decide when to approve projects to construct buildings.

So who actually decides when to perform these tasks? Is it your town’s mayor? The legislative council? Or perhaps an administrative employee?

Ironically, if you live in New York City — obviously, a metropolis with sufficient wealth to hire local citizens to perform these tasks — the Mayor, City Council, and municipal work force are severely restrained from exercising authority over such decisions. Just last week, for instance, a trio of events illustrated the limits of local authority in the Big Apple.

The first involved the notorious decision to wage a political war by shutting down local access lanes onto a bridge that carries traffic between Manhattan and New Jersey. The decision was initially imposed by New Jersey state officials; New York appointees labored for four full days to (eventually) reopen the lanes.

The second involved a pledge by Mayor Bill de Blasio to develop full day pre-kindergarten and after school programs, to be funded by a new income tax on wealthy residents. Such a tax requires the approval of state government, but during his annual State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (while endorsing the policy in theory) avoided any endorsement of the tax.

The third involved a court decision to block New York University (NYU) from obliterating three tiny parks in order to clear space for a massive construction project. Although NYU obtained city approval for the project, its officials appear to have overlooked the need to obtain state approval to build on city parkland. Lacking state approval, the State Supreme Court halted the project.

Advocates of local control over municipal decisions are undoubtedly aghast at these recent events. Why must local officials waste four full days seeking approval to open a couple of road lanes? Why can’t a municipality impose a tax to improve its public school system? And why shouldn’t a municipal zoning board make decisions about the appropriate use of public space?

On the other hand, although no one is defending the lane closure decision, many are now applauding New York State’s control over the Big Apple’s taxation and parkland use policies. After all, without such constraints in place, wealthy residents might have already started paying higher income taxes, and New York University might have already obliterated those three public parks.

If you were asked to chair a legislative committee to draft amendments to the constitutions of the State and City of New York, would you recommend the institution of local control over these governmental decisions?

Toddlers Rejoice: No More Admission Exams!

The standardized test industry has recently experienced some rough times in the United States, hasn’t it? The federal Department of Education and various trade associations, for instance, has repeatedly criticized many of the grade school testing requirements of the Bush Administration’s landmark No Child Left Behind law. And critics continue to complain about the inadequacies and failures of college admission examinations.

But did you know that many prestigious grade school, kindergarten, and “pre-k” (i.e. nursery school) programs in the United States also require standardized admission tests? The Association of Boarding Schools and the Education Records Bureau sponsor the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA) examination for very young children.

Last week, however, the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York announced that some of the Big Apple’s most renowned private schools would no longer require the examination. The reason? Too many parents are spending thousands of dollars on test preparation services for their toddlers, creating “a lot of anxiety in families and kids that is unnecessary.”

The unspoken implication, of course, is that the tests have also become ineffective indicators of natural student ability. After all, examination grades that can be improved by expensive test preparation services inevitably discriminate against individuals who cannot afford to purchase such services.

One can only wonder whether other industry sectors will face similar concerns as well. For instance, if the newly emerging universal health care program in the United States is unable to rely on purportedly unbiased measurements of medical efficacy, it will struggle to serve the needs of the American people.

At the moment, though, America’s toddlers aren’t worried about universal health care. They are merely breathing sighs of relief about escaping their first experiences with school admission tests!