When the marriage gets old: Universities running failing schools

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One problem inherent in letting outside groups take control of struggling schools is sustaining their initial enthusiasm and commitment.

So far, so good in Newark. A partnership formed there last year among the district, the Newark Teachers Union and Seton Hall University?s ed school seem to be paying off for a Newark school. Test scores were up in June at the Newton Street School, and so is pride. The PreK-8 school, located in a rough neighborhood, is being touted as a model for reform.

A year ago, the "new Newton," newly governed by a local committee with state oversight, was freed from some regulations and replaced 6 of its 44 teachers with the support of the union. For the middle grades, school was extended by an hour. Seton Hall?s education school took over professional development and teacher support. About 50 undergraduates from the nearby university came to the school to tutor students.

But will Seton Hall sustain its commitment? The University of South Florida's Patel Charter School, having just earned an F on the Florida school report card, shows how these university partnerships can fizzle over time.

The University of South Florida bailed on its promise to run the school it started over a decade ago on its own campus. The USF ed school, Florida?s largest, has not been materially involved in running the school for several years. The school's charter status has been dissolved and responsibility for it has been transferred to the district.

Founders of the charter complained that interest from top administrators and faculty members waned over the years, while a university spokesman cited an inability to get enough state money for the school.

Said the spokesman: "The single best thing for the kids is to transfer the school to the school district, and take up the superintendent?s offer to help."