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The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Saturday that Gates, among a roster of current and new donors, had expressed interest in donating to the Newark initiative. Booker would not confirm the donation but said several donors had made pledges since Zuckerberg’s announcement, and that he would release details soon.

Florida’s Hillsborough County district, the nation’s eighth-largest, is designing a way to pay teachers, in part, by using a system that includes measuring gains with standardized tests, along with observations by principals and evaluations by other teachers. The money is also being used to train veteran teachers to mentor others.

The evaluation program is just beginning, so it’s too early to tell how it will work, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. The district, though, has gotten positive comments from new teachers about the mentoring program, she said.

Similar measures are under way in Memphis, where school officials are working out how to identify, reward and retain effective teachers.

“We are seeing results of our plan,” said Superintendent Kriner Cash. “We are right on target.”

Education advocates in New Jersey call for similar steps to be taken in Newark, where more money is spent per pupil than any other city in a state that ranks near the top in per-pupil funding.

Newark was once booming, with its 1940s population of about 430,000 working in good-paying jobs in the teeming textile and manufacturing industries. But after World War II, the city began a postwar descent into racial unrest, white flight, crime and corruption. Its population suffered _ it’s now down to around 275,000 _ along with its schools.

Few steps on Newark’s path are clear beyond hiring a new superintendent. On her show, Winfrey endorsed current Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has implemented changes popular among school reform advocates. Rhee wasn’t available to comment to The Associated Press.

Joseph De Pierro, education dean at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University, said his advice would be for Newark first to consider hiring back at least some of the educators laid off this year.

Students say they’ve seen the effects, with some sports teams eliminated and classes growing.

“There are now 40 students in my math class; it’s suffocating,” said Balbuena, the Arts High student.

De Pierro would also find a way to pay the best teachers more and buy better equipment and materials. And he noted that better training would be key.

“It would not be the standard kind of stuff after school and in the summer,” he said. “It would be something that takes place in their classroom when they’re teaching.”

Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, a Newark-based group that is pushing to broaden school choice in New Jersey, said some of the steps he would take in Newark wouldn’t cost much.

For instance, he would give charter schools unused space in traditional public schools and set up virtual learning programs in which the best teachers could come into contact _ online, at least _ with more children. He said he would also look for a way to pay top teachers more and exempt them from union work rules.

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