In a splash of television publicity, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, announced on the Oprah Winfrey show on Friday that he is donating $100 million to the public school system of Newark, New Jersey.
Newark Schools – Symbol of Educational Excellence?
When Oprah asked him, “Why Newark?” he responded first that every child deserves a good education, and right now that’s not happening in Newark. Then he added that it’s because he believes in “these guys,” and pointed to New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and Newark mayor Cory Booker, also guests on Oprah’s show. “We are committed to turning Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole country,” Zuckerberg stated.
That’s going to be quite a challenge. Currently, about half of Newark’s students never graduate from high school, even though the city spends more money per student than any other major city in the U.S. In fact, the Newark schools have been deeply troubled for some time and have been under state control since 1995.
Private Donations to Public Schools
Since private donations to public schools generally have some strings attached, what’s behind the scenes in Newark? Governor Christie explained to Oprah, “Mayor Booker will be our point person. I’m empowering him to do that, with a schools superintendent that we will pick together.” The goal is to create “a new model for our nation’s schools,” Christie declared.
This approach of turning over the schools to the mayor is already being tried in several other urban school districts, such as Chicago and New York. It’s still too early to assess how well this system is working, but educators may worry that more charter schools and merit pay are in the future.
What’s in it for Zuckerberg?
Since the Facebook founder was recently placed at #35 on the Forbes list of richest Americans, with his almost $7 billion fortune, he probably won’t miss that $100 million too much. (Newark public schools, on the other hand, with a budget of $940 million, will be delighted.) Still, as a teacher, I applaud the focus on education that such gifts provide, as well as the money, of course.
But is it all about philanthropy? “The Social Network,” a movie about Mr. Zuckerberg is opening in New York next week, and it is rumored that the portrayal of its protagonist is less than flattering. Could there be a connection?
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