Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

Summary: Is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the Newark school system doomed to fail?

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Originally published on SmartPlanet's Smart Takes blog.

Trust.

That's all that Mark Zuckerberg is relying upon for his massive grant of $100 million to be used to improve the education system in Newark, N.J.

Announced this week -- with New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Newark mayor Corey Booker and even Oprah Winfrey herself in tow -- the gift by the 26-year-old founder of the massively popular social media site Facebook has been met with acclaim, criticism and confusion.

The acclaim: Millions of dollars to improve the schools of Newark, a troubled city by most measures.

The criticism: That the gift comes just as a highly critical movie about Zuckerberg, The Social Network, hits theaters.

The confusion: Newark? (Zuckerberg is from White Plains, N.Y. and attended school in Cambridge, Mass.)

But in a conference call with the mayor, governor and Zuckerberg himself, it became clear that there was little more than a gut feeling guiding Zuckerberg's $100 million investment to make Newark "a hotspot for education."

First, some background. Zuckerberg says he "spent a lot of the last year researching myself what the most leveraged ways are to impact the education system of this country."

With admiration for organizations like Teach for America and KIPP schools, Zuckerberg said he wanted to "go into a place that's ready for real reform, that has great leaders, and give them the resources they need to flexibly try out new programs -- that's why Newark is the perfect place to do this right now."

Impressed by Booker's "personal commitment" to Newark after meeting him at a conference, Zuckerberg formed a foundation called Startup: Education that would administer a grant to fund -- with plenty of flexibility, he stressed -- educational initiatives in the city.

Here's how it works: the foundation has been stocked with Facebook shares. It will sell those as needed to raise cash, which will then be used for educational initiatives. Booker's staff will distribute the funds with guidance "from the community."

The mayor's three pillars of interest:

  • Focus on teachers. "We believe we need to support and empower teachers."
  • Ensure accountability for everyone, from teachers to community leaders to politicians. "Nobody gets a pass...failure cannot be tolerated."
  • Create and support schools that succeed. "Our bias is towards schools of excellence."

"We have phenomenal schools...but we also have lousy schools," Booker said, adding that he was putting his career on the line with the project. "We have got to get out of the blame game -- stop pointing fingers and accept community responsibility."

The grant is for multiple years, which is contingent on Newark city officials meeting certain benchmarks. During the call, several reporters pressed Booker and Zuckerberg to elaborate on what those benchmarks might be.

Both avoided the question.

What Zuckerberg did acknowledge is that none of the $100 million was earmarked for specific purposes, such as primary school education, or language instruction or arts programs.

"We need to listen to the community and find out what we're spending the money on," he said.

When asked how involved the Facebook founder would be with the project, Zuckerberg admitted -- three separate times during the call, in fact -- that "I spend all of my time running a company" and that he's looking to invest in "people I believe in," rather than run a foundation, because of his limited attention.

"This is the guy I want to invest in," he said, referring to Booker.

Christie added that the project would start with a "framework" to build out "communications" to facilitate later action.

"This is a multi-year effort that's got to start now," he said. "We're not going to try and transform the entire Newark school system in the next six months.'

Booker was more optimistic.

"Newark is a word that's synonymous with excellence," he said. "We have a calling here in Newark...to be the bold model to the nation to how a community can work together to create [profound] change."

Zuckerberg also explained his interest in philanthropy, saying: "Education has been something that's really important in my family...the real question is when we were going to get involved."

"Teaching really needs to be revered as a profession," he said, adding that his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, was at one point a teacher.

He said the unfortunate timing of the project -- coinciding with the wide release of a fictional film based on his company's founding -- "was really driven by the needs of Newark."

"I was thinking about doing it anonymously," he said. Christie said he and Booker pushed for Zuckerberg's name to be attached to the donation.

But the big question on everyone's mind is whether Zuckerberg, in his first philanthropic endeavor, has just thrown away $100 million by not being more specific on how his funds will be disbursed.

If the project is a success, it's no doubt a win for everyone involved, for both politicians (each with just over three years on their term) and Zuckerberg.

But if it doesn't work, will it be too pricey a lesson learned?

Topic: Social Enterprise

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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38 comments
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  • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

    Time will tell, but I am not optimistic. The reason: The educational mindset/philosophy that has driven our educational system to this sorry state over the past 60+ years. If money was the answer, then how come some of the worst districts spend the most per student?

    We've all heard about how our students lag most of the world in math, science, etc, but the main problem is we don't know how to teach them how to reason anymore. Consider this example of how far we have fallen: The Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers were newspaper editorials the average FARMER in early American could read, understand and debate. Now, they are difficult for law students to digest.
    ebrown@...
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      @ebrown@... <br><br>Because a lot of the worst districts also have an OVERWHELMING number of poor students and students with various learning disabilities.<br><br>Yes, we do teach children to reason today.... the problem is that when they do and realize that a lot of the restrictions that we put on them are not based on reason but on bull and unreasonable fear, we (meaning society as a whole, not myself) slap them down and tell them NOT to reason.
      Lerianis10
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      h t t p : / / f o g z . e u / e a 5 m 6


      I tide fashion

      Good-looking, not expensive

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      rktjj
    • Law students and the Federalist papers (etc.)

      @ebrown@...

      Uh ... law students never even look at such papers. Law school consists of a bunch of introductory survey courses--one course in torts, one course in real property, one course in commercial transactions, one course in family law, etc.
      Rick_R
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      @ebrown@... Part of the problem is attracting and keeping good teachers. Some of those large expenditures are for support services and infrastructure. It's not JUST about money, but money helps, especially for teacher retention.
      snoop0x7b
  • How Much Will Be Wasted?

    I see this as probably 75% of it going towards garbage to pad administrative pockets..very little will go to teacher's salaries or to further education...

    Just how the crappy system works.
    cyberslammer
  • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

    Booker has proven effective but the deck is stacked against this project. Cautious optimism.
    ploco@...
  • Throwing money at the problem

    You have be more like Andre Agassi or Operah I guess, where the money goes to a school or school system that is not encumbered by the past. If you build the school(s), fund and staff them etc. from scratch with a definite goal and philosophy in mind, you can do some great things in education. Zuckerberg probably just bought himself $100M worth of PR. It would pay for some nice perks for the administrators and teachers though.
    Economister
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      @Economister Zuckerberg doesn't have the time to build some new academic institution from scratch. So yeah I buy into the PR angle. That $100 million must really be burning a whole in his pocket! Hey Mark - I'll take it!
      MSFTWorshipper
      • I've got some room in my pockets too ;-)

        @MSFTWorshipper
        Economister
      • The dude does NOTHING bug brag

        @MSFTWorshipper Zuckerberg has more time than anybody in the world. The only thing he has done is create a website (from a STOLEN idea) that became the current fab, then made millions by selling it (ie: got lucky). On top of that, Facebook is only temporarily good for making money from advertising, selling photos that stupid people posted and collecting (& selling) information for identity theft. <br><br>So please spear us the BS that he is very busy .... because talking crap is not being busy. All the talk about him will go away as son as a new fab becomes popular .... just like with MySpace. Have you heard about Tom Anderson lately?
        wackoae
      • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

        @wackoae

        lol - this is a funny image " please spear us the BS" ;P
        josephofaramathea
  • Call me cynical but I live in NJ

    I live in NJ and the teachers union, the NJEA (New Jersey Extortion oops, I mean Education Association) will guarantee that every penny of that money goes to help "THE CHILDREN"!! I mean what could possible be more helpful to the children of Newark than to ensure that every school superintendent has a new Mecerdes. Of course the assistant superintendent also needs one! Let's not forget the superintendent's personal secretary. Of course the NJEA will need to oversee how that money is spent.
    The NJ education system is the most corrupt in the nation and Newark is close to leading the pack. That $100 million will disappear without a trace and the schools will be lucky if they get some new toilet paper out of the deal.
    Scubajrr
    • So are you saying that.....

      @Scubajrr

      Zuckerberg is a "zucker" ;-)
      Economister
  • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

    I've been to NJ a few times, like others said, I don't have much hope for this being used properly. I mean its good he's donating and all, but lets see if the community makes good use of it.

    On that note, is anyone actually going to see the social network movie? I don't know of anyone who is, or anyone who's even talked about it.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Looking at the wrong issues

    It should be obvious to any unbiased person by now that there are two enormous forces working against education excellence: (1) the "socialist/monopoly" mindset, and (2) the teacher's unions.

    As for item (1), the term "public schools" says it all. What is needed is competition among schools, and having in place a system of government schools is guaranteed to stifle new thought and competition. Think Post Office. Think DMV.

    As for (2), the unions are terrific--for padding teacher paychecks and guaranteeing outrageous benefits and retirement packages (when compared to the private sector).

    So, yes, the contribution will help some people, namely the teachers and administrators. It would have been FAR better to provide those funds to private schools and/or the promotion of vouchers, allowing parents to vote with their dollars. Then you'd have real competition.
    Dorkyman
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      @Dorkyman
      Sounds a lot like the Los Angeles school district :)
      rhonin
    • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

      @Dorkyman

      Dorkyman, you are being a real dork here. The latest numbers from CONSERVATIVE organizations show that private schools.... NOT BETTER THAN PUBLIC! Not better at all and in some subjects, are actually MUCH WORSE when it comes down to it.
      Lerianis10
      • RE: Zuckerberg's $100 million education grant: doomed to fail?

        @Lerianis10
        Some references please. I am not an educator, but most of the literature on the subject I've seen over the years shows that private schools produce a far better product for a far lower price. Introducing competition into the public school system (by letting parents send kids to any school they wanted via vouchers) and killing off the teacher unions would do wonders to improve our international standing.
        Dorkyman
      • Tea Party Garbage . . .

        @Dorkyman

        It is obvious you are not an educator or educated for that matter . . . a) teachers are the worst paid and under appreciated profession in America (they are not DMV and Post Office employees, retard, as it takes an education to be a teacher) b) whatever the outcome of studies of public vs. private schooling is biased as private schools does not have to take the poor, learning disable, non-English speaking immigrants, etc. So, how about a little less Glenn Beck retard-iness a little more reason . . . next, you will promote competition among police officers and firefighters and that we should privatize that as well . . . dumb.
        tankvision