Newark hit the jackpot with a $100 million donation from the Facebook founder to aid its ailing schools. Now the country will be watching for results—and mistakes.
Mark Zuckerberg and Cory Booker want to show you how to fix your school district. The Facebook CEO and the Mayor of New Jersey’s largest city have heard the troubling statistics about America’s failing schools. They know about the math and science test scores that trail other countries, the racial achievement gaps, and the low graduation rates. Newark, Booker’s city, has these problems and more. Only about half its students receive a high-school diploma. A large proportion of students who do get one will still need remedial classes in college.
Zuckerberg and Booker believe they can turn the tide. They have a head start thanks to Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the city’s schools, announced in September, and support from Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration calls the shots in Newark’s state-controlled school district. Now, if only Newark citizens will get on board.
Money alone won’t solve Newark’s problems. It already spends about $20,000 per student, more than twice the national average. And when education reformers like former Washington, D.C., superintendent Michelle Rhee made radical changes, a public backlash undermined their efforts.
What Zuckerberg and Booker don’t have, at least for the moment, is the one ingredient they know is essential: the support of thousands of the city’s residents who buy into a long-term reform agenda with their votes, their voices, and their time. Rhee faced community meetings full of angry teachers and parents opposing her decisions. Newark’s reformers are trying to turn out hundreds of angry parents and teachers supporting the changes on the table. If they succeed, the growing line of hedge-fund philanthropists and wealthy private foundations taking an interest in America’s schools may well follow their lead.