Politics

Did Newark Waste Mark Zuckerberg's $100 Million Gift To Reform Its Schools?

| by Jared Keever

More than a year after an article from Mother Jones asked the question, people are still wondering what happened to the $100 million that Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, pledged to the city of Newark, N.J., to transform that city’s schools.

Zuckerberg publicly pledged the money on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2010, appearing that day with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker the Daily Mail reports.

At the time, according to a Business Insider story, the Newark schools had a graduation rate of only 67 percent and Christie had made an issue of the school system’s lackluster performance during his recent campaign.

A new story from The New Yorker details Christie’s decision to help Booker and his city’s schools. It also, again, raises the question as to whether the money pledged by Zuckerberg towards that effort has now been wasted. 

Mother Jones reported in 2013 that nearly $50 million of the money had been spent on a new contract for teachers. The agreement offered bonuses to those educators deemed “highly effective.” The contract was negotiated quietly and many suspected that Christie and Booker were pushing a “top-down” strategy for reform. Given that they were spending private dollars they were not compelled to seek as much community input as they would had they been spending tax money.

But Zuckerberg, who has openly admitted that he knows very little about urban education or philanthropy, was convinced in 2010 that Booker and Christie were worthy recipients of his money. He had only two stipulations on the gift: He wanted Booker to agree to raise another $100 million in matching funds and he wanted Booker to replace the current superintendent with a “transformational leader.”

As of 2013 Booker had raised $54 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also appointed Cami Anderson to be the new superintendent. 

So where did all of the money go? 

The New Yorker story indicates that more than $20 million was spent on consultants, some making as much as $1,000 per day. 

As of today 50 new principals have been hired and four new public high schools have been built. But the plans for reform also mean that thousands of students will have to change schools and more than a 1,000 teachers and 800 support staff will be laid off in the coming three years. 

Christie is currently embroiled in state political scandals and possibly eyeing a shot at the White House in 2016. Booker has moved on to the U.S. Senate. 

Zuckerberg’s money was spent, but whether it helped students remains unclear.

Vivian Fox, president of the Urban League in Essex County, told The New Yorker she doesn’t think the students have been helped.

“Everybody’s getting paid but Raheem still can’t read,” she said.

Sources: Mother Jones, The Daily Mail, Business Insider, The New Yorker