Or, Zuckerberg Unbound
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, whose personal worth is valued at almost $7 billion, will announce on Oprah tomorrow that he is giving Newark Public School (hometown of Philip Roth, fyi) $100 million on the condition that Gov. Christie transfer authority of the schools to Mayor Cory Booker. According to the Star-Ledger (here’s the link to the New York Times piece), talks began over the summer while Christie was making plans to not renew current Newark Superintendent Clifford Janey. Simultaneously, Booker was talking to Zuckerberg and the two went to Christie a proposal for the money drop. From the Star-Ledger:
Faced with a Legislature controlled by his political opposition, Christie told Booker that statutory mayoral control was a dead issue from the start because lawmakers would never go along. But with $100 million on the table, Christie and Booker hammered out the arrangement.
Eduwonk is leading with the story today and muses over the implications: “Well, it’s no secret that an unflattering movie about Zuckerberg is coming out next week. Hard not to see the fine hand of providence in that, it’s a good misdirection play. But, Zuckerberg has connected with the charismatic Booker, too. So although it will be played by critics as 100 percent cynical, that doesn’t seem the case.”
Look: Newark Public Schools are dismal failures. There’s an occasional bright spot –notably some of the best public charters in the state, like North Star and Robert Treat and the KIPP’s , and a well-managed traditional public school serving the statistical role of outlier – but then there’s the 800 kids at Newark Central High, where 4.6% graduate by successfully passing the HSPA (state average: 89.3%). Or George Washington Carver, a K-8 school where 82.7% of third-graders failed the state reading assessment and 70% failed the math. Or Camden Middle School where 29.3% of its 423 5th-8th grade students have been classified as eligible for special education services and 78.3% of 5th graders failed the state standardized test in language arts.
All this for $19,305 per student per year.
No doubt all sorts of political three-card monte abounds: Booker’s rusting luster and crush on Mike Bloomberg; Christie’s urge to change the subject from our boggled $400 million loss in Race To The Top and the current (though now postponed) Senate charade of hearings designed to identify an appropriate villain. Maybe Zuckerberg really does want to distract the public from his Hollywood portrayal. Whatever. Newark’s kids don’t need more money. They need money spent in constructive, data-driven, innovative ways. If Booker can do that then the kids will be winners, regardless of the ambitions of Chris, Cory, and Mark.