It's hard to deny that the U.S. education system faces a multitude of challenges: lack of funding, overcrowded classrooms, high drop-out rates, falling test scores (not to mention the pressures of testing altogether). The phrase and legislation "No Child Left Behind" leave a bitter taste in many people's mouths as our schools often focus on a one-size-fits-all model that does, in fact, leave many students behind.
With a controversial article last month in the LA Times that the undertook a "value-added" analysis of local teachers to ascertain their "effectiveness," and with the release this week of the new documentary Waiting for Superman by Oscar winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, the subject of education is getting a lot of press over the last few weeks. And while a national "conversation" about the subject is crucial, our schools - our kids - deserve more than talk.
To that end, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg says he's donating $100 million worth of his Facebook shares to launch Startup: Education, a foundation aimed at improving the academic achievement for Newark, New Jersey students, nearly half of whom do not graduate from high school.
Zuckerberg's money is being matched by $100 million from Newark Mayor Cory Booker. In exchange, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be ceding some control of the Newark public school system to Booker, who has long been an advocate for charter schools. The state of New Jersey seized control of the failing Newark schools over a decade ago, but since then test scores and graduation rates have not improved.
All told, this $200 million amounts to over 20% of Newark's budget of $940 million. It's not clear yet what the funding will be used for, and Zuckerberg said in a press conference this morning that there were "no earmarks" for how his money will be spent. Instead, he said it's an investment in "great leaders" and in Booker in particular.
In a blog post this morning, Zuckerberg wrote that, "Education has always been important to me and my family. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of learning and academic success." Zuckerberg says he's like to see a "startup approach" to fixing education, challenging the slow-moving educational bureaucracy to respond with the sort of flexibility and speed he identifies with Facebook.
While some cynics point to the timing of Zuckerberg's donation to coincide with the release of The Social Network, others are skeptical that the philanthropy, while commendable, will really bring about a sustainable transformation to the struggling Newark schools.