Zuckerberg’s $100 Million for Newark’s Schools was a waste

Go Lean Commentary

Throwing money at a problem does not, in itself, solve it!

Mark Z 2The foregoing article helps us appreciate this point more succinctly. It was 2010. There was Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker (now New Jersey Senator), Facebook founder and philanthropist Mark Zuckerberg and the Governor of the State of New Jersey (and possible 2016 Presidential candidate) Chris Christie – all men of goodwill. Their goal: fix a failing school system in the City of Newark. On paper, the plan seemed credible, they had the power, they had the money – $100 million dollars. The result? After four years – “a waste”.

The issues of education reform, best practices, and funding options are stressed in the book Go Lean…Caribbean, even though these are not the primary focus of the book. Rather this book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU), with the focus being on these following 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

Yet, the book posits that education is a vital consideration for economic empowerment; so too are non-government organizations, like Zuckerberg’s foundation. The book specifically highlights an important role that foundations execute in the sphere of foreign aid, sometimes even better than national governments (Page 219):

One major argument against federally funded foreign aid is that the money is often lost to governmental corruption in the countries it was supposed to help. In 2003, a top university in Bangladesh claimed that at least 75% of all foreign aid given to that government was lost because of corruption. Since faith-based foreign aid focuses on churches or organizations operating independently of the government, funding has a better chance of being used effectively.

The below news article though, highlights an onshore example, in the US, with multi-level governmental support, plenty of money, and yet still: failure!

Title: Mark Zuckerberg Gave New Jersey $100 Million To Fix Newark’s Schools, And It Looks Like It Was A Waste
By: Caroline Moss
In the fall of 2010, Mark Zuckerberg announced on Oprah that he’d be making a generous gift to Newark, New Jersey.

 As Oprah said in her Oprah way, “one … hundred … million … dollars” would be given to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the three began the Startup:Education foundation.

The plan was to turn Newark into what Zuckerberg called “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation,” spent on retaining the best teachers, and creating environments that would produce successful students and, one day, graduates.

Newark is a city wrought with crime. Its graduation rate is about 67%. It needed the help, and Booker’s vision sounded promising.

Between 2010 and 2012, The New Yorker reports that “more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, [and] teacher evaluation.” Many of the consultants were being paid upwards of $1,000 a day.

“Everybody’s getting paid but Raheem still can’t read,” Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, was quoted saying.

Today, the money is pretty much gone, and Newark has hardly become that symbol of excellence.

The New Yorker has the full 12-page story today, and we’ve dug into it to find some of the main timeline points you need to know.

In 2010, Mayor Booker found a loophole in getting money to help fund Newark’s educational reform. It came in the form of philanthropic donations, which, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Gov. Christie approved the plan, and Booker’s job was to find the donors.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg (like many other tech billionaires) had pledged to donate half of his fortune, but as The New Yorker reports, he knew very little about urban education or philanthropy.

Booker and Zuckerberg met to discuss a vision for Newark’s future. Booker wanted to significantly reward Newark teachers who improved student performance rather than focus on seniority and tenure. Teachers would be challenged and rewarded to do their jobs well, and students would benefit.

 Zuckerberg was confident Newark and Booker were the right recipients for this huge gift (given over five years), and agreed to gift $100 million dollars with a few stipulations:

  • Booker would also have to raise $100 million dollars. Zuckerberg’s money would be released to Newark as matching dollars rolled in.
  • Booker would have to replace the current superintendent with a “transformational leader.

”The reform ended up looking like this: taking low-performing public schools and closing them, turning them into charter schools and “themed” high schools. But there was no easy way to expand charters without destabilizing traditional public schools.

In the months following the gift announcement, Booker and Christie still had no superstar superintendent and no reform plan.

 Zuckerberg was concerned and urged Booker to find the superintendent, even sending Booker a poster widely seen around the Facebook campus that read, “Done is better than perfect.”

Mark ZImmediately, Booker appointed Cami Anderson for the job. She implemented ways to help students and improve schools (all which The New Yorker detailed), but there were roadblocks along the way, like how the students brought the issues going on in their homes with them to the classroom.

 Anderson wanted to give schools more support to help students on emotional and social levels, but Newark had already been spending more money per student than most districts in the entire country, none of which was reaching the children it existed to help.

 New contracts were being created, money was being hemorrhaged, and the district was going broke. But interviews — like this one in Forbes — regarding the money and the future of Newark’s schools were always positive, highlighting, of course, only the good aspects of the huge monetary donation.

Then, in January of this year, The Washington Post reported on “dozens of emails between the Zuckerberg camp (including Zuckerberg himself) and the Booker camp (including Booker himself),” which ended up revealing that state education officials were going above and beyond to get money from big private donors to remake public schools in the way they want to.

Anderson came up with another plan called One Newark, which sounded like it could work. Families would choose which charter or public schools they would want to send their children to. Children from the lowest-income families would get first pick. So would kids with special needs.

It all sounded great until parents and teachers realized it was only on paper. Solutions hadn’t been figured out fully. Programs hadn’t been developed. Issues like transportation had not yet been tackled. Things that were promised didn’t come to fruition.

 According to The New Yorker, Anderson, Booker, Zuckerberg, and Christie, “despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement—have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result.”
Business Insider Vertical e-Zine (Posted 05/13/2014; retrieved 05/30/2014) –

The people and institutions of the Caribbean understand this plight of Newark, New Jersey all too well. There is a long record of failure with the Caribbean education initiatives. Then where there is success, the quality students have a propensity to abandon the region and emigrate to the US, Canada or Europe. So with the best of the Caribbean’s talents gone, we find that we’ve “fatten frog for snake”; then with the rest, we muddle along as best we can; hoping to nation-build with the remnants of a broken educational system.

It’s time for a change!

The proposed change is detailed in the Go Lean roadmap. It provides turn-by-turn directions on how to reform the Caribbean education systems, governance and Caribbean society in general. This roadmap commences with the assessment that the Caribbean is in crisis, and that this “crisis would be a terrible thing to waste”. As a planning tool, the roadmap commences with a Declaration of Interdependence, pronouncing the approach of regional integration (Page 12) as a viable solution to elevate the region’s educational opportunities. The statement is included as follows:

xxi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

The strategy is to confederate all the 30 member-states of the Caribbean, despite their language and legacy, into an integrated “single market”. Tactically, this will allow a separation-of-powers between the member-states governments (including their education proxies) and federal agencies, allowing an open role for benevolent foundations to fulfill their charters on the region. The roadmap recognizes the need to lead, or to follow best-practices, as formulated by other entities. This then becomes a process of leading-by-following. The CU will facilitate the eco-systems, metering and measuring the effect of so many educational options. Think Champion-Challenger; allowing for alternate methodologies to be explored for effectiveness, and then measuring the success criteria.

The Go Lean book details series of community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster good educational progress, and the agile methodologies to adjust/adapt dynamically:

Anecdote – Lean On Me – New Jersey School Lesson Page 5
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Cooperatives Page 25
Community Ethos – Non-Government Organizations Page 25
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Education Dept. Page 85
Implementation – Ways to Pay for Change Page 101
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Education Page 159
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Governance Page 169
Advocacy – Ways to Foster Cooperatives Page 176
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Libraries Page 187
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Foundations Page 219
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the One Percent Page 224
Appendix – The Giving Pledge Signatories Page 292

Now is the time for all of the Caribbean, the people and governing institutions, to lean-in for the changes described in the book Go Lean … Caribbean. We welcome the “Mark Zuckerberg”’s of the world … and their money. We entreat them to help us to make the Caribbean a better place to live, work, learn and play.

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

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