In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg donated $US100 million to Newark, New Jersey’s failing public-school system with the intention of turning around the schools in five years.
The goals that Zuckerberg set out to achieve — to enact a number of reforms that would make Newark a model city for education reform — are widely seen as a failure, journalist Dale Russakoff told Business Insider.
Russakoff has tracked the five years since Zuckerberg’s donation in a new book called “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools.”
One of the most surprising elements of how and why the reforms failed is Russakoff’s assertion that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker dropped the ball on Zuckerberg’s plan, resulting in its eventual demise.
“Cory Booker told [Zuckerberg], and what [Zuckerberg] banked on — was that in five years, they would have a model for how to turn around a failing school district, how — as Booker said, how to flip a city and take it from very, very poor schools and poor performance of children to what he called a model of educational excellence,” Russakoff explained on NPR’s radio show “Fresh Air.”
But that didn’t happen, in part, because Booker got pulled away to start a Senate campaign. When Booker first spoke with Zuckerberg, he was the mayor of Newark and had a bold vision for reforming the city’s schools.
But his focus shifted during his campaign, and he hasn’t spoke about the Newark public school reform — and its so-called failure — since becoming a senator.
Governor Chris Christie also had competing agendas that took his focus away from the school turn-around project.
He became embroiled in “Bridgegate,'” a scandal where some of his political appointees colluded to shut down lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and caused major traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge.
He also started a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, pulling his attention away from reforms in Newark.
“It basically shows you that politicians do have their own agendas, and educational reform may be one of them, but other things can supersede,” Russakoff explained on NPR.
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