Zuckerberg's $100 million for Newark, N.J., schools stirs controversy
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intends his $100 million gift to boost student achievement in Newark schools. It's a vote of confidence, too, in Mayor Cory Booker. Do charter schools and merit pay lie ahead?
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He also questions some of the solutions that reformers tout. “This notion that you hear that if we close the district-run schools and create charter schools is somehow going to magically bring about more improvement for all kids across the district is nonsense,” he says. There are good and bad charters in the city, just as there are good and bad regular schools, he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Nationally, there have been some high-profile successes in charter schools, and Oprah promoted six such charter networks on her show earlier this week with $1 million grants. But studies show mixed results overall. As for merit pay, another reform idea that’s gaining popularity and may figure into Booker’s plans: This week the most rigorous study yet of merit pay for teachers found that large pay incentives did not yield consistent or lasting gains in student test scores.
Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso told The Wall Street Journal recently that he’s concerned that the mayor has never come to talk to him about how to resolve education problems. In a written statement Friday, union officials said they “look forward to working with Mark Zuckerberg and the entire Newark community to make this city’s schools a national model for urban education.”
Mayor Booker emphasized in a conference call with reporters that the blame game and political divisions need to stop, and said he plans to meet with community stakeholders to develop a shared plan for bringing the schools up to a new standard. He said it’s important to support and empower teachers as well as hold them and others accountable for results, and that he has no bias toward charter or district-run schools, but in either category wants to “nurture schools of excellence.”
“Failure cannot be tolerated,” Booker said. “In order for us to achieve the bold new paradigm for districtwide achievement ... this has to be a process of inclusion.... We must come together and assert our community standards.... Parents, at the end of the day, want their children to succeed. Whoever the provider is, we’re looking to make schools that work and serve our children’s genius.”
Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard to work full time on Facebook and became a billionaire, is portrayed in a nonflattering way in “The Social Network,” a movie opening next week. In a conference call Friday, he and Booker responded to skeptics’ comments that he was making the donation to burnish his image. Zuckerberg had actually considered making the donation anonymously or at another time, they said, but he agreed to go forward because Booker didn’t want delays or additional questions raised by an anonymous gift.