Mark Zuckerberg Learns From Past With $120M Gift to Bay Area Schools

Facebook Mogul's Big-Bucks Donation to Newark Flopped

getty images

By Reuters

Published May 31, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s gift of $120 million to the San Francisco Bay Area public school system on Friday marks his second attempt at putting huge sums of his own money into turning around failing schools.

This time, he can only hope to come under less criticism.

Four years ago, Zuckerberg donated $100 million to reform the chronically ailing Newark, New Jersey, school system, appearing on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce a gift he hoped would turn that city’s schools into an example of educational excellence nationwide.

Today, with almost all the funds spent, critics say his efforts in Newark have been misdirected, with much of the money going to programs that have minimal long-term benefit.

“The whole Newark thing was the big celebrity event - dump the money, then go back to the other coast,” said Bruce Baker, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, in New Jersey.

Zuckerberg said on Friday in a San Jose Mercury News essay written with his wife, Priscilla Chan, that he has “learned a lot about what makes a successful effort” but that it was also too early to determine the impact of the Newark initiative.

Education experts say the Bay Area funds appear better targeted than in Newark, where most of the $100 million donated four years ago has been spent without major improvements in student scores.

Reforms there have prompted protests and criticism that the bulk of the donated funds went for teacher contracts and charter schools, creating what detractors say are financially unsustainable obligations for the school system.

In the Bay Area, the money appears to be targeted differently. Zuckerberg said much of it, at least to start, would be used to upgrade technology and train educators.

“The initial grants will go toward initiatives that provide computers and connectivity in schools, as well as teacher training and parent outreach to make these a really valuable addition to the learning experience,” he wrote.

The Newark and Bay Area schools appear equally in need.

Newark’s schools suffered so much from low test scores and falling enrollment that in 1995 a judge ordered the state to take control. Since then, more than a dozen schools have been closed, and students in the poorest districts use classrooms with crumbling ceilings and peeling walls.

Zuckerberg’s latest donation will initially be spent in three school districts - San Francisco, Redwood City and Ravenswood City - which serve nearly 70,000 students, with more than 80 percent receiving free or discounted school meals.

The average student in Ravenswood district is outperformed by about 80 percent of students nationwide, according to comparative data compiled by the George W. Bush Institute.

Will Hodges, a spokesman for the Bay Area project said Zuckerberg’s team learned from the Newark project, which remained a “work in progress.”

“The most important thing they’ve learned is to bring in the local community to be involved with their work, to focus on the community’s needs,” Hodges said.

In Newark, the money has mostly been spent. While graduation rates have risen to 67 percent in 2013, from 54 percent in 2009, tests scores in reading and math have hardly budged, according to the state Department of Education.

Critics say the money could have been put to better use. For example, it could have been used to pay for infrastructure or transportation or even to set up an endowment to generate annual returns.

Out of $83 million spent, $31 million went for retroactive teacher pay and $17.5 million towards a new teacher contract pegged to student performance. Experts say there is no funding in place to continue to subsidize the merit pay system once the Facebook cash is gone.

Newark residents and education experts also question the hiring of expensive consultants, some of whom charge $1,000 a day.

The foundation says more than $4 million has gone directly toward creating new charter schools, allowing students to choose where they want to attend class.

But with thousands of students now able to go to a school miles from home, Newark officials have scrambled to provide busing, a potentially great cost for a city facing a $93 million budget shortfall.

“Can you fathom it? Putting a 5 or 6-year-old child on a public bus in Newark?” said Frank Adao, president of the Newark Parents Union, whose son is a 6th grader.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.