It’s doubtful that anyone will use Oprah’s couch as a trampoline this afternoon, but audience members may leap from their seats when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on the Oprah Winfrey show to formally announce his $100 million donation to the Newark public schools. The gift is part of Zuckerberg’s new foundation, Startup: Education, which is devoted to improving education for young people.
As the foundation’s Facebook page explains, “School districts need more autonomy and clearer leadership so they can be managed more like startups than like government bureaucracies. And outside the classroom, we need to support students’ interests, give them a safe environment to grow up in, and keep everyone healthy.”
According to a press release, the Newark Public School District is the largest school system in the state, with more than 40,000 students. During the 2008-2009 academic year, only 40% of students could read and write at grade level by the end of third grade, just over half of high school students graduated and only 38% enrolled in college. And as the New York Times reported, test scores and graduation rates in the Newark schools are among the lowest in New Jersey.
This is 26-year-old Zuckerberg’s largest public gift to date. Last year, Forbes estimated his fortune at $2 billion; this year the estimate skyrocketed to $6.9 billion.