Finding Superman in Newark
While we await next week's release of the already acclaimed film on school reform, "Waiting for Superman," it seems that a corporate "superman" has flown into Newark and landed squarely in its public school system.
Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old president of social-networking behemoth, Facebook—itself the subject of a new movie about to be released, announced Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he was giving $100 million to boost the fortunes of one of the nation's most poorly performing school systems. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has pledged to raise an additional $100 million from foundations.
Only about half of Newark's 40,000 students graduate and only 10 percent enter four-year colleges. Instead, most wind up in poor jobs or remedial classes (if they go on to two- or four-year colleges), and mired in what anthropologist Oscar Lewis once called a "culture of poverty."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that he would cede control to Newark of its school system, which the state virtually took over in 1995 due to its failing performance.
The gift is only Zuckerberg's opening philanthropic shot at school reform, since he plans to launch a foundation to make gifts to needy public schools. As the New York Times wrote, this is an "extraordinary sum" being donated "for any publicly financed government agency."
While the gift is truly a godsend for Newark's schools, it ups the ante on an issue that is clearly going to be ever more debated during the 2010s: What is the place and role for private money in public schools? (I have a feeling we'll be returning often to this theme.)