Five years ago, Facebook (FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg went on Oprah Winfrey’s show to announce a $100 million pledge to reform the troubled school system of Newark, N.J. Zuckerberg was joined on Oprah by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, currently a U.S. Senator (D-NJ). Zuckerberg’s pledge was eventually matched by other donors and the effort to save Newark schools was hailed as model for national school reform.
Five years later, Newark schools are still struggling and the money — $200 million — is gone.
In her new book, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, veteran reporter Dale Russakoff follows the money — as well as the main participants — providing a detailed account of the Newark experiment.
“Zuckerberg didn’t do the due diligence I would have expected he would have done,” Russakoff tells me in the accompanying video. Most notably, he didn’t realize seniority protections for teachers were embedded in state law and not in the teachers’ union contract, making them incredibly difficult to change.
Russakoff believes Zuckerberg fell victim to the “hero entrepreneur” mentality that permeates Silicon Valley — with Booker and Christie being the ‘founding’ entrepreneurs in this case. “Even they way Booker pitched this was the way you’d pitch to a VC,” she says. Newark was sold to Zuckerberg as “the proof point” for a model of education reform that could be taken around the country, according to Russakoff. “Scale it up like any tech start up. That was the pitch.”