Hi, every­one. You might have heard that this week Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announced that they’re going to give away 99% of their Facebook stock in hopes of mak­ing the world a much bet­ter place for their new­born daugh­ter and her gen­er­a­tion. Now, I just want to be right up front with you. I have no inside infor­ma­tion about this fas­ci­nat­ing devel­op­ment. But what I do have is inside infor­ma­tion, the inside sto­ry, on a gift that this cou­ple made five years ago in their first act as philanthropists. 

They gave a hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars, not to try to change the world, but to try to do some­thing that was almost as hard. They want­ed to turn around the very bro­ken schools of Newark, New Jersey, a city that’s prob­a­bly one of the poor­est and most violence-plagued cities in the coun­try. And I’d like you know I did write a book on this. I spent five years fol­low­ing this adven­ture, and I’d like to show you today how I think what hap­pened in Newark, and what Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan learned from it, is shap­ing the way they’re approach­ing this much big­ger ven­ture that they announced on Tuesday.

Let’s wind back the clock. It’s 2010. Mark Zuckerberg is twenty-six years old. He’s the fab­u­lous­ly suc­cess­ful, very wealthy founder and Facebook. And he’s decid­ed that unlike Bill Gates, he doesn’t want to wait till retire­ment to become a major phil­an­thropist, he wants to start right now. And he and his wife Priscilla Chan (well, she’s then his girl­friend, but we all know she’s going to be his wife), decide they want to do some­thing in edu­ca­tion, and they want to do some­thing big in edu­ca­tion. And so Mark Zuckerberg decides that what he wants to do is he wants to fig­ure out how to increase the sta­tus of teach­ers in America. He thinks this is a huge issue. And he believes that one of the biggest prob­lems fac­ing the American econ­o­my is the fail­ure of edu­ca­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in urban cen­ters. And he thinks that the way to fix edu­ca­tion is to get the most tal­ent­ed peo­ple in the coun­try to become teachers.

Now, he has all the most tal­ent­ed peo­ple in the world beat­ing down his door to come to Facebook, and he thinks the rea­son that they’re com­ing is that he’s pay­ing them for their per­for­mance. The best peo­ple get the biggest bonus­es. Well, in edu­ca­tion, as we know, teach­ers get rais­es for their longevi­ty year after year. It’s not based on per­for­mance. And so he’s say­ing the dead­wood get the same rais­es as the super­stars. Who would want to work in a sit­u­a­tion like that, he asked.

So, his idea is to try to fig­ure out how to rev­o­lu­tion­ize teach­ers’ con­tracts. And he says if he can get teach­ers to get big bonus­es, the best teach­ers to get the biggest bonus­es the way the best work­ers at Facebook do, he says that’s the way to get the very best peo­ple into teach­ing, a lot of the very best peo­ple. So he has this idea, and as luck would have it who does he meet but Cory Booker, the rock­star may­or of Newark, New Jersey, Oprah Winfrey calls him. And he also meets Chris Christie, the gov­er­nor of New Jersey who is him­self a ris­ing star in the Republican par­ty. And they tell Zuckerberg that there’s no more promis­ing place in America to do some­thing big, some­thing trans­for­ma­tion­al, in edu­ca­tion than in Newark, New Jersey. So if Mark and Priscilla will give a hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars, Cory Booker says he’ll raise a sec­ond hun­dred mil­lion from oth­er donors. And he’ll win a rev­o­lu­tion­ary teach­ers’ con­tract from the union in Newark, and it will become a mod­el for the coun­try. And mean­while Cory Booker says he will com­mit him­self 247 and he will make edu­ca­tion the num­ber one pri­or­i­ty of his sec­ond term.

So Zuckerberg signed on, and before he knew it he was on Oprah Winfrey show sit­ting along­side Cory Booker and Chris Christie. And they’re all telling the nation that in five years, they’re going to take a city of pre­dom­i­nant­ly fail­ing schools and turn it into one of uni­ver­sal­ly high per­for­mance. And as Cory Booker says, it’s going to be a hemi­sphere of hope.” And they’re not going to stop there. They said they would emerge in these five years with a mod­el, they called it a proof point,” for how to turn around all fail­ing urban dis­tricts. And Mark Zuckerberg with his phil­an­thropy will take this mod­el to city after city, and he will solve the cri­sis in edu­ca­tion in urban America, just the way he rev­o­lu­tion­ized glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions from his Harvard dorm room at age nine­teen. Just like that.

Well. In the first two inter­views I had with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, they were dis­arm­ing­ly open about how lit­tle they knew about phil­an­thropy. And they said in com­mit­ting this hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars they hope not only to help chil­dren in Newark, but also to learn from the expe­ri­ence. And to become bet­ter phil­an­thropists as a result of it. And I was real­ly struck when they said that. They said it with such open­ness and con­vic­tion that I knew that they were real­ly seri­ous about this learn­ing piece, about what­ev­er hap­pened in Newark, they want­ed to be real­ly hon­est and con­front it and learn from it.

For the Chan-Zuckerbergs, Newark became a school of hard knocks. As you may have heard, the promis­es made on the Oprah show did not mate­ri­al­ize. The young phil­an­thropists did not emerge from Newark with a mod­el for even turn­ing around Newark, much less all urban dis­tricts nation­al­ly. Without ques­tion some good did come of the hun­dred mil­lion that Zuckerberg spent and anoth­er hun­dred mil­lion from the match­ing donors. A very sig­nif­i­cant expan­sion of the city’s high-performing char­ter schools. Improved man­age­ment sys­tems inside of what had been a real­ly dys­func­tion­al school dis­trict bureau­cra­cy. And a new teach­ers’ con­tract with much tougher account­abil­i­ty for teach­ers instruc­tion of stu­dents, although noth­ing like the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­tract that Mark Zuckerberg want­ed at the beginning.

But the dis­trict schools in Newark that are attend­ed by 60% of the chil­dren have been plunged into a finan­cial cri­sis, in part because of one of the good things. Because of the exo­dus of chil­dren to char­ter schools. The dol­lars went with them. More than a third of the tra­di­tion­al pub­lic schools have been closed, con­sol­i­dat­ed, restruc­tured, repur­posed, restaffed, and turned over to char­ter schools. And also there’s been mas­sive reas­sign­ment of staff and teach­ers and layoffs.

And maybe as a result of all this upheaval, and in spite of the pos­i­tive man­age­ment changes that they made through­out the dis­trict, stu­dent achieve­ment on the stan­dard­ized test in the dis­trict schools has gone down, not up, since this reform process began. So Newark has a bifur­cat­ed edu­ca­tion sys­tem now. They have 40% of stu­dents in high-performing char­ters, most of which are beat­ing the state aver­age on the stan­dard­ized tests. And then there’s 60% of the stu­dents in the tra­di­tion­al dis­trict schools, where the scores have gone down. And if you talk to teach­ers in the district’s schools, they say that the bud­get cri­sis has tak­en away the sup­port that they des­per­ate­ly need to address chal­lenges that chil­dren face from grow­ing up in an extreme­ly poor and a violence-plagued city.

Politically, the road has been even rock­i­er. Booker and Christie imposed their reform strat­e­gy on the city with­out the input of teach­ers or par­ents, trig­ger­ing an upris­ing so intense that it pro­pelled into the mayor’s office a for­mer city coun­cil­man named Ras Baraka, whose plat­form was entire­ly ded­i­cat­ed to stop­ping all the reforms in their tracks. Education reform­ers from around the coun­try poured five mil­lion dol­lars in con­tri­bu­tions into a cam­paign to try to defeat him, but he still won deci­sive­ly with a very severe fundrais­ing disadvantage.

From three thou­sand miles away, imag­ine this. Mark Zuckerberg is read­ing that at ral­lies in Newark, res­i­dents are decry­ing him as an uncar­ing bil­lion­aire who’s wreak­ing hav­oc with their schools. Based on what Cory Booker had told him, Mark Zuckerberg said that he thought he was doing what the peo­ple in Newark want­ed for them­selves. And mean­while Cory Booker vow to be the 247 edu­ca­tion may­or got hijacked by mul­ti­ple dis­trac­tions, includ­ing a mur­der wave in the city, a crush­ing fis­cal cri­sis, a polit­i­cal revolt by his city coun­cil, and his race for the Senate.

Instead of Newark becom­ing the hoped-for mod­el of edu­ca­tion for the nation, mul­ti­ple phil­an­thropists are now using it as a case study for how not to treat a com­mu­ni­ty that you hope to help. But here’s the fas­ci­nat­ing part. Mark Zuckerberg at the riper, old­er age of thirty-one has emerged as one of Newark’s most seri­ous and self-reflective stu­dents. In a let­ter that he and his wife Priscilla Chan wrote to their new­born daugh­ter Maxima Chan Zuckerberg last week and post­ed on Facebook, they laid out six guid­ing prin­ci­ples for what they call the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, to be fund­ed by their stock, which as we said is now esti­mat­ed at forty-five bil­lion dollars.

Principles num­ber one and two were drawn direct­ly from what went wrong in Newark. The first one calls for invest­ing for the long term. Twenty-five years, a hun­dred years, cer­tain­ly not five years, which was the time frame in Newark. Short-term think­ing,” they wrote, will not begin to solve the great chal­lenges of their time. And in this they includ­ed pover­ty, dis­ease, edu­ca­tion­al inequity, and bro­ken communities.

Their sec­ond prin­ci­ple is to engage direct­ly with the peo­ple we serve. We can’t empow­er peo­ple if we don’t under­stand the needs and desires of their com­mu­ni­ties.” That doesn’t sound like what hap­pened in Newark. In Newark, large­ly bypass­ing the com­mu­ni­ty was not only polit­i­cal­ly calami­tous, it pro­duced an agen­da that did not equip the schools to address pro­found emo­tion­al needs that chil­dren bring into class­rooms every day, needs about which par­ents and teach­ers could have offered pow­er­ful insight if they had been consulted.

It is inter­est­ing that the cou­ple chose to put Priscilla Chan’s name first in chris­ten­ing their new ven­ture the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. Dr. Chan, who her­self comes from a dis­ad­van­taged back­ground, is a pro­po­nent of a holis­tic approach to edu­ca­tion. As a pedi­a­tri­cian work­ing with under­served chil­dren in San Francisco area safe­ty net hos­pi­tals, she became con­vinced that chil­dren raised in extreme pover­ty suf­fer health and emo­tion­al con­se­quences and require exten­sive sup­port that the pre­vail­ing edu­ca­tion reform agen­da sim­ply doesn’t con­tem­plate. She’s using her and her husband’s phil­an­thropy to start a school that will oper­ate in part­ner­ship with a com­mu­ni­ty health cen­ter in the bay area, pro­vid­ing med­ical and men­tal health care in tan­dem with edu­ca­tion and community-based ser­vices, cre­at­ing a web sup­port for stu­dents with the great­est needs, begin­ning in ear­ly childhood.

Hours before Zuckerberg and Chan revealed their ini­tia­tive to the world on Tuesday, the foun­da­tion dis­pens­ing their gift in Newark announced that it was com­mit­ting ten mil­lion dol­lars to cre­ate a net­work of com­mu­ni­ty schools. These are a big pri­or­i­ty of may­or Baraka’s. They’re schools with wrap­around ser­vices for chil­dren, as well as for adults and for the com­mu­ni­ty and the neighborhood. 

In the after­math of the upris­ing that pro­duced Ras Baraka’s elec­tion, the foun­da­tion has made oth­er vis­i­ble invest­ments in the com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing in the mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, and a city­wide cam­paign to increase the pro­por­tion of col­lege grad­u­ates, in Newark which is now only 12%. The goal is to reach 25% by 2025. At Tuesday’s com­mu­ni­ty schools announce­ment, Mayor Baraka stood shoul­der to shoul­der with the foundation’s pres­i­dent, and the state-appointed school dis­trict super­in­ten­dent, appoint­ed by gov­er­nor Christie. It was a real tableau of rap­proche­ment, although it was belated. 

Cory Booker and Chris Christie, as you may have heard, left the fray of the edu­ca­tion reform strug­gle that they set in motion with so much fan­fare in 2010. Booker left for the Senate, and Governor Christie has left for the Presidential cam­paign cir­cuit. Mark Zuckerberg, alone among the three men who sat on Oprah Winfrey’s stage that day, appears to have been changed by the expe­ri­ence. As he and Chan wrote to their baby daugh­ter, it will be decades, maybe even a cen­tu­ry before their new far-grander ini­tia­tive reach­es fruition. But if it bears even some of the fruits they hope for the world in which Maxima is going to grow up, it will be in part because of the lessons her par­ents learned the hard way in the tough edu­ca­tion­al precincts of Newark, New Jersey. 

Thank you.


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