What can you accomplish with $100 million? Very little, it seems, from the story told in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, the story of how Mark Zuckeberg’s colossal gift to the Newark, NJ public schools was squandered and perhaps damaged rather than improve the outcomes for the students in the district.
The author dispassionately describes how an ambitious politician (Cory Booker) brilliantly fundraised for the schools, but neither he nor the donors (Mark Zuckeberg serving as exhibit A) understood the political obstacles to rerom, including but far from limited to the teachers’ and other unions involved, defined achievement criteria, or had any rational implementation strategy or oversight for the gift. The story is an indictment for this particular effort, of course, but also contains many learnings for future efforts, as well as sober reminders that school reforms may be limited by the larger context. In a kindergarten class she describes, 15 of 26 children are followed by child-welfare workers. Sure, we can teach them to read, but can we teach their parents to take care of them outside of school?