Facebook CEO Makes it Official: A $100 Million Gift to Newark Schools

Mark Zuckerberg donation Newark Schools
Mark Zuckerberg donation Newark Schools

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially announced a $100 million gift to Newark's struggling public school system on Friday, declaring that "teaching needs to be revered as a profession."

Zuckerberg will discuss the gift, which is a five-year challenge grant that Newark intends to match with other private donations, on The Oprah Winfrey Show Friday.

"I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I've been given because of my education, including the chance to work with talented people and build a great company at such a young age," Zuckerberg said in a statement. "Rather than waiting until later in life to focus on giving back, I've spent a lot of the last year researching and looking for the most impactful ways to improve education starting in America."

The grant comes on the same day as the debut of a much-anticipated new film about Facebook's controversial origins, The Social Network -- penned by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. The film does not portray Zuckerberg in a flattering light, according to critics.

An Obvious Question of Timing

During a conference call, Zuckerberg, Christie and Booker tried to combat the the notion that the announcement was timed to blunt the impact of the film.

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"The timing was really driven by the needs of Newark," Zuckerberg said. "I didn't want the press about The Social Network to get conflated with the the gift, so I was thinking about doing this anonymously."

In the end, Booker and Christie said they convinced Zuckerberg to go ahead with a named gift at this time, over the objections of Facebook executives who feared that the gift would be perceived as a publicity stunt.

"There were some tense moments," Booker said. "The governor and I were pressing to go faster and quicker, and the movie became a complication. We literally had to go through long calls to convince Mark and his team not to make the gift anonymously."

"The movie will be long gone and we'll still be in year two and three of this effort," Booker added. Newark's school system has 40,000 students -- and a 50% graduation rate

Booker and Christie heaped praise on the 26-year-old CEO.

"We're grateful that this young, innovative entrepreneur is so dedicated to helping create the next generation of successful entrepreneurs and leaders," Booker said. "Improving the quality of public education and increasing student achievement in Newark is a top priority of my Administration, and I am so grateful that Mark Zuckerberg shares our commitment and belief in the genius and limitless potential of Newark's students."

Mark Zuckerberg's statement:

Education has always been important to me and my family. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of learning and academic success. They both worked to make sure my three sisters and I could all go to good colleges. My grandmother was a teacher, and when my girlfriend graduated from college she became a teacher as well.

I feel very fortunate for the opportunities I've been given because of my education, including the chance to work with talented people and build a great company at such a young age. Rather than waiting until later in life to focus on giving back, I've spent a lot of the last year researching and looking for the most impactful ways to improve education starting in America.

There are many different challenges all facing education at once. Teaching needs to be more respected and revered as a career. 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.

Many people are working on solving a single part of the problem broadly across the whole country. But recently, a few leaders are getting significant results by taking more of a startup approach and moving fast to do all these things at the same time in just one city. If they can prove that it's possible to turn around some of the most difficult urban districts in the country, then that will generate enough momentum to take the same approach and improve education everywhere.

Like any startup, the key to making this work is finding great leaders and the right market that's ready for change. After a lot of research, I've decided to put my full support behind Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to help their efforts to reform the schools in Newark.

Newark has unfortunately become a symbol of public education's failure-of a status quo that accepts schools that don't succeed. In 2009, only 40 percent of kids could read and write at grade level by the end of third grade, only 54 percent of high school students graduated and just 38 percent enrolled in college.

Going to a school with boarded up windows and broken glass should not be a part of our education experience. A child's biggest fear at school should be their next exam, not weapons or the kid sitting next to them.

Over the past several months, I've learned a lot about these challenges from Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Each of these leaders is prepared to make bold commitments to challenge the status quo and make Newark a symbol of education reform. Their personal commitments-and their willingness to cut through the politics and red tape to collaborate-persuaded me to support them and make a commitment of my own.

As a first step, the Governor has authorized Mayor Booker to work with the local community to develop and implement a comprehensive education plan for the Newark Public School District, based on clear standards and metrics that reward excellence in teaching, school leadership and student achievement. The plan will be carried out under the Mayor's leadership, through a new superintendent selected jointly by the Governor and the Mayor. This commitment-a Republican governor giving new leverage to a Democratic mayor-shows that the challenge is not a partisan or political issue. That's very important to me. My focus is not on politics, it's on improving education.

Mayor Booker has committed to make education his single highest priority for his current term in office. He will provide the same oversight over education in the next four years that he has in his efforts to reduce crime in Newark during his first term. The Mayor will work with the citizens of Newark to establish new community metrics to measure the performance of students, teachers and principals. His goal is to build a community that delivers greater recognition and rewards for excellence.

I believe in the Mayor and his vision, and that's why I want to help them succeed. Using my own Facebook stock, I'm creating the Startup: Education foundation with over $100 million to invest in educating and improving the lives of young people. I'm also challenging others who want to improve education in America to match my contribution.

I'm excited to start this new project. I've been very lucky to have the education and opportunities I've had in my life and I look forwarding to participating in giving the 40,000+ students in Newark the same opportunities. Together, we can support a bold and thoughtful program for improving education, starting by making Newark a symbol of excellence.

-Mark Zuckerberg