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Zuckerberg’s new org treats school districts as startups, invests $100M in Newark, NJ

By Tim Conneally, Betanews

Mark Zuckerberg, 26 year old Facebook CEO and 35th richest man in the United States today announced his new Startup: Education foundation, which focuses on rebuilding failing education systems one city at a time; treating them as if they were startup companies.

“School districts need more autonomy and clearer leadership so they can be managed more like startups than like government bureaucracies,” Zuckerberg said today. “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.”

And what would a startup be without investors? So, in addition to the
million allocated to the Newark city school district
by the State Department of Education earlier this week, Zuckerberg’s foundation will pump 0 million into the district, and the Newark Education and Youth Development Fund will attempt to match it.

“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,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook today.

The national graduation rate in 2009 was 74.8% according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics, so New Jersey has some ground to gain.

Of course, the biggest black mark to the state came last month, when New Jersey’s application for 0 million in federal grants in the Race to the Top Fund was rejected due to an embarrassing clerical error. In the part of the application asking for 2008-2009 numbers, the submission listed the state’s budget figures for 2010-2011.

Governor Chris Christie fired the state’s Commissioner of Education, Brett Schundler as a result of the foul-up.

“I never promised the people of New Jersey that this would be a mistake-free administration,” Christie said after Schundler’s dismissal. “However, I did promise that the people serving in my administration would be held accountable for their actions. As I said on Wednesday, I am accountable for what occurs in my administration.  I regret this mistake was made and will do all I can to have my administration avoid them in the future.”

While Zuckerberg said he puts his support behind Governor Christie, he focused his approbation on Mayor Corey Booker, who will be leading the initiative.

“Mayor Booker [will] 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,” Zuckerberg said. “The plan will be carried out under the Mayor’s leadership, through a new superintendent selected jointly by the Governor and the Mayor.”

The Mayor also did his part to speak in support of Zuckerberg today. The new motion picture “The Social Network” depicts Zuckerberg’s rise to wealth in a less-than-adoring light, and pundits accused him of timing this announcement to portray himself as a more magnanimous person.

On Twitter this afternoon, Booker wrote: “A sort of cynical media [question]: ‘Was Mark’s grant a public relations effort against movie?’ Answer: No! we had [to] convince Mark not to be anonymous.”

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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