In honor of The Social Network, that Hollywood take on low road to billion-dollar success traveled by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg I’m dedicating this blog post to my favorite love to hate billionaire.
Zuckerberg’s Fantastical Blurbs
A couple of months ago I was perusing one of the millions of groups I belong to at Linked In when I came across this post from the non-profit thread: CEO of Facebook – non profits are not self sufficient…
As a person who has worked in nonprofits for more than 10 years and a journalist who has seen more businesses fail than bras made by Victoria Secrets, this article got me fuming. How the 26-year-old frat boy could say anything remotely true about the sustainability of one of the oldest organizational models is beyond me. I chalked it up to the foot-in-mouth disease that afflicts the 20-something billionaire forcing him to utter such gems as “They trust me, dumb f#$ks,” about his early Facebook users and his constant assertions that privacy doesn’t matter. (Have you ever heard of the founding fathers?)
And then he made bad worse by saying he thinks “building a company is the best way to change the world …because it’s the best way to align the interests of a lot of smart people and a lot of partners to build something that’s great and that serves people. You can’t do that if you’re an individual, because it’s just you and there’s no one to align, and you can’t do it if you’re a non-profit, because you have no resources and you’re constantly out trying to raise money instead of generating it and being self-sufficient. That’s I guess the view. ”
Businesses changing the world … mmm does he mean like Chicago’s meat packing industry changing children play time to work time as depicted in The Jungle. Or maybe he means like BP changing our wetlands with a little dump of oil in the ocean. Or could he mean the coal industry changing the way poor and minority children are breathing causing millions of children asthma or maybe he means the tobacco industry – well we don’t have to go on about how they changed the world.
Zuckerberg and His Contradictions
Well, after disparaging nonprofits as basically unsuccessful models for changing the world, Mr. Zuckerberg then turns around and gives $100 million to the New Jersey School District. Talk about the unsustainable! First off, a billionaire giving $100 million is like me giving $10 out of a $1,000 chump change if you ask me. But I digress. Secondly, I love New Jersey. Everything’s coming up Newark that’s to their cute, sexy, smart and oddly nice mayor Corey Booker. I considered moving there until I looked at their school districts and property taxes.
New Jersey has some of the the highest property tax rates in the nation. And thanks to Dewey, property taxes fund schools so New Jersey averages about $12,000 to education one student annually. In Newark, where Zuckerberg’s “bribe,” I mean “gift,” is going the district spends on average $5,000 more per student than the rest of the state districts. Is this a sustainable model? Not if the outcome of your investment is*:
– 1 out of 10 Newark residents being a high school drop out
– 4 out of 10 Newark third and fourth graders below proficient in reading
– Half of all 11th graders below proficient in reading.
I won’t even put the math scores – the 3rd and 4th grades are doing great – with nearly 70% of them at proficient levels but the 8th and 11th graders are hovering around only 30% being efficient.
And this from a school district that spends more money than most other schools and has been embroiled in education reform for more 12 years.
*Results taken from the Council on Great City Schools report on Newark.)
Zuckerberg’s Hail Mary
Because Newark’s schools are made up of mostly black and brown people will tell you it’s a district with a lot of handicaps. Poverty, race, culture, class – whatever. But as a black student who excelled in a school where the teachers made half as much as they do in New Jersey (median salary $66,000+ for nine months of work) and spend about a third (roughly $4,000) to educate each student, a Catholic school, I know that black and brown kiddos can learn without the largess of government spending. Even the for-profit KIPP schools are lower than New Jersey schools when it comes to per pupil spending about $2,000 lower. (Incidentally, the Newark KIPP school hasn’t been opened long so academic results are pending but the New York KIPP schools with the same demographics of black and brown had 92% of its students proficient in Math and 72% in language arts.)
New Jersey and Newark in particularly are spending enormous amounts to educate students with dismal results. Yet Zuckerberg, who says non-profits provide unsustainable models of existence decides his first big philanthropic move is to give to New Jersey students? What?
I’m all for helping students learn. But why reward a failing system? Not all public schools are bad and not all public school teachers are crooks but New Jersey Public Schools have a rather high-profile reputation for corruption (not D.C. but still). Would Zuckerberg provide $100 million in venture capital to a start up that tried to connect people through profile and pictures and status updates today? Um no, that’s a failed business model because it’s one that already exists. So why throw more money down an inexplicable rabbit hole? Saving face perhaps? There’s a penchant for the techno noveau riche to think their HTML code, algorithms and billions of dollars can save the world. So education reform has become the new toy for them to play with. But to that I say – “welcome to the suck.” The Suck is a colloquialism used by Marines to signal a place that has endless possibilities of being undesirable. Zuckerberg now has 100 million entry tickets to the suck that is the nation’s failing public school system. I pray he makes a difference but my cynical side says he won’t.