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Talk about an awesome Facebook friend.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social networking site Facebook, on Friday announced on The Oprah Winfrey Show that he is donating $100 million to revamp the failing Newark, N.J. public school system. (In a quirky bit of timing, Zuckerberg's announcement comes on the same day that The Social Network, a movie about the founding of Facebook that portrays Zuckerberg as selfish and egotistical, premieres at the New York Film Festival.)
Zuckerberg's bequest will be used to set up an education foundation. No specific details were offered about how the foundation will operate but New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, who appeared on the show with Zuckerberg and N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, will be in charge of developing a plan on how to reform the school system and also help choose a new superintendent (a power the governor previously held solo).
The money comes in the form of a challenge grant, which Zuckberberg said others in the community should match. "Every child deserves a good education and right now that's not happening," he said.
Booker outlined three general guiding principles for how he hopes to achieve the monumental change that is needed: support teachers ("We cannot bash them"), design "systems of accountability," and support excellent schools.
"Nobody gets a pass: parents, teachers. There must be consequences if we fail to serve our children," Booker said. "If you don't provide a cathedral of learning, then we will hold you to account."
The Newark schools have been labeled a failure -- test scores and rates of graduation are among the lowest in the state despite spending the most per student than any other city in the country -- and in 1995 were taken over by the state, which disbanded the elected school board. Things have not significantly improved in the years since.
Zuckerberg, 28, has no connection to Newark schools -- he attended a public high school in New York before transferring to the private Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He met Booker about three months ago and apparently was inspired by his vision. He said the money would allow Christie and Booker to "have the flexibility they need to develop new programs."
When Winfrey asked why he had chosen Newark, he simply said, "I believe in these guys."
Zuckerberg had wanted to make the donation anonymously, but Winfrey said she persuaded him to go public in a bid to encourage others to make contributions.
And while a skeptic might raise an eyebrow at Zuckerberg's timing of the announcement with The Social Network's release, he urged movie-goers not to believe everything on the screen. "A lot of it is fiction," he said.
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