The Promise and Limitations of Philanthropy in Education Reform

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A message from PNY President Ronna Brown, published originally in the New York PhilanthroPost Monthly October 2015 edition.

Journalists, television pundits and casual commentators on education seem quite shocked that Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation did not create a perfect, model school district. Philanthropy New York members who have long dedicated themselves to education, early childhood development, out-of-school learning, family well-being, community leadership, social services and countless other very necessary elements of comprehensive school reform are probably less surprised that $100 million directed at a deeply troubled school district with an annual operating budget of about $850 million in the largest city in New Jersey produced mixed gains in five years.   
In September 2010, Facebook co-founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg announced a grant of $100 million with the stated goal of transforming Newark’s public school system. He also challenged other funders to match the gift, drawing an additional $100 million.
Five years later, pouncing on findings in a new book The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff, some in the media have declared  Zuckerber’s donation a failure.  That is too simple. 
There is much to be learned from Zuckerberg’s experiment. On Thursday, November 19, Philanthropy New York will host “Education Reform in Newark: Lessons for Philanthropy.” This discussion will examine how education reform efforts have played out in Newark and draw out philanthropy’s complicated role. 
We are thrilled that Dale Russakoff herself will lead off our colloquium. Our other speakers, who were deeply involved in Newark reform efforts, include:
Joanna Belcher, Chief Academic Officer, KIPP-New Jersey
Irene Cooper-Basch, Executive Officer, Victoria Foundation
Thais Marques, Community Organizer, New Jersey Communities United
Khaatim Sherrer-El, Chief Innovation Officer, BRICK Academy
Tynesha McHarris (Moderator), Senior Consultant, NoVo Foundation
The Prize, which has become a New York Times bestseller, delves deeply into Mark Zuckerberg’s unprecedented gift and its effect on Newark’s struggling school system. It presents considerably more nuance than has been reported in the media. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the program.
Our discussion will focus on lessons from Newark, looking at both the limitations and continuing promise of philanthropy in education reform. Our speakers will also examine the infrastructure that should be in place to effectively execute strategies tied to large-scale philanthropic gifts. The panelists will weigh the merits of the rapid expansion of charter schools as part of this education reform program and draw out lessons for other cities.
This will be a program that moves past the headlines and searches for the real and very complex answers to questions that a wide variety of funders are asking about what philanthropy can really accomplish. This will be a fascinating and important  programs. I hope you will join us for the discussion.   
Best Regards,
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