The story of Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg, and the $100 million grant for fixing New Jersey—and possibly all American—schools.
Go back five years, before Booker moved on from his post as mayor of Newark to join Congress; before Christie had fumbled his momentum over some petty payback involving a bridge; before…well, OK, Zuckerberg was already plenty wealth—wealthy and interested in finding a way to enable major shifts in education reform. Booker was a popular mayor, and Christie was a popular governor. Both had aspirations for higher office, and both wanted to get there by instituting major change in New Jersey. So what better arena than the school system of Newark, with its vertigo-inducing rates of dropouts, crumbling school buildings, and shameful academic standings? In her first book, expanded from a serialized New Yorker article, former Washington Post reporter Russakoff tells the story of how Christie leveraged his political power, Booker provided the charisma and inspiring speeches, and together they netted Zuckerberg and a $100 million donation. They raised money from other donors, as well, predicting a battle against entrenched interests on both sides of the aisle intent on maintaining the status quo: unionized teachers and an entire industry of “educational consultant experts” moving from district to district, ostensibly “fixing” many of the problems through trainings, incentive programs, and other initiatives that would, as Christie and Booker noted, serve only to reinforce efforts in directions that had proven ineffective. Russakoff digs deep into the story, examining the seemingly well-intentioned efforts to bring change; the “good-news publicity storm” that Booker mastered, raising his profile while neglecting his responsibilities; Zuckerberg’s amazingly shortsighted faith in the level of control the politicians wielded; and the families caught up in the whirlwind, trying to find a reason to believe in the government’s plans for their schools. An appendix lists all the recipients of the grant money and other funds.
An absorbing entry into the burgeoning genre about necessary education reforms.