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"Looks like there's a press conference in 45 minutes with Mark Zuckerberg about his new education foundation," someone said in the ReadWriteWeb editorial room yesterday. "We've got the call in number. Audrey, want to get on the call?"

Not really, on one hand. I mean, I'd just read his blog post on Facebook and had already cranked out the snark, criticizing his grammar -- "Education has always been important to me and my family" -- and his lexicon -- I'm in the camp that says "impactful" is not a word.

But on the other hand, I must admit, I jumped at the opportunity to ask Zuckerberg a question about Startup: Education -- what were the plans for the money, how would Newark ensure that this cash influx would be used for sustainable transformation that benefits all Newark students.

On the call along with Zuckerberg was Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark and Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. No surprise, perhaps, with the composition of the conference call, it was clear that Zuckerberg's donation and its ramifications were more about politics and less about education.

Zuckerberg said that he had done a lot of soul-searching about philanthropy, wanting to start giving back now rather than waiting til later in his career. I commend him for that. I really do. It seems that many multi-millionaires get so caught up in the accumulation of wealth that it isn't until they're ready to step down from being CEOs that they consider establishing charitable foundations.

And Zuckerberg said that as he thought about the issues he most wanted to tackle, education came to the front, in part because his girlfriend is a teacher, in part because despite being a Harvard dropout, he has benefited immensely from a good education. We all benefit, I'd argue, when we have good educations.

But in part, I think, Zuckerberg chose education because he likes Cory Booker. In fact, he said during the press conference that the $100 million donation was in support of "great leaders" -- not in support of students, teachers, parents, schools. Great leaders, with Booker being one of them.

There were very few details about how the money will be spent. Zuckerberg says there are no earmarks. But Booker insisted that the schools would be "accountable."

And we know what that means: testing.

Yay?

The call was disappointing in a lot of ways. As Zuckerberg insisted he was too busy running Facebook to run a foundation, it's clear that he really lacks any sort of vision or understanding about what educational reform might look like. And as his donation has been used to leverage control of the failing Newark schools out of the hands of the state of New Jersey and back under the control of the city and Mayor Booker, it also points to the ways in which the rich and the powerful (and the uninformed) can sway how schools are run.

Zuckerberg says that Startup: Education will be looking for a foundation director. Hey, I guess that's a real ground floor opportunity as it's pretty clear that other than writing checks (or rather, signing over stocks), there isn't really a mission yet.

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Audrey Watters


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