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How Not To Read ‘The Prize’

How Not To Read ‘The Prize’

Monday, November 20, 2017

At the October Grantmakers for Education Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., the Newark Funders Education Committee presented a workshop called “How Not to Read the Prize” to a standing-room-only audience of national, regional, and local foundations.

They did so not to dispute the findings in Dale Russakoff’s book, “The Prize,” but rather to expound upon the progress and challenges that have occurred during the period since Mark Zuckerberg’s $100-million-dollar gift was announced in September 2010 and to paint a fuller, more nuanced picture.

The process of putting together the panel was a learning experience for all of us who participated. It helped us to clarify our own thinking about what the gift enabled Newark to accomplish, how we as local funders have come to work together more effectively, and how we might advise national foundations interested in place-based impact to engage with the community and with local funders.

In September 2010, Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million gift, to be matched dollar for dollar, to transform education in Newark in five years. The Foundation for Newark’s Future was created as a local foundation that would manage a then-undetermined portion of the gift.

The Prize, by Dale Russakoff, documents the first five few years of this reform effort. As Russakoff illustrates, there were strong personalities involved in the reform effort who had or have now moved to new positions. Also, this was the donor’s first foray into philanthropy and despite efforts at community engagement, many community leaders and activists felt that district and state leaders and national foundation representatives did not invite or respect authentic community participation in its decisions. The book and subsequent book tour largely focused on these themes.

The narrative in philanthropy is that “this bold effort largely failed.” With the benefit of time, we would write a different narrative: there were missteps along the way, and some philanthropic overreach, but Newark is moving forward, education outcomes are improving, and some of the work that was started because of this initiative has had sustained positive impact. Most importantly, there is a robust education dialogue in the city that has moved from vigorous disagreement to an agreement to collaborate even when we disagree. So, the hashtag for this work seven years on might be: #notfinishedyet or #needapart2.

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