TechCrunch Interview With Mark Zuckerberg On $100 Million Education Donation

News started to break earlier this week about a $100 million donation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is making to Newark’s school system. He’s announcing it today on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Jason Kincaid and I spoke to Zuckerberg about the donation earlier this week, at the same time we interviewed him about the Facebook Phone issue.

He’s creating a new foundation and funding it with $100 million in Facebook stock. The money will be used to revamp the Newark school system, including closing some schools, opening new ones and experimenting with teacher pay. Newark Mayor Cory Booker will be a key figure in how the money is spent.

We interviewed Mayor Booker in 2008 when he was focusing on fighting crime in Newark via high quality security cameras and a gunshot detection system to monitor an eight square mile crime-heavy area of Newark.

The interview is below.

Mark Zuckerberg: So over the last year. I started researching what the best ways would be to kind of improve the education system. And I just have a lot of reasons why personally I’m interested in this. Have you met Priscilla, my girlfriend?

Michael Arrington: I only know her through your Facebook account.

Mark Zuckerberg: Yes. I mean – so we’ve been dating for about seven years. When she graduated from school, she went and became a teacher. Now, she’s in medical school and she’s studying to be a pediatrician. But this is just kind of a common thing that we’ve been really interested in – about education, kids. And, you know, the default path that we were on, we’re just like, okay, a lot of other people wait until later on in their career to figure out how to give back. Then we decided – this is just like a year ago, maybe nine months ago, I said, why should we wait? I mean, most people don’t have this kind of success early on in life. We feel really lucky so we should be researching this now. And we decided early on that the thing that we wanted to try to help out with was education. It’s just that there are so many things that are broken in the education system across the country now. The national education budget is 600 billion dollars that goes towards all of education. So it’s kind of crazy, right?

Michael Arrington: That includes state budget?

Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah – national, state, everything. So it ends up being quite difficult to make a difference because any amount of money that anyone has is just a drop in the bucket compared to that. So when you start learning about education, there are all these organizations that are national like KIPP – the chapter schools that are the top performing. There are 99 of them across the country. They’re really high performing schools.

There’s stuff like Teach For America, that places a few hundred teachers in a lot of different cities. And they’re really creating the pipeline for all of the – kind of HR and people who go into… A lot of people who do Teach for America don’t end up staying in teaching. But about two-thirds of them end up in education. So for example, the people who started a lot of the top charter schools are TFA alums. That’s an amazing institution.

But the thing that’s working a lot more recently is rather than trying to take a cut of one of these problems on a national level, going in to any given school – like a school district or city and trying to reform all these different things at once. So in New York, Bloomberg did a bunch of this, D.C. there was a bunch of this. Unfortunately, the mayor who did it there just lost his election. And the approach is – because there are so many different issues that are kind of all compounding in the education system rather than trying to fix any one of them in a lot of places,you get a lot better results when you fix all of them in one place. And the idea is that you’re going to show that it’s getting results on a five or eight year time frame. Then, that creates an example that other cities can go copy and improve.

So we did all this research and we figured it would be a while until we found a good candidate but it turns out that Newark, New Jersey is a good candidate for a lot of reasons. So the main reason is that the leaders there are really good. So there’s this guy, Cory Booker, who’s the mayor and who’s a Democrat and the governor, Chris Christie in New Jersey is a Republican. They’re both really good leaders who are rising stars in their respective parties. And just very well respected nationally, have a lot of political capital that they can spend on trying to make the reforms, the changes that are painful but necessary to get this stuff done. And at the same time, Newark is one of the lowest performing school districts in the country right now. About 45% of high school students drop out. Around 50% of students don’t pass the state proficiency exams for literacy.

In a study at the local community college almost all of the Newark students who end up graduating and going [there], end up having to take remedial classes in education – in language or math to just to learn stuff that they should have learned in high school. So it’s really right now, it’s not – it’s one of the lower performing school districts but to me that’s just an opportunity when you get great leaders to show that you can make really good improvements, right? And one of the great things about Newark is that it’s so close to New York City that there are a lot of other issues in Newark at the same time. But if you can just fix the education issues, then, everyone can just drive 10 minutes and get a job in New York City, so it becomes the highest order bit.

So that – that way Cory is really aligned towards one – like this is his top priority. He just got re-elected by a pretty big margin and it’s his biggest priority. Then, so now – so that’s kind of what we’re doing, I mean, the idea is fund him and basically support him in doing a really comprehensive program to get all these things in place that they need to get done.

Michael Arrington: It’s $100 million and – that will be spent over how long do you think?

Mark Zuckerberg: Five years.

Michael Arrington: Okay. And that will open up some new schools?

Mark Zuckerberg: Oh, yeah.

Michael Arrington: Quickly?

Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah, yes.

Michael Arrington: They can build them up.

Mark Zuckerberg: But it’s also a – well, actually a lot of the work will be done in the first year, kind of just like getting the charter schools to come … Working with Teach For America to get more placements for their – for their teachers.

Michael Arrington: So what happens after five years if this works out really well?

Mark Zuckerberg: Well, a lot of the data on reforming school districts shows that it actually takes eight to 10 years really to turn the thing around. But what the real goal is here – is just to show that it’s working. I mean, I don’t have much of a connection to Newark. I grew up in New York, right outside the city. So Newark is just close by and it’s going to – I hope that this helps the 45,000 students who go to school there. But the long-term goal would be to make Newark into a symbol that you can do this. So that way, a lot of the results can get replicated in other places and I – I hope that we can do that on the three to five-year period and that there will be more work after that. But hopefully a lot of it will get put in motion in the first year or so, and a lot of stuff that they need to do is just close down certain schools, make sure that there’s room for good schools to come in and join, set up programs. And then, a lot of this is going to be operating it and just going to take a long time to change.

Jason Kincaid: What about attracting better teachers to the schools? I’d imagine part of this isn’t just the way teachers are gauged but you know, the actual teaching talent. Is that what TFA should and can help with?

Mark Zuckerberg: Yeah. Also, TFA is – one of the things that’s pretty interesting is around this. So my girlfriend wanted to be a teacher after she graduated from Harvard. And one of the things that I saw that was interesting was socially the response that she got. Where, everyone was kind of, “this is such a nice thing that you’re doing it”. But it was like she’s doing charity. It’s clear that she could have gotten paid more doing some other job. She’s really smart and she was clearly foregoing the real economic value for her to do something that was socially valuable. So the question is, how can you make it so that a lot of the people who would go do other things, teaching is a respected and valued enough job that people actually go into it. Given that it has a lot more impact than what these people are being compensated at today. And I think of that – that is a big problem. One of the things that’s been pretty interesting about TFA is they’ve actually gotten a lot of really good college students to go into teaching but it’s only for a short period of time. 15% of the graduating Harvard class applies to TFA and there are aren’t enough placements today to accept all those people but they would accept a lot more of them if they could. It’s just that it’s really hard —TFA needs to go fund those people and get them placed at specific schools. There is often some politics around that. So that’s one of the big things that they are working on. But the TFA is trying to double over the next five years, right. So but that number surprised me, when I learned that 15%, I mean… Apparently TFA is I think by far the largest employer of students graduating from Ivy League schools.

Michael Arrington: So is it a government organization?

Mark Zuckerberg: No, no. It’s a private charity. Yeah. And now, the woman who founded it is starting – this woman, Wendy Kopp, is starting an international version Teach For All. So it’s cool, but in doing research for this, a lot of the educational issues in the U.S. are pretty different from international. So I’m not sure how much we’re going to be able to learn from this experience to do it internationally but maybe for the next one we’ll think about something like that. A lot of this really just comes down to though — I spend all my time running this company, you know. So for a lot of people who are later in their careers when they start this stuff, they can spend more time on it like running a foundation and I really couldn’t. So for me this is more like a venture capital approach where it’s like you pick the entrepreneur, the leader that you believe in and then you really like try to give them a lot of leverage.

Michael Arrington: Cory Booker in that case.

Mark Zuckerberg: Yes.

Michael Arrington: He was doing some things around cameras and crime control.

Mark Zuckerberg: Exactly.

Michael Arrington: That was really controversial.

Mark Zuckerberg: So his whole first term was focused on getting crime down because Newark has the highest crime rate, I think in the country and he reduced it by like 50 or 60% or something insane. Those numbers aren’t fact checked, so that might be off but it’s large, all right. And he’s pretty amazing when you talk to him about this stuff. He himself moved from the – mayor’s house and he got like a trailer and moved to like the most dangerous street in Newark. And he used to drive around on the streets with the police there at like three or four in the morning tracking down crime. And his whole theory was like…

Michael Arrington: That was when he was a city councilor, right, before he ran for mayor?

Mark Zuckerberg: I think it was after he was mayor. I mean, maybe he did that before and after. But my understanding was that, that was during his time as mayor because that’s when he made this this huge priority, is we have to cut down crime. It was like, if I’m going to get the police force to care about this, they’re going to go out risking their lives like I need to show that I irrationally care about this. I think he is pretty amazing.