09/02/2014 04:10 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

Education and Philanthropy

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I gather you and Priscilla are worth about $25 billion. So giving $250 million to educational initiatives is not that big a deal for you. Nevertheless, I really admire you for doing it. I may not agree with what you've given money for, but I honor your effort more than I do some guy buying a sports team for the inflated price of $2 billion. I also know that you've given $1 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and you've pledged to Bill Gates to give over half your wealth away. Good for you. It's a helluva lot better to hear about guys like you giving money away than hearing folks like the Koch Brothers kvetch about "death taxes" as if they earned every penny of their income.

Could we talk for a minute about that $250 million? You gave $100 million to Newark Schools and as far as I can tell, the major beneficiary of your largesse is Cory Booker who got elected to the Senate partially on his claim that he cared about education. A bunch of consulting firms also earned $20 million. Wow! Their daily rate sure must be more than mine. At this point, however, in terms of educational outcomes I don't see that you got very much for that $100 million.

Given that not much got accomplished in Newark I'm a touch puzzled that you're now doubling down and giving $120 million to Bay Area schools. Apparently you're giving the money to help start some charter schools and help some other schools get up to snuff on computers and connectivity and the like. I understand your impulses, but seriously Mark, I think you're throwing good money after bad.

After all, Ambassador Annenberg gave $500 million to five cities a generation ago--that was when $500 million was real money--and it all came to nil. He had the best of intentions, just like you, but giving money in this manner almost always ends up with very little to show for it.

I guess that's the question, Mark. You're a businessman. What's your bottom line? If I asked you to give me a measly $10 million for the electronic games we're building, you'd ask me for a business plan. You'd want to know my exit strategy. You'd want a fair assurance that within a certain time definite I had a snowball's chance in hell of earning money.

Giving money to create fundamental educational reforms like you're doing won't work, Mark. Again, I admire you for trying, but you're looking in the wrong places, and not requiring clear outcomes.
I have two suggestions for you.

Imagine if you said this:

"I'm giving $250 million to improve education to Los Angeles. The money will go toward increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour because I know that lifting families out of poverty plays a huge difference in educational outcomes for children."

Okay, so you may think that the outcomes are not clear enough, but if you did that and linked the minimum wage with education you'd be changing the dialogue in a way that Bill Gates or Arne Duncan are not doing. Good for you. There is a strong body of research, Mark, showing that raising families out of poverty improves school performance for young kids.

If you want specific outcomes you could say this:

"I'm giving $250 million to improve education in Los Angeles. The initiative is focused solely on homeless youth. Within five years I want to reduce the dropout rate for homeless youth by 50% and increase the college-going rate for these kids by 50%."

That's achievable in a way that your previous initiatives are not.

Either of my suggestions have legs, Mark. You seem like a good guy, and I want to help. Let's talk.

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