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Guest Commentary

Challenges of Charity

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 12

By Al Jacobs

It was just announced that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will donate $120 million to the San Francisco Bay Area’s public school system. His intended aim is to “. . . catalyze change by exploring and promoting the development of new interventions and new models,” with initial efforts that focus on principle training, classroom technology and helping students transition from eight to ninth grade.

The donor’s heart is certainly in the right place; he appears to harbor the best of intentions.

This is not Mr. Zuckerberg’s first foray into educational excellence. In November, 2010, he gifted $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public school system. In cooperation with New Jersey political leaders, the funds were used to hire contractors and consultants, conduct community surveys, and advance controversial programs, with nearly $50 million of it allocated to a new teachers’ contract which pays annual bonuses up to $12,500.

After three and one-half years the money is mostly gone, but no student improvement can be seen. Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, sums up the final results: “Everyone’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Though we may hope for the best, there’s no reason to expect that Mr. Zuckerberg’s current endeavor will go much differently than his past one. Educational reform is a complex process, and when conducted in a fishbowl, along with the flow of large sums of money, undeserving recipients will prevail. It’s truly unfortunate; $120 million could do a lot of good if used properly.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, distributes a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may sign up for it at