Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan Donate $120M To Bay Area Schools In Low-Income Communities

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have repeatedly displayed their commitment to charitable giving and education, and the power couple took another giant step Thursday with their announcement of a $120 million pledge to aid schools in low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay area.

KidGownPiggyBankThankYou650Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have repeatedly displayed their commitment to charitable giving and education, and the power couple took another giant step Thursday with their announcement of a $120 million pledge to aid schools in low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay area.

Zuckerberg and Chan made the announcement in an essay for the opinion section of the San Jose Mercury News, saying that Startup: Education — the group they created to oversee their $100 million donation in 2010 to the school system in Newark, N.J. — would oversee these funds, as well.

The couple wrote in the Mercury News essay:

The world’s most innovative community shouldn’t also be a home for struggling public schools. Today Priscilla and I are announcing a $120 million commitment to support efforts to improve education for underserved communities in the Bay area.

Helping improve the quality of public education in this country is something we both really care about. Priscilla has devoted her life to helping children from underserved communities as a pediatrician and as a teacher. I’ve been engaged with education issues over the past few years, and last year I taught an after-school program on entrepreneurship at a public middle school in the Belle Haven community of Menlo Park.

Over the past few years, we’ve also made a number of investments in education initiatives. Almost four years ago, we started supporting efforts to improve district schools and expand charter schools in Newark, N.J. We’ve also been partnering with EducationSuperHighway to provide Internet access to every K-12 public school, investing in getting computers and other technologies into classrooms and making investments in ed tech startups.

The investments we’ve made are a drop in the bucket compared to the challenges schools face. But we’ve seen that targeted investments can be catalysts for much bigger changes in communities, and give vital support to leaders and organizations. In Newark, a lot of the work we started is still underway, but we’ve already seen some good results. Newark now has the leading teacher contract in the country, which was developed with teachers to reward good performance. New district and charter schools run by organizations with a track record of success have started, as well as 50 new principals. Across the district, the graduation rate has grown by 10 percent. It’s still too early to see the full results in Newark, but we’re making progress and have learned a lot about what makes a successful effort.

For our next project we’re investing in our local community. Here in the Bay area, there are communities that are underserved by our public education system. Last year in the Ravenswood school district, fewer than 40 percent of students were proficient on state tests in English language arts, and less than 50 percent in math. This means fewer students from low-income and minority backgrounds graduating from high school or attending and succeeding in college.

This situation doesn’t exist for lack of effort by our school leaders. There are many heroic educators doing their best to serve students here. But the challenges are much greater than the resources they receive. Schools can’t try new teaching models that might help their students. They’re forced to cut back on classes and extracurricular programs. They don’t have access to computers and connectivity in the classroom.

The commitment we’re announcing today is our effort to change this. We’re providing $120 million through the Startup: Education fund, and over the next five years, they’ll be working to give educators the resources to innovate in the classroom and support students in underserved communities. There are two main parts of this work. One part will be working with partners to start new district and charter schools that give people more high-quality choices for their education. The other part is listening to the needs of local educators and community leaders so that we understand the needs of students that others miss. What they told us is that their priorities are encouraging innovation in the classroom, helping to train a new generation of leaders, and supporting student development.

This is exactly how we’re focusing our investments. The first $5 million of this fund will be used to support priorities in mid-peninsula school districts — the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto/Belle Haven, Redwood City School District, and several other high-need communities in San Francisco. The initial grants will go toward initiatives that provide computers and connectivity in schools, as well as teacher training and parent outreach to make these a really valuable addition to the learning experience. Funds will also support leadership opportunities for students, more effective transitions for students moving from middle school to high school, and leadership training for principals.

We’re excited for the opportunity to support so many amazing educators, leaders, and entrepreneurs in the years ahead to create schools where students thrive. Today’s announcement is just a small step toward the change we need to achieve in our community and our country, but it’s another step in a journey we expect to spend the rest of our lives on. Education is something worth investing in, and if we can help make things better, it will make all of our lives better.

Chan also appeared on NBC’s “Today” Friday morning, telling Savannah Guthrie:

We live in Palo Alto, which has, fortunately, one of the greatest school districts in the country. But right next door, actually within walking distance of our home, is East Palo Alto, which has a K-8 system that has a lot of unmet needs that the public school district is struggling to make up the difference for at this time.

Through those experiences and seeing the disparity that’s in the Bay area, our own community, where we really take a lot of pride in, we want to make this gift. And we want to continue to be involved in helping improve equality for all of our local kids.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.