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The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?
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The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  2,207 ratings  ·  309 reviews
Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker were ready to reform our failing schools. They got an education.

When Mark Zuckerberg announced to a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educationa
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Mariner Books
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  2,207 ratings  ·  309 reviews

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Aug 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Bring together Mayor Cory Booker, Governor Chris Christie & a $100 million dollar philanthropic gift from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and what do you get?? The debacle to reform Newark's failing children & school system. In one of the nations poorest cities the stage was set and plans were devised to save Newark's school children. However, as a reader it became clear that the folks in charge boosted their own careers and education reform was hopelessly myried in the status quo.

One sentence sums
Richard Derus
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4* of five

My goddesses. The amount of money in this big-city school system's budget is boggling. It's no wonder it resists reform! Too many people make too good a living off the status quo, from the practitioners to the participants to the persecutors. After all, if something is failing, there's money to be made from "fixing" it, right?

My review is live now.
John Marshall
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this for my grad school class on policy analysis (as a case study in mismanagement and lack of clear lines of accountability). It was a nuanced, entertaining, and incredibly pertinent lens into the topic. I consistently interested in the different stories Russakoff weaves together -- especially the subplots focused on individual teachers and students in the Newark school system. Beyond that, the writing itself was just masterful; it felt like I was watching a Greek tragedy unfold between ...more
Kressel Housman
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When Mark Zuckerberg’s hundred million dollar gift to the Newark schools was announced, I was thrilled. I love philanthrocapitalism and social entrepreneurship. I was looking forward to follow up coverage of the schools’ progress. With a hundred million dollars, how could they fail? But apparently, money alone isn’t enough. Newark’s problems were too entrenched, the public was too distrustful of the people administering the money, and ideological and personality differences got in the way. To cu ...more
Sep 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Frustrating. It's clear that many education reformers are partisan politicians more interested in union busting than raising achievement in low-income schools, but, in this instance, it seems that many of the people involved actually had good intentions. The massive amount of money Mark Zuckerberg donated to Newark, NJ schools undoubtedly came from a genuine desire to help. The failure of that money to accomplish much of anything is more of a testament to hubris and clusterfuck bureaucracy than ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
I read this book because I wanted to learn about the steps that the state and local governments took to try to fix the Newark school system. I know that the attempt was a giant failure because Russakoff says so in the opening pages.
It bothered me, though, that she cast blame so easily. According to Russakoff, Mayor Booker is a vain shyster who seeks the limelight, whose eyes are on the national prize, to the detriment of Newark’s residents. Governor Christie is a naïve ingénue who had no control
Russakoff's well-reported and even-handed book is a sobering commentary of how the $100 million philanthropic endeavor to fix Newark's systemically-broken school system failed to make the impact its architects believed it would. As always, the moral: a good teacher is hard to find and impossible to replace. Consultants and executives? Quite the opposite. ...more
Katherine Mahlum
I want to give a realistic and brief review for anyone who is either considering or ambivalent of reading this book.
The overall focus of this book was implementing a propitiation by fixing America's schools starting in New Newark, New Jersey from December 2009- May 2014.

Why this book is worth the read:
It gives an actual timeline of how implementing a proposed propitiation was progressing through the eyes of the mayor, Governor and Mark Zukerberg the creator of facebook and their true intention
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a relatively short book that needs to be five times bigger to give a proper perspective of the problems plaguing public schools in impoverished urban areas (in this case Newark, NJ).

What we get is a beauty pageant of up and coming politicians, public education rock stars from the NYC school system and a few wealthy philanthropists who think they have what it takes to turn a public school system disaster into a national model for public education reform (hint: charter schools, monetary in
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, non-fiction, kindle
This book provides a very good overview of how 3 men (Christ Christie, Corey Booker and Mark Zuckerberg) and $100M failed to turn around education in Newark, NJ. Although there were various factors at play, one key thing that I learned here is that we cannot take a top down approach when it comes to making dramatic changes within a community. The local residents have to be involved. If not, they won't buy into it and change won't occur. Because there was a large sum of money involved, a bunch of ...more
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book as a lesson in school reform. Russakoff paints a scathing picture of the reform leaders in Newark (Anderson, Booker, Christie) whose mostly good intentions come to naught when they fail to consult, engage, or rally the actual people of Newark with the most stake in public education. Interestingly, the person who comes off the best in this story is Zuckerberg, who seems to have genuinely learned from this experience and is apparently taking these lessons with him back ...more
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Do you want to feel good about your own public school's shortcomings? This book will make you so grateful for the minor problems that you have in your schools.
This is the true story about how Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie and Cory Booker put $200 million dollars into the Newark NJ public schools to try to reform it.
It's interesting. It's disheartening. There are so many things wrong with the current system in NJ that it seems like an insurmountable problem.
I was left with the impression that t
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extremely well-reported (and well-written), fascinating study of Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million pledge to Newark schools--how, why, and how successfully (or not) it was pledged and spent. Although the topic of public education is obviously politically charged, the book treats politicians, unions, charter schools, etc. even-handedly, and in so doing demonstrates why true reform is so difficult.

For example, she details the selection effect that helps charter schools and leaves the dist
Wisteria Leigh
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Prize commands your attention.. An absorbing book and necessary read for all who think educational reform will ever be realized. I consider myself an optimist, but Russakoff's years of research took me on a painful roller coaster ride. Four powerful leaders with contributions of $200 million dollars join in a race to reform the Newark Public Schools. Lofty goals for sure, but obviously misplaced. It becomes evident in this case that political gain supersedes all. Once again, uninformed capit ...more
Jun 13, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book in the mail. I did not order it, and I have no idea who did, but it was addressed to me so here we are.
I enjoyed reading this book. The writing was interesting and easy to follow. I learned a decent amount about Newark's attempts at education reform (or, arguably, the attempts that were imposed on Newark from the outside). Russakoff does an impressive job of remaining neutral, including a nuanced blend of positives and negatives for the characters and policies featured in th
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It gave a real insight into multiple large actors in the school reform movement. More than anything, it affirmed for me the importance of truly engaging the community in reform. Not just in name, but also in practice. Community buy-in is vital.
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book about educational policy, unions, politics, reform, and lots and lots of money. Corey Booker--an asshole, in my opinion--and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided to raise $200 million dollars (half of it from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook) to re-create the schools in Newark, NJ. Because the Newark schools were run by the state of New Jersey, Christie had a lot of latitude in dealing with the system. Because Booker made everyone in America think he was this ma ...more
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The title of The Prize refers to the one billion dollar budget that the Newark schools have to spend and the race to get that money into private hands. It all begins with the generous gift of Mark Zuckerberg who pledges one hundred million dollars to Cory Booker and Chris Christie to reform Newark's public schools. Knowing nothing about education, nothing about the problems facing the system (other than the kids weren't doing well) they decide that the two things they need to do are to break th ...more
Well done observation of 4 leadership styles, academic systems analysis, and insight into the political role our education is dependent on (politics not separate from private contribution... private politics is enmeshed with governmental politics, as this book makes clearer). It is clear that we do not have a profession geared towards ensuring our politicians are competent and showing effectiveness to same standards they expect to hold teachers to. There seems to be a halo put on successful busi ...more
Christine Zibas
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This excellent and exceedingly well written book has a lot to say about the divide rocking this country today, although its main focus is educational reform. It's easy to remember back to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg/s pledge on the "Oprah" show that he was going to donate $100 million toward improving Newark's schools, a system that is clearly one of the worst in the nation, and wracked by poverty and violence.

Just what happened to that $100 million (and the matching $100 million raised by then-M
John Benson
Jul 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating case study of educational reform and how it failed in Newark, NJ. The schools were run by the state, Corey Booker was mayor of the city, and Mark Zukerberg gave the schools a huge donation. Dal Russakoff begins the story at this point in 2009 and looks at how their top down approach failed this district and failed to turn so little around in the district. She tells the story in a very even-handed way.

I was impressed by how well she brings out how so many politicians and ph
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I appreciate that this book was even handed--it pointed out the merits and flaws of both the Newark public school system and the charter school movement. The takeaway for me was that manpower and the ability to drop dead weight (crappy teachers) is the key to empowering disadvantaged students. I know how the sausage is made and that charter schools often achieve success by cherry picking the best (and avoiding the lowest functioning students, or the ones who really, really need TLC), working tea ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
"The Prize" is an interesting story about "the race to save our failing schools" in the same way a fiery smash-up is the entertaining part of a NASCAR race.
Why do we keep reinventing the Hindenburg and then shoving our children on it and then acting surprised when it explodes?! Because we pretend not to know that airplanes exist.
The narrative here revolves around the conflict between clumsy reformers and parasitic unions, all of which is sound and fury beside the point. The context of what wor
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is an important book about the intractable challenges of education reform in America's poorest cities and the inadequacies of structural solutions as a silver bullet fix. It is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris and unwavering certainty. Russakoff follows Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million challenge gift to Newark Public Schools and the collision that Zuckerberg, Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Superintendent Cami Anderson and other leaders had with Newark families when they b ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing read that looks at education reform in Newark, New Jersey, where big donors, rock star politicians, teachers' unions, and the school choice movement all vied for control. The Prize was well researched and very readable. It did get occasionally confusing when listing names of people (principles, teachers, etc.) but usually I understood if I skimmed back.
The story of Newark, NJ is both unsettling and exciting. People tried to do something and they poured in money and worked hard for
Sep 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
They were going to turn Newark's failing schools around. They were going to save Newark's school children. In the process, they were going to boost their own careers; they'd be looked upon as saviors. But Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million dollars was not enough. Promotion by Chris Christie and Newark's star mayor, Cory Booker, was not enough. Even the tough and intelligent new superintendent, Cami Anderson could not do it. Little thought was given to involving the parents and communities directly i ...more
Sep 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’m very glad I read this book. It gave me a lot to think about. It helped me see what is happening in education reform efforts around the country (and thus Indianapolis, in context). In telling the story of what happened with a $100 million dollar gift from Mark Zuckerberg to Newark, New Jersey’s school systems you are challenged by several good questions. Does working on school systems solve the problems of poverty? (I know this is a biased way to present the question…still) It seems to me tha ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's not easy to write a book about education reform that feels informed, balanced, and nuanced. It is a vitriolic and complicated space, after all (I know...I work for an education non-profit). But Russakoff manages to discuss education policy through Newark's STORY. The reader gets every perspective imaginable. All those complex characters - and moments - get portrayed with empathy. You don't just see where Zuckerberg's infamous $100 million gift went, you see the kids, parents, and classrooms ...more
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd heard bits and pieces of this story, but as a proponent of education reform, I was interested in learning more. This is an engrossing, informative read about the challenges inherent to reforming large, entrenched, under-performing school districts. I appreciated the way Dale juxtaposed tales of political posturing with accounts of those most effected by the decisions being made, the students. At the end of the day, this isn't about politics, charters vs. districts, unions, etc.--it's about d ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This detailed narrative explores an attempt to reform Newark's failing public schools. This was interesting, well-researched and a great example of the ripple of unintended consequences that implementing new policies can sometimes have.

I might have wished the book was not so tightly focused: I wanted to know more about effective school reform, more about effective governance models and wanted examination of evidence based change. I might have even appreciated a deeper look into funding models a
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