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

A New York Times Bestseller
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 educational excellence for the whole nation." But their plans soon ran into the city's seasoned education players, fierce protectors of their billion-dollar-a-year system. It's a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark's children.
Dale Russakoff delivers a riveting drama of our times, encompassing the rise of celebrity politics, big philanthropy, extreme economic inequality, the charter school movement, and the struggles and triumphs of schools in one of the nation's poorest cities. As Cory Booker navigates between his status as "rock star mayor" on Oprah's stage and object of considerable distrust at home, the tumultuous changes planned by reformers and their highly paid consultants spark a fiery grass-roots opposition stoked by local politicians and union leaders. The growth of charters forces the hand of Newark's school superintendent Cami Anderson, who closes, consolidates, or redesigns more than a third of the city's schools—a scenario on the horizon for many urban districts across America.
Russakoff provides a close-up view of twenty-six-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and his wife as they decide to give the immense sum of money to Newark and then experience an education of their own amid the fallout of the reforms. Most moving are Russakoff's portraits from inside classrooms, as homegrown teachers and principals battle heroically to reach students damaged by extreme poverty and violence.
The Prize is an absorbing portrait of a titanic struggle, indispensable for anyone who cares about the future of public education and the nation's children.

A New York Times Bestseller
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 educational excellence for the whole nation." But their plans soon ran into the city's seasoned education players, fierce protectors of their billion-dollar-a-year system. It's a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark's children.
Dale Russakoff delivers a riveting drama of our times, encompassing the rise of celebrity politics, big philanthropy, extreme economic inequality, the charter school movement, and the struggles and triumphs of schools in one of the nation's poorest cities. As Cory Booker navigates between his status as "rock star mayor" on Oprah's stage and object of considerable distrust at home, the tumultuous changes planned by reformers and their highly paid consultants spark a fiery grass-roots opposition stoked by local politicians and union leaders. The growth of charters forces the hand of Newark's school superintendent Cami Anderson, who closes, consolidates, or redesigns more than a third of the city's schools—a scenario on the horizon for many urban districts across America.
Russakoff provides a close-up view of twenty-six-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and his wife as they decide to give the immense sum of money to Newark and then experience an education of their own amid the fallout of the reforms. Most moving are Russakoff's portraits from inside classrooms, as homegrown teachers and principals battle heroically to reach students damaged by extreme poverty and violence.
The Prize is an absorbing portrait of a titanic struggle, indispensable for anyone who cares about the future of public education and the nation's children.

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Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 8, 2015
    Washington Post reporter Russakoff’s fascinating study of the struggle to reform the Newark school system reveals the inner workings of a wide range of systemic and grassroots problems (charter schools, testing, accountability, private donors) plaguing education reform today. In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to help transform the schools of Newark, N.J., and create a national model of education reform. The move immediately sparked a series of competing political and social decisions for Mayor Cory Booker and Gov. Chris Christie. Russakoff sets up the struggle to control the schools with a big-money, top-down approach on one side and a teacher-based, student-by-student, bottom-up approach on the other. Her investigation shows how the powerful Booker-Christie-Zuckerberg triumvirate struggled to truly engage the community and ultimately failed to overcome the mighty Newark political machine. Russakoff accurately depicts individual teachers working in neighborhood schools and parents and staff in the charter system, including through their own words. She also tracks the progress of a student as he struggles to navigate the daily challenges presented by Newark’s school reforms. Booker’s mayoral successor, Ras Baraka, emerges as the anti-Booker, and Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson is left making the toughest of choices. Russakoff’s eagle-eyed view of the current state of the public education system in Newark and the United States is one of the finest education surveys in recent memory. Agent: Joëlle Delbourgo, Joëlle Delbourgo Associates.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2015

    It was an ambitious plan: to completely reorganize the school system in Newark, NJ. With three of the country's top movers and shakers (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker, and NJ governor Chris Christie) leading the change and finding the funding, it looked like the dream of turning around one of the country's worst school districts was actually within reach. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, plenty. Key ingredients were missing. Teachers, parents, and students were not included in the planning, and they perceived this omission as disrespect, feared the changes, and felt helpless. Another major lacking component was a system for accountability of funds to insure the money got to where it was most needed; instead of funneling down where it would affect the children directly, funds were often used for salaries and bonuses for consultants. Former Washington Post reporter Russakoff shows how this endeavor ended up a fight between charter and district schools. Politics became an unexpected player in the process as, once again, the best way to meet the needs of the children fell by the wayside. VERDICT Russakoff tells the story well, stating the facts and presenting the issue without bias. This title will appeal to the casual reader as well as to those invested in the education of America's children. [See Prepub Alert, 3/9/15.]--Terry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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