The Prize

When Mark Zuckerberg announced to a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, NJ, 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 26-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 fall-out 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.

Reviews and Praise

“brilliantly reported . . . . ‘The Prize’ may well be one of the most important books on education to come along in years.”

— Alex Kotlowitz, The New York Times Book Review


“This is one of the most disturbing and powerful books I’ve read in years.”
— James McBride, National Book Award-winning author of The Good Lord Bird and The Color of Water


“With The Prize, Dale Russakoff has brilliantly rendered the hopes, complexities, pitfalls, and flaws of the effort to reform American education.”
— William Jelani Cobb, author of The Substance of Hope


“[I]f you read Russakoff’s account and find your beliefs vindicated, you’re not trying hard enough.”
–Conor Williams,


“Dale Russakoff managed to get amazing access to the inside story of Mark Zuckerberg’s giant gift to Newark schools. . . . An essential history of the modern education reform movement, both infuriating and inspiring”
— Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed


“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.”
–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review


It is not just sticking to the facts and the avoidance of taking sides that makes “The Prize” such a moving and thought-provoking book. It is the painstaking specificity with which she describes the lives of those strangely absent from many more ideological tracts: the children.
   –Jonathan Knee, DealBook, The New York Times