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Hollywood Bursts Green Bubble, Inflates Education Bubble; Latest Media-Friendly Cause They Know Nothing About

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Now that Hollywood has a new fascination with the American educational system, stars can finally stop telling us what kind of car to drive and how many sheets of toilet paper to use per bathroom visit (yes, you, Sheryl Crow) and concentrate on determining how best to school the nation's children.

While Sean Penn is busy saving Haiti and Matt Damon continues his important work in the area of health care reform, let's take a look at other notable "successes" celebrities have chalked up.

Noted toxicologist Meryl Streep protected helpless American apple eaters from themselves by complaining about Alar, an agricultural chemical that was regarded as safe until Streep decided it wasn't, based on her vast experience reciting lines in front of cameras on film sets.

Renowned malaria researchers Ashley Judd and American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle have urged people to purchase bed nets for Africans--who see more deaths from the mosquito-borne disease than AIDS since DDT was taken off the market.

And mechanical engineer/singer/thespian Barbra Streisand implores us small people with equivalently small brains to clean the condenser coils in our refrigerators to avoid wasting electricity.

But, as of last week, there's a new cause that famous people who were never asked for their help in the first place are rushing to: education.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg singlehandedly popped the Green bubble and quickly inflated a new Education bubble, by donating $100 million in company stock to the Newark, New Jersey school system.

Zuckerberg was apparently planning to make the donation anonymously, but was talked into announcing it publicly by Oprah Winfrey--on her show--which allowed Oprah, who recently made her own $500,000 donation to Newark schools (a good deal less than she spent on a $40 million monument to herself, the subtly-named Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in the South African town of Henley-on-Klip, which she expects will “change the face of a nation” when its students aren't embroiled in sex scandals) to co-opt Zuckerberg's gift in a bald grab for ratings.

"One hundred million?! Wooooooo!" howled Oprah, as the studio audience cheered, much like they do when Oprah grandstands by giving away cars or lavish trips.

Zuckerberg looked only slightly less comfortable than New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and far less so than professional busybody Oprah and her pet project, Newark mayor Cory Booker, who relishes the limelight enough to send public Twitter messages to such notable leaders as Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi from MTV reality show, Jersey Shore.

As Oprah looked on, Zuckerberg announced, “What I have to do is find good people who are going to be really good leaders and invest in them."

Governor Christie then said he and Booker will jointly select a new schools superintendent, after which Oprah, who has evidently anointed herself a public policy advisor, offered a piece of unsolicited advice.

"Have you called [Washington, DC schools chancellor] Michelle Rhee?" she asked.

More wild applause from the audience, most of whom likely had no idea who Michelle Rhee actually was.

But, like most things in this world, throwing money at a problem isn't always the panacea it seems--even (gasp!) when the money comes from a household name.

Newark already spends $22,000 per student--more than most other cities--but only about half the students graduate.

"Resources are always helpful, we obviously welcome it," said Shavar Jeffries, president of the advisory school board in Newark, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, and a founder of a Newark charter school. However, "I don't think money is our primary problem."

The problem lies in state law, which prevents substantive change by maintaining ineffective civil service rules that don't permit performance-based teacher evaluation.

"If they get it right, they have a national model for how private philanthropy and elected officials can partner to break the status quo," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, a Newark-based advocacy group. "If they get it wrong, it will seriously undermine confidence in anyone's ability to reform urban public education in America."

Well, at least we won't have to listen to John Travolta school us on the problem of carbon emissions from the cockpit of his private Boeing 707 anymore.
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