Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kindergarten Lawyers

Kudos to this law firm for starting a charter school!  The Chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, Kevin Chavous, works at this firm and is on the board of the school.
The nation has 3,617 charter schools, that is, ones that get public funding but stand outside the established public school systems. They are usually run by nonprofits, church groups or universities and get to set their own rules. The one in North Lawndale has a most unusual operator--a law firm. To celebrate its hundredth anniversary, Chicago’s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal decided to open a school and will donate $1 million, office equipment and professional talent over the next five years (the school’s annual budget is $1.2 million). It’s quite likely the first law firm in the nation to run a charter school, and the firm’s lawyers found the assignment no snap: They struggled to surmount hurdles thrown up by bureaucrats and politicians.

Kindergarten Lawyers
Mary Ellen Egan 03.13.06, Forbes


A well-heeled Chicago law firm undertakes to discover whether charter schools can work for poor minority children

Anissa Smith, a 38-year-old mother of three, has few good things to say about the public schools in North Lawndale, a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood 4 miles west of downtown Chicago. Her eldest son, Joe, 13, switched to North Lawndale’s Mason Elementary in 1998 from a parochial school. Two years at Mason was enough to turn her son from a good to an indifferent student, Smith says. “He’s lazy now, and we have to fight to get him to do his homework,” she says.

So when Smith’s two youngest, Justin, 6, and Jazlynn, 4, were ready for school, she swore she’d move out of state before sending them to a neighborhood school. But last August a charter school opened, using classrooms in Mason’s building. The kids enrolled, and Smith is ecstatic now...

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rebuttal to Orlando Sentinel editorial

Below is an email and letter to the Orlando Sentinal from John Kirtley, rebutting the editorial the paper published (below).

I thought your email base might be interested in just how ridiculous the Florida press is. See the editorial below, and see the pictures. Doesn’t look like a Republican crowd to me.

Also, they seem to like competition, just not a lot. Attached is a report from Harvard that showed just how effective real competition was at raising performance in failing schools. Schools that faces actual empowered parents improved much faster than those that didn’t.

Finally, the reason that there are only 700 kids in the OSP—there are only a dozen “failing” public schools in the state (out of about 3,000). This in a state where we graduate half our minority children. Plus, those parents had about a week on average to learn the grade of their kid’s schools and sign up. No problem filling the other two programs.


Dear Mike,

I read your column regularly, and I recall one from last year where you wrote about the possibility of a constitutional amendment regarding school choice. I thought you would be interested in the following update.

As you know well, our state Supreme Court issued a decision in January saying that the Opportunity Scholarship Program violated the constitutional requirement of a “uniform system of public schools”. All 700 children in the program have to leave their chosen schools next Fall. The ruling was so broad that it now threatens at least two other programs: the McKay Scholarship Program under which 16,000 special education children attend private schools, and a tax credit program for companies that donate to scholarship funds that allow poor families to pay private school tuition. Over 15,000 children use that program, and the average household income is $22,000 (60% from single parent homes). It may also threaten charter schools.

Last Wednesday over 4,000 parents, children and administrators came to Tallahassee to support Governor Bush’s call for the legislature to place an amendment on the ballot this November.  They traveled from as far away as Miami—those from that city boarded buses at midnight the night before for the eight hour trip. The march began at the Tallahassee Civic Center, and went the five blocks up to the courtyard of the capitol. I have attached one photo of just some of the crowd marching up the street.

They carried signs of their hometowns and signs saying “SOS--Save Our Students”, the theme of the rally, which was sponsored by the Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO), the Hispanic Council For Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), and others.  Led by a drum corps from a choice school, the crowd marched into the courtyard of the capitol. The Master of Ceremonies, Bishop Harold Ray, is the leader of a dynamic church in West Palm Beach that also has a school that serves scholarship children. He also happens to be a lawyer who once argued a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

First to speak was Former Senate President John McKay. He was followed by a McKay parent and an OSP parent, who gave moving testimony of empowerment. Governor Bush followed, and he demanded that the legislature to place the amendment on the ballot. Bishop Ray closed with words worthy of the civil rights movement. He called this rally the beginning of a revolution. After the rally parents and children visited legislators, including 14 Senators. Especially interesting were visits to African American Democrat Senators who have adamantly opposed choice in the past. Senator Siplin from Orlando has 2,174 children on the three programs, and he received a visit from many people from his district. This meeting was filmed if you are interested. I attached a photo of another meeting where parents me with Sen. Hill of Jacksonville, who has 2,609 scholarship children in his district.

The amendment is also necessary to protect the state’s taxpayer funded pre-k program, where thousands of children now attend faith based providers, and also Bright Futures and Florida Resident Access Grants, where college students do the same. The Florida Supreme court avoided the Blaine issue, and the ACLU has already stated they will sue on the pre-k program (see the attached letter they sent to President Lee and Speaker Bense). It is curious that the ACLU hasn’t yet filed suit, when they sued the day the OSP bill was signed into law by Gov. Bush. Could it be because they are afraid to file their suit prior to the election and this issue being on the ballot?

I think this issue will be at the forefront of the 2006 Governor’s race in Florida. It will expose the fault line identified by columnist John Tierney in today’s New York Times (see below). The majority of our scholarship families are African American and Hispanic. Not only does the Democratic party risk losing African American support, they are at great risk of losing Latino support on this issue. Under the coordination of HCREO, the President of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce took six of his board members to last week’s rally and lobbied the legislature in favor of the amendment. With him was the head of the state’s largest alliance of Latino ministers.

Jim Davis has already announced his opposition to these programs. Both Republican candidates are strong supporters. Rod Smith hasn’t said.

The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial on the subject (also below) said “These vouchers are popular with the conservative Republican voters, as witnessed by the thousands of people who rallied at the Capitol last week.” Do they think the people in these pictures of the rally are Republican voters? They should know that polling shows that school choice is overwhelmingly popular with African American and Latino voters. The reason that only 700 are on the program is that there only about a dozen schools in the state that are rated “FF”—and parents have historically had a one week window to sign up for the program. Witness the 30,000 children in the other programs.

Your editorial board seems in favor of some competition, just not a lot. I guess they haven’t read the Harvard University study on how much the OSP improved the Double F schools (attached).

Mike, I hope you find this issue of interest. Please contact me with any questions you might have.

Thank you,

John Kirtley

Florida Alliance For Choices In Education

(813) 310-7122


Forget vouchers

Orlando Sentinel editorial, February 20, 2006


Our position: Gov. Bush has more worthy things to worry about in his last year in office.

Gov. Jeb Bush seems determined to tarnish his own laudable legacy of education reforms by tying them to the millstone of private-school vouchers.

Mr. Bush, whose A-Plus Plan for Education has brought true accountability to Florida's schools and boosted student performance, is mounting an effort to revive vouchers after the state Supreme Court wisely ruled them unconstitutional last month.

These vouchers are popular with the conservative Republican voters, as witnessed by the thousands of people who rallied at the Capitol last week. But they are not popular with Floridians -- only 700 students took them to escape failing schools.

What has worked is choice among public schools. That's real competition that helps students.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Warehousing Teachers in Rubber Rooms

Stossel with an excellent Op Ed in last week's NY Sun, highlighting some of the issues that he raised in his 20/20 piece, Stupid in America:

Joel Klein once won fame as a fighter of monopolies. He worked for the federal government, and his most famous foe was Microsoft. Now he runs a monopoly of his own: the New York City public schools. It's even more arrogant than Microsoft, because its customers have even less choice.

Joel Klein now presides over a calcified monopoly where it's hard to fire anyone for anything.

One New York teacher decided that one of his 16-year-old students was hot. So he sat down at a computer and sent a sexual e-mail to Cutee101.

"He admits this," said Klein. "We had the email."

"You can't fire him?"

"It's almost impossible."

It's almost impossible because of the rules in the New York schools' 200-page contract with their teachers. There are so many rules that principals rarely even try to jump through all the hoops to fire a bad teacher. It took six years of expensive litigation before the teacher who wrote Cutee101 was fired. During those six years, he received more than $300,000 in salary.

"Up, down, around, we've paid him," said the chancellor. "He hasn't taught, but we've had to pay him, because that is what is required under the contract."

Hundreds of teachers the city calls incompetent, racist, or dangerous have been paid millions.

And what do they do while they get paid? They sit in rubber rooms.


Warehousing Teachers in Rubber Rooms

BY JOHN STOSSEL - JFS Productions Inc.
February 16, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/27753

Bosses, have I got an idea for you: Don't pay your best employees more, don't ease out your least productive workers, and for crying out loud, never fire anyone, not even for the most blatant misconduct on the job.

It works for the public schools, doesn't it?

Actually, it doesn't, but since they're government monopolies, they don't care. They never go out of business. They just keep doing what they're doing, year after year, churning out class after class of students handicapped by a poor education.

Don't get me wrong - not all public school teachers are bad. Many are talented and passionate, even heroic. Many turn down better paying jobs because they want to help kids learn. But working hard for public-school students has to be its own reward, because a lazy teacher is paid just as much as a good one - more if he has seniority...

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The Education King of Queens

Dan Gerstein on his blog shares some excellent thoughts about the amazing success Joel Greenblatt has had backing a school in Queens (see last week's email; www.newyorkmetro.com/news/businessfinance/15958/)
Monday, February 20, 2006
The Education King of Queens
Looking for an edifying way to spend a small chunk of your President's day holiday? Check out this inspiring article from last week's New York magazine (
http://www.newyorkmetro.com/news/businessfinance/15958/index.html), which explains how a smartly-targeted private investment in a public elementary school in Queens helped spur a mind-boggling jump in student achievement.

It's the story of a visionary hedge-fund manager named Joel Greenblatt and the low-income students at PS 65Q. After doing a fair amount of research on the failures of urban public education, Greenblatt came to believe that we could turn around underperforming schools by applying a market-oriented reform model. Specifically, his idea was to employ a suped-up version of a research-based, highly-disciplined curriculum called Success for All and a sophisticated data analysis system that would help catch kids who were falling behind before it was too late.

Greenblatt was so convinced that this focused remedial program would work that he was willing to put up $2.5 million of his own money to test it. His faith has been more than amply rewarded. Indeed, as the story points out, "from 2001 to 2005, the proportion of fourth-graders passing the state’s standardized reading test doubled, rising from 36 to 71 percent of the class—and since then, the students’ performance has only gotten better. Nearly every child who has been at the school for three years or more now reads and does math at their proper level or beyond—even the special-ed kids. Last spring, the school was one of fourteen statewide to win the public-school version of the Nobel Prize: a Pathfinder Award for improved performance."

This is not just a feel-good story -- it's a highly valuable and instructive public policy case study. Greenblatt's bold experiment has shown just what is possible for our urban public schools if we are not afraid to innovate -- which is to say, if we are willing to think outside the bureaucratic box and try new approaches that are tailored to the needs of kids in the classroom, not the adults who run the system.

It's hard to say whether the Greenblatt method is replicable across a massive school district like New York City's, and it's a little premature to proclaim it a magic bullet. But this is not a bet that needs to be hedged -- the results are so powerful that we would be fools not try it and apply it on a larger scale.

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John Kirtley's comments

With his permission, I'm sharing John Kirtley's thoughts on vouchers:
Regarding those who object on separation of church and state, ask them if they object to the GI Bill. Veterans have been using them to go to faith based colleges for years, and even use them to study become priests. If they respond, “well, young minds are more impressionable than college kids”, they’ve just lost the argument. Their objection was taxpayer support of faith based institutions, period—not whether some standard should be used to judge when that support is OK.

And, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school choice programs do not violate the federal constitution.

In 1998 I attended a CATO Institute dinner in Phoenix where Nadine Strosser, the head of the ACLU was the speaker. This was before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. During Q&A, I had the following exchange with her:

Me:                   You have sued to block every K-12 school choice program in the country.

Strosser:           Yes, they are a blatant violation the separation of church and state.          

Me:                   OK, reasonable people can disagree on that. But tell me this: why have you never sued to strike down the GI Bill. In this program veterans use taxpayer funds at schools that are intensely faith based, and even use them to study to become priests.

Strosser:           Well, we just have to pick our battles.

Me:                   You are a hypocrite.

She had no response. That’s because there isn’t one.

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Let Your People Stay -- AWESOME Op Ed in tomorrow's NYT!

The Op Ed page of the New York Times -- how AWESOME!  Tierney hits home repeatedly:
- Milwaukee's voucher program has been so successful over the past 15 years that it's won a wide array of converts — except among the Democrats terrified of teachers' unions.
- how can Democratic leaders keep preaching their devotion to public schools while sending their own children to private schools, as Governor Doyle does? He's what I call a Lypsy, an acronym for Let Your People Stay.
- "Those people you saw at Coretta Scott King's funeral are not going to change," he said. "My generation pushed for social change through government solutions, but younger blacks are much more interested in private initiatives. They understand that the public school system cannot by itself be the solution to educating low-income children."
- "If the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the little guy, where do we get off opposing a chance to help those with the least of all?" he asked. The answer he's heard from his party is that supporting vouchers can end your career if the teachers' union supports a candidate against you in the Democratic primary.
- But Fields, who represents a predominantly black district in Milwaukee, is that rare Democrat who will stand up for his constituents against the union. "If they run someone against me, so be it," Fields said. "I'm willing to leave it up to the voters to decide who really cares about African-Americans, and who's just spitting out rhetoric."
February 21, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Let Your People Stay


If you were a Democrat watching Coretta Scott King's funeral, you could congratulate yourself on the party's role in past civil rights struggles. But if you saw what's been on television in Milwaukee in the past month, you'd wonder what's become of your party.

Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, looks like public enemy No. 1 for African-American schoolchildren. "He's throwing away my dream," one Milwaukee student says in a TV commercial supporting the city's school voucher program for low-income families. Another commercial shows a black father on the verge of tears saying: "School choice is good enough for the governor's family. I ought to be able to have it, too."

Radio audiences have been hearing an ad calling the voucher battle "one of the greatest social justice issues we have in the country." The speaker is Ken Johnson, an African-American who leads Milwaukee's school board.

You read that correctly: the head of the public school board supports giving students in his system a chance to escape public schools. That would be unthinkable in most cities, but Milwaukee's voucher program has been so successful over the past 15 years that it's won a wide array of converts — except among the Democrats terrified of teachers' unions...

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Campus Revolutionary

I hadn't heard about what the new president of Amherst is doing.  Kudos!  This is really important! (Though he has his work cut out for him for sure.  The problem is that by the time students reach 12th grade, it's too late.  You need to intervene, I'd argue, no later than 5th grade (as KIPP shows).  By 12th grade, of the half of minority kids (ALL minority kids, not just low income, for whom the statistics are surely far worse) who haven't dropped out, they test in math and reading at the level of the AVERAGE white 8th grader.)
When Marx finally met the committee, he made an impassioned appeal. Elite U.S. colleges such as Amherst, he said, are perpetuating deep inequalities in American society. They equate success with serving the privileged elite and have largely abandoned talented youth from poor families, he charged. This deepens the country's growing class divisions and exacerbates the long-term decline in economic and social mobility. Feeling he had nothing to lose since he hadn't sought the job, Marx exhorted the trustees to tackle the problem head-on. "I'm not interested in being a custodian over a privileged place," he remembers telling the gathering of wealthy alums and academic stars that day.

As it turned out, Marx's radical message was just what Amherst trustees wanted to hear. Over the past two decades the college had committed to increasing minorities to a third of the 1,650-student campus, up from 13% in 1985. But while this brought in more low-income students, Amherst remains an incubator of the elite. More than half its students come from families prosperous enough to pay the full $42,000 annual tab out of their own pockets. Many shell out thousands more for cars, meals out, and other extras. (One student showed up recently with two BMWs -- one a convertible for sunny days.) "We were blown away" by Marx's passion and commitment, recalls Jide Zeitlin, a partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co. (GS ) who has since become chair of Amherst's board.

Since Marx, now 46, took over in 2003 as Amherst's youngest president ever, he has waged a ceaseless crusade to make the college a leader in welcoming more lower-income students.
The article also has a related story on what Harvard, West Point and Smith are doing.
The article has a couple of charts that are good summary of some of the terrifying statistics about how bad the inequality has gotten:

Business Week Online
Close Window

FEBRUARY 27, 2006


Campus Revolutionary
Tony Marx has a radical plan to get more poor kids into top colleges, starting with Amherst

Anthony W. Marx had never even thought of being a college president. "I was minding my own business" as a Columbia University political science professor in 2002, he says, when a friend who was an Amherst College alum put Marx's name in the hopper to be president of the Massachusetts liberal arts institution. Sure, Marx was flattered, but he also felt underqualified. A career academic, his most important administrative experience had come before graduate school, when he helped found a college in South Africa to educate blacks deprived by apartheid. "That is very nice," he wrote back to his friend. "But I've never been a chairman, a dean, or a provost, and besides, I didn't go to Amherst."

Amherst's search committee felt the same way and tossed his file into the reject pile. But after grilling many top college honchos, a student member remembered Marx and suggested that the group give him a second look.

When Marx finally met the committee, he made an impassioned appeal...


FEBRUARY 27, 2006

By William Symond


Online Extra: The Thinking at Harvard, West Point, and Smith
Elite colleges are looking to expand their intakes of low-income students. Here's how three big names are doing it

Amherst isn't acting in a vacuum. Many elite colleges also have aggressive programs aimed at attracting and admitting more low-income students. Here's a closer look at three of the most prominent programs:

Until recently, Harvard University has been perhaps the most glaring example of an elite college's failure to welcome low-income students. With an endowment of $25.9 billion -- far larger than that of any other university in the U.S. or abroad -- Harvard clearly has the resources to educate the poor.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Questions of Culture

Brooks makes an interesting point:
At home, we spend more money on education than any other nation. We have undertaken a million experiments to restructure schools and bureaucracies. But students who lack cultural and social capital because they did not come from intact, organized families continue to fall further and further behind — unless they come into contact with some great mentor who can not only teach, but also change values and behavior.
I think he means "mentor" in a broad sense, which would include entire schools, because every successful school I've seen serving low-income minority communities (which, it goes without saying, usually lack the cultural and social capital the Brooks is talking about) somehow instills this capital (certainly KIPP does).
February 19, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

Questions of Culture

Once, not that long ago, economics was the queen of the social sciences. Human beings were assumed to be profit-maximizing creatures, trending toward reasonableness. As societies grew richer and more modern, it was assumed, they would become more secular. As people became better educated, primitive passions like tribalism and nationalism would fade away and global institutions would rise to take their place. As communications technology improved, there would be greater cooperation and understanding. As voters became more educated, they would become more independent-minded and rational.

None of these suppositions turned out to be true. As the world has become richer and better educated, religion hasn't withered; it has become stronger and more fundamentalist. Nationalism and tribalism haven't faded away. Instead, transnational institutions like the U.N. and the European Union are weak and in crisis...

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Fuzzy-math logic derails merit-pay plan; Florida Department of Education Unveils "Effectiveness Compensation" Plan for Teachers

This was such an obviously dopey Op Ed in the Orlando Sentinel that I Googled the actual Effectiveness Compensation proposal (see below), which of course bears little resemblance to what is described in the hatchet job Op Ed. 
The Effectiveness Comp plan says that teachers in the top 10% will be identified by GAINS in student achievement (not absolute levels) and be rewarded with a 5% pay bonus.  Incredible how such a simply and obvious proposal generates such hysterical opposition.  I guess if you're the longshoremans' (ooops, I mean teachers') union, ANYTHING that results in ANY union member being paid even a tiny bit more than any other for reasons other then seniority is anathema...

Fuzzy-math logic derails merit-pay plan

Bill Archer

February 14, 2006, Orlando Sentinel


It seems that Florida Education Commissioner John Winn is afflicted with the same myopic view of public education from which Gov. Jeb Bush suffers. Both hope to foist a nifty-sounding program called "Effectiveness Compensation" that ties teacher salaries to their students' performance on the FCAT onto public education's already beleaguered teachers.

Winn calls this program "the strongest model in the nation" for performance-based pay for teachers.

If they succeed in pulling off this devious plan, they will have destroyed the fairest method of paying teachers that now exists: salaries tied to years of service. And that is their real goal. It is just another attack on the unions that negotiate salaries for teachers and the teachers themselves, who are underpaid and overworked.

Performance-based salary is a good theory if you are selling cars, insurance policies or production units in which the one who sells the most gets a bonus because he or she has made a huge profit for the company. But it doesn't work in public education. Why?

Students are not uniform units that enter classrooms. One teacher may find herself in a class with 15 regular students and five Exceptional Education students with varying exceptionalities. Another teacher may have a class of 15 Exceptional Education students and five below-grade-level students who have been administratively assigned to that grade.

One teacher may have an entire class of gifted/talented students, all with IQs of 130 (plus or minus 3 points), who look at the FCAT as just an inconvenient interruption of their usual routine of higher level learning.

Either increase teacher salaries across the board to retain them and entice new teachers to come into the profession, because Florida needs 32,000 new teachers next year, or face even greater losses of teachers.

A simpler bonus plan would be to give each student in a class a placement test at the beginning of the year and a post-test at the end of the year. Give the teacher $100 for each subject in which the child has improved at the end of the year. Let's see: There's math, reading, writing, science and social studies. A teacher could earn $500 for each student in class who improves. Twenty students showing improvement could earn a teacher $10,000 in merit or bonus pay and not even include the mysterious FCAT results in the bargain.

This bonus money, combined with a teacher's salary step, would provide real retention and increase recruitment. It would be the "strongest model in the nation" if it weren't for guys like Bush and Winn.

They don't believe teachers or students are worth that kind of investment.

Bill Archer of Daytona Beach is a counselor with Volusia County Schools.



Florida Department of Education Unveils "Effectiveness Compensation" Plan for Teachers

TALLAHASSEE — Education Commissioner John L. Winn and K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke today unveiled Florida's "E-Comp," or "Effectiveness Compensation," plan, which awards high-performing teachers with annual bonuses based on the academic progress of their students. The "E-Comp" plan is an addition to Florida's existing multi-faceted program for rewarding educational excellence through individual teacher and school recognitions.

"Traditionally, teachers are paid based on their level of education and years of experience, neither of which result in significantly higher student learning," said Commissioner Winn. "If we are to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers, then we must reward excellence in what matters most – student learning. As it is with any other profession, compensation for teachers should be based, in part, on their results, talent and expertise."

The "E-Comp" plan consists of two parts, including a requirement that all Florida teachers must have a portion of their salary based on their students' learning gains. In addition, the plan calls for those teachers who are recognized as outstanding to receive a bonus of five percent of their salary. An outstanding teacher is one that does the best job of improving student achievement.

Outstanding teachers are identified in two ways:

  • For those teachers who teach subjects tested by a statewide assessment, the state will identify the top 10 percent of all teachers statewide at the elementary, middle, and high schools levels based upon their students' achievement gains over the previous year. Beginning with the 2006-07 school year, these outstanding teachers will receive a bonus of five percent of their base salary.
  • For those teachers who do not teach subjects tested by a statewide assessment, individual school districts will develop a system for identifying teachers who are considered outstanding based upon their students' learning gains. No later than the 2007-08 school year, these teachers will also be rewarded with a bonus equal to five percent of their base salary.

A newly-created website, www.firn.edu/doe/profdev/reward/index.htm, provides additional information on the "E-Comp" plan. Included is a summary of the plan, answers to frequently asked questions, a chart comparing teacher reward strategies implemented in other states, reactions to the "E-Comp" plan from national experts and comprehensive information on other reward programs already available to Florida teachers.

Currently, Florida rewards teachers in a number of ways, including awards that honor outstanding educators, such as the Teacher of the Year and Milken awards; bonuses for earning advanced degrees and national certification; and bonuses based on performance determined by the number of students a teacher has who have earned specific scores on the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

"The 'E-Comp' plan completes Florida's array of existing rewards programs by recognizing individual teachers for students' academic growth," said Chancellor Yecke. "Many of these teachers are beating the odds, helping their students exceed their learning gains expectations, and in some cases, helping some of our most struggling students succeed."

Since July 2002, Florida law has required that a portion of every teacher's pay be based on student achievement, and school administrators and instructional personnel who demonstrate outstanding performance must be awarded a bonus of five percent of their individual salary. The "E-Comp" plan provides school districts with a minimum framework for meeting this law. Districts are encouraged to reward more high-performing teachers than required by law.

As currently prescribed by law, the "E-Comp" plan will be funded by the school districts' Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) allocations. The Department of Education will request additional funding for the 2006-07 fiscal year to further support the program.

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Venture Capitalists Are Investing in Educational Reform

What a fabulous development!  Kudos to John Doerr and others like him!

Venture Capitalists Are Investing in Educational Reform

Published: February 16, 2006

Venture capitalists of Silicon Valley, who have backed hundreds of high-technology entrepreneurs, are eagerly financing a new group these days: schoolmasters.

"We give education entrepreneurs money to start or to speed up building their companies," said L. John Doerr, who over 26 years has helped start dozens of ventures, including Sun Microsystems, Amazon.com and Google. He help found the New Schools Venture Fund in San Francisco six years ago for a new breed of entrepreneur — the kind who doesn't have to produce a profit.

Unlike Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm where Mr. Doerr is a partner, New Schools does not earn the standard three to five times its investment in five years. It earns nothing, because it is "a philanthropy held accountable by the rigors of venture capital financing," as Mr. Doerr describes it. The financial professionals of the fund oversee the business operations of the schools it backs.

Recipients of the fund's investments are not whiz kids eager to become the next Bill Gates. Mainly, they are public school teachers with a passion to improve the ways poor children are taught. The companies they form are nonprofit charter school management organizations, capable of running publicly financed elementary and secondary schools that are freed from some rules and regulations in exchange for producing educational results better than those of the large urban school district. Almost all their students are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches...

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Students and Cardinal Call for Private-School Tax Aid

This would be a step in the right direction.  Though $500 is too measly, at least it opens the door.
Students and Cardinal Call for Private-School Tax Aid
Published: February 15, 2006

ALBANY, Feb. 14 — Thousands of students from yeshivas and Roman Catholic schools gathered on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday with their teachers, rabbis and priests — even Cardinal Edward M. Egan — to call for the support of the governor's proposal to provide a tax credit that could be used to pay for private or parochial schools.

Gov. George E. Pataki's budget proposal to give parents in failing school districts a $500 tax credit has already received a nod of approval from the Republican-controlled Senate and several members in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

But supporters of the proposal are still pressing for the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who remained on the fence.

Noting that he was the product of a parochial school, and that he sent his children to parochial schools, Mr. Silver said that he had great sympathy for parents struggling with the costs of private schools but that he also believed that the state's top priority was to finance its public schools adequately...

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Saturday, February 18, 2006


Sounds like a whole lotta nonsense going on in this CFE case.  Did the judge REALLY let Randi Weingarten testify?!

Judge DeGrasse allowed the plaintiffs to parade to the witness stand almost anyone with an opinion. UFT president Randi Weingarten and Chancellor Harold Levy were allowed to testify that, of course, the system needed a lot more money — despite their obvious institutional interest in that outcome.

But the judge suddenly turned super-legalistic when the state sought to submit an outside consultant's study purporting to show how much an adequate education in New York City should actually cost. This "costing out" study was done by an independent research firm called Management Analysis and Planning. As MAP's president, James Smith, explained to the court, a diverse panel of 12 professional educators, all of them from outside the city, constructed a reasonable budget for an education system with demographic characteristics similar to New York's.

The MAP panel's major finding: "The financial resources available to New York City public schools are adequate to provide the state-specified 'opportunity of a sound basic education'. "...

Thirteen years of litigation presided over by Judge DeGrasse — part political carnival and part show trial — has added nothing to public understanding of what ails the schools. The budget for the city's schools has now topped $17 billion. That's about 50 percent higher in inflation adjusted dollars than when the CFE case was first filed. If Judge DeGrasse has his way, the budget would soon surpass $22 billion, or about $20,000 per pupil — higher than almost every school district in the country.

I would support pouring more money into city schools if I thought it would do any good, but unless there are major changes made to the SYSTEM, then every piece of evidence indicates that it won't make any difference in the only thing that matters: student learning.  Yes, the facilities would undoubtedly be nicer, overcrowding would be reduced, etc. -- all nice-to-haves -- but the only things I think it makes sense to spend more money on, given that we're already spending somelike like $12,000 per student per year, are those that are proven to raise learning.  And the current, broken system, with little accountability, virtually no ability to remove poor performers, etc., virtually guarantees that the extra money won't move the needle on student learning and achievement.
One important step would be a "grand bargain" with the teachers unions.  They say they want to be treated (and paid) like professionals, yet they behave like the longshoreman's union.  I would be 100% in favor of spending more money to pay great teachers $100,000 (or more), but ONLY for great teachers, and only if there were a system in place to measure each teacher's value added (yes, such systems exist and work) and only if unskilled or unmotivated teachers were removed from the system (I've heard estimates from people in the know that as many of 30% of teachers in inner-city schools fit this category, horrifyingly enough). 
At the end of the day, everything boils down to the quality of the teaching that takes place in each classroom, and we currently have a system that, in nearly every way imaginable, results in the opposite of what we want being the norm.  Spending a lot more money to perpetuate this system is madness.



February 14, 2006 -- IT was almost predictable that Robert Jackson, the new chairman of the City Council Education Committee, would hold an early hearing on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, as he did yesterday, and that the proceedings would be more like a political rally than a fact-finding effort.

After all, Jackson is one of the original plaintiffs in the case and a co-founder of CFE. Jackson and most of the city's political establishment, including our mayor, believe that Gov. Pataki's unwillingness thus far to roll over and accept Judge Leland DeGrasse's order to come up with an additional $5.6 billion in annual operating funds for the city's schools constitutes a civil-rights issue.

Before blindly accepting this civil-rights spin, city and state taxpayers who would be stuck with the bill ought to consider some historical facts about the case — facts that went unmentioned in yesterday's one-sided hearing.

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City School Cuts Seem Pointed at Albany

Gotta love Bloomberg playing some hardball -- now if only he'd do the same for the charter cap, though in fairness the same linkage doesn't exist.  In this particular instance, it's very simple: if you don't send the funds to build new schools, then new schools won't get built in your district...

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this week that he was killing plans for dozens of buildings that were to be built under New York City's school construction plan, he blamed leaders in Albany for not sending enough money to the city.

But the schools that the mayor singled out were apparently chosen for a reason: They were in the districts of powerful lawmakers in Albany, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and several Republican state senators, signaling that the mayor is prepared to use his muscle to penalize lawmakers if they do not support his effort to get more school aid from Albany.

City School Cuts Seem Pointed at Albany
Published: February 18, 2006

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this week that he was killing plans for dozens of buildings that were to be built under New York City's school construction plan, he blamed leaders in Albany for not sending enough money to the city.

But the schools that the mayor singled out were apparently chosen for a reason: They were in the districts of powerful lawmakers in Albany, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and several Republican state senators, signaling that the mayor is prepared to use his muscle to penalize lawmakers if they do not support his effort to get more school aid from Albany.

Of 21 schools that were to begin construction this year and are now being scrapped, four are in the district of State Senator Serphin R. Maltese, a Republican. Earlier this month, mayoral aides said that Mr. Bloomberg was so frustrated with Albany that he was considering supporting a Democratic challenger to Mr. Maltese in the November elections, even though the mayor is a Republican.

"I am extremely disappointed in this," Mr. Maltese said. "Obviously, this is something the mayor is putting a priority on. He's clearly aroused a lot of attention, but the way to deal with this is by negotiating at the table, not with political negotiations."

But the mayor is not only singling out Republicans. Three other schools shelved for this year fall within the district of Catherine T. Nolan, the new chairwoman of the Assembly's education committee. Meanwhile, the mayor has spared school construction projects in the districts of lawmakers with less of a stake in the fight.

Officials at City Hall appear to be convinced that focusing on schools in the districts of powerful lawmakers will prod legislators to comply with a court order requiring the state to give the city billions more in education aid.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Showdown on School Tax Credits in Albany

I hope this tax credit legislation passes.
In mid-December, I spent a morning with Peter Flanigan visiting two Catholic schools, St. Ann's grammer school (on E. 110th St. in Manhattan) and Cardinal Hayes high school, which is only a few blocks away from KIPP in the Bronx.  I was REALLY impressed with both schools.  On extremely limited budgets -- FAR less than what taxpayers are spending on public school students -- these schools are providing safety, discipline and of course learning to nearly entirely low-income minority students -- precisely the students that are being failed so badly by the existing public school system.

Of course I'm aware of the many advantages these schools have -- much less regulation, ability to select (and deselect) students, etc. -- and no doubt not all Catholic schools are as high quality as the ones I saw, but at the end of the day, here's the only thing I care about: most of these schools are achieving some degree of success (in some cases, a very high degree of success) with students who, if these schools didn't exist, would mostly be going absolutely nowhere were they in the nearby public schools.  So can someone explain to me why it's in our city's, state's and country's best interests to let these schools fail for lack of $3,000-$5,000 per student per year when we're utterly wasting $10,000-$12,000 per student per year miseducating comparable students at nearby schools?  This strikes me as the definition of madness!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the reasons -- separation of church and state, skimming the best students from the public schools, etc. -- but I keep coming back to this question: What do I tell the mother who's trying to get a decent education for her son and keep him away from gangs, yet can only afford to live in a neighborhood in which the local public school has for decades failed to provide such an education and is rife with gangs?  What does one say to her if she says, "You're spending $10,000 each year on my child at school, yet here he is in 8th grade and he can barely read.  He hates school and is skipping classes and spending time with bad kids.  If I don't get him out of this environment soon, I'm going to lose him forever, but I can't afford to move or send him to a private school.  But if you could merely give me HALF of what you're currently spending on him, that would cover the entire tuition at Cardinal Hayes, which has been saving boys like my son for decades."


Showdown on School Tax Credits in Albany

BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 15, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/27619


ALBANY - The battle over school choice in New York escalated yesterday, as Cardinal Egan and thousands of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers rallied here to pressure lawmakers to back a plan by Governor Pataki that would give tuition tax credits to parents with children in failing schools.


Efforts are also under way by critics of the governor's plan to condition support for the tax credits on Albany's compliance with a public school-financing lawsuit. A powerful opponent of the tax credit plan, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, is signaling to Catholic leaders that she might be flexible on the issue of tax credits, but is urging them to support her demands that Albany spend billions of more dollars on New York City public schools.

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What Is An American?

This has been circulating the internet, attributed to an Australian dentist (among others), but in fact was first published two weeks after 9/11 in National Review by Peter Ferrara, an associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law.  It's worth reading again.

So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo and Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world.

But in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.

So look around you. You may find more Americans in your land than you thought were there. One day they will rise up and overthrow the old, ignorant, tired tyrants that trouble too many lands. Then those lands too will join the community of free and prosperous nations.

And America will welcome them.


What Is An American?
A primer.

By Peter Ferrara, an associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law.
September 25, 2001 9:20 a.m.



ou probably missed it in the rush of news last week, but there was actually a report that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper there an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American.

So I just thought I would write to let them know what an American is, so they would know when they found one.

An American is English…or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani, or Afghan.

An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them choose.

An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

An American is from the most prosperous land in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God-given right of each man and woman to the pursuit of happiness.

An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need. When Afghanistan was overrun by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country. As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan.

An American does not have to obey the mad ravings of ignorant, ungodly cruel, old men. American men will not be fooled into giving up their lives to kill innocent people, so that these foolish old men may hold on to power. American women are free to show their beautiful faces to the world, as each of them choose.

An American is free to criticize his government's officials when they are wrong, in his or her own opinion. Then he is free to replace them, by majority vote.

Americans welcome people from all lands, all cultures, all religions, because they are not afraid. They are not afraid that their history, their religion, their beliefs, will be overrun, or forgotten. That is because they know they are free to hold to their religion, their beliefs, their history, as each of them choose.

And just as Americans welcome all, they enjoy the best that everyone has to bring, from all over the world. The best science, the best technology, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best athletes.

Americans welcome the best, but they also welcome the least. The nation symbol of America welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed.

These in fact are the people who built America. Many of them were working in the twin towers on the morning of September 11, earning a better life for their families.

So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo and Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world.

But in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.

So look around you. You may find more Americans in your land than you thought were there. One day they will rise up and overthrow the old, ignorant, tired tyrants that trouble too many lands. Then those lands too will join the community of free and prosperous nations.

And America will welcome them.

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The mountain man and the surgeon

This is quite an interesting article from the Economist, comparing a low-income person in Appalachia with a doctor in the Congo.

Dr Kabamba's income fluctuates with his country's fortunes. His $250-a-month salary is a fivefold increase from last year, and the fact that it is paid only two months in arrears is an improvement too. The cause of his good fortune is that Congo was given a huge debt write-off when the civil war ended in 2003, so there is more money around. What do Dr Kabamba's wages buy? He has a four-bedroom house with a kitchen and living room, which would be ample if there weren't 12 people under his roof. His home would be deemed unacceptably overcrowded in America. Even among the 37m Americans officially classed as poor, only 6% live in homes with more occupants than rooms.

Having seen how doctors live elsewhere, Dr Kabamba would quite like running water and a regular power supply. His family fetches water in jars and the electricity comes on maybe twice a week. Air-conditioning would be nice, but “that's only for VIPs,” says Dr Kabamba. In America, three-quarters of poor households have air-conditioning.

It concludes:

The point of this article is neither to mock Mr Banks nor to praise Dr Kabamba. Both have their virtues and flaws, and your correspondent cannot reliably judge which is the happier. But here are two concluding observations. First, if poor Americans were to compare their standard of living with what is normal elsewhere in the world, let alone in Congo, they would see they have little cause for discontent. Then again, were Americans not so incurably discontented with their lot, their great country would not be half as dynamic as it is.


The poor

The mountain man and the surgeon

From The Economist print edition


Reflections on relative poverty in North America and Africa

ENOS BANKS tells a cracking yarn about ketchup. One day, he spilled a splurge of it on his shirt. For fun, he persuaded his brother in law to shout angrily and shoot through the window. When their two wives came rushing in, they saw Mr Banks lying there covered in what looked like blood. “My wife passed out,” chuckles Mr Banks, “and my brother-in-law's wife shook him till his [false] teeth rattled.”

Mr Banks lives in a trailer in eastern Kentucky, amid the majestically forested Appalachian mountains. He is in his early 60s and has no job—he used to work as a driver for a coal-mining firm, but left after a heart attack 25 years ago. He wears a cowboy hat and talks with an accent that outsiders find nearly impenetrable. He is clever with his hands. When the price of petrol soared this year, he grafted a chainsaw engine onto a bicycle to make a moped.

He is a loud, jovial man, but suspicious of the young folk who live nearby. There is a drug problem in the mountains, and Mr Banks was recently burgled for the painkillers he takes for a bad back, hip and ankle. But he is ready for any mugger. He walks with a walking-stick-cum-rifle, with a plastic cap on the end of the barrel to keep out the dirt. If someone attacks him, he is ready to “shoot them plumb between the eyes.” And if he runs out of bullets, he has a big knife strapped to the contraption with duct tape.

When Americans hear the words “poor” and “white”, they think of someone like Mr Banks. He has half a dozen cars in varying states of disrepair parked outside his trailer, car-parts everywhere and a pile of crushed Pepsi cans below his porch.

He “draws” $521 a month in supplemental security income (a form of cash assistance for the elderly, poor and disabled). He laments that the authorities deduct $67 a month because he won $3,600 on the slot machines. Why, he asks, won't they take account of all the money he has lost gambling? It is a fair question. If middle-class America had this problem, accountants would surely find a way round it. Mr Banks also complains that he cannot draw food stamps. In order to qualify, he would have to sell his truck, which he cannot bear to part with. Mr Banks would probably be surprised to hear that, thousands of miles away in central Africa, there lives a prominent surgeon whose monthly income is roughly the same as his. Mbwebwe Kabamba is the head of the emergency department at the main public hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. After 28 years as a doctor, his salary is only $250 a month, but by operating on private patients after hours, he ekes it out to $600 or $700.

Given the lower cost of living in Congo, one might guess that Dr Kabamba is better off than Mr Banks. But the doctor has to support an extended family of 12, whereas Mr Banks's ex-wife and three sons claim public assistance. Indeed, the reason Mr Banks split up from his wife, he says, is because they can draw more benefits separately. She still lives in the trailer next door.

Why juxtapose the lives of a poor man in a rich country and a relatively well-off man in a poor one? The exercise is useful for two reasons. First, it puts the rich world's wealth into context. A Congolese doctor, a man most other Congolese would consider wealthy, is worse off materially than most poor people in America. That, in itself, is striking.

The second purpose of the exercise is to shed light on some ticklish questions. What is the relationship between wealth and happiness? And what is the significance of relative poverty? Mr Banks makes $521 a month in a country where median male earnings are $3,400 a month. Dr Kabamba earns $600 a month in a country where most people grow their own food and hardly ever see a bank note. The two men's experiences could hardly be less similar. But which of the two would one expect to be happier?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How Is a Hedge Fund Like a School?

Every few months, I draw your attention to one article that you really should read -- this is one of them.
After being such a kick-ass investor for so long, I guess it's hardly surprising that Joel Greenblatt would also be a kick-ass philanthropist -- but then again, most really successful investors/businesspeople I've observed are totally lame philanthropists, giving very little and/or giving to institutions that are already fabulously wealthy -- perhaps because they don't know any better, it's easy, and/or it's in their self-interest (e.g., networking, fancy dinners and events, etc.).  Take my alma mater for example: is there ANY charity on the planet that is LESS needy than Harvard University?!
I hope what Joel has done not only inspires other schools and school districts to copy this success, but also inspires other people who are similarly situated to be much more engaged and strategic in their philanthropy.

Today, thanks to Joel Greenblatt’s friendly takeover, P.S. 65Q is a turnaround story worthy of a Harvard B-school case study. Perhaps no school in New York City has ever bounded so swiftly from abject failure to unqualified success. From 2001 to 2005, the proportion of fourth-graders passing the state’s standardized reading test doubled, rising from 36 to 71 percent of the class—and since then, the students’ performance has only gotten better. Nearly every child who has been at the school for three years or more now reads and does math at their proper level or beyond—even the special-ed kids. Last spring, the school was one of fourteen statewide to win the public-school version of the Nobel Prize: a Pathfinder Award for improved performance. The city schools that usually win are in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like the Lower East Side or Fort Greene—what one P.S. 65Q administrator calls “God’s country.”...

But Greenblatt’s plan is more ambitious. He wants to create an effective and affordable public-school prototype that could be franchised citywide—and fast. “I’m an investor,” he says. “I spend my time trying to figure out whether a business model works or not. I wanted to find a model that worked and roll it out.”

P.S. 65Q is the first school off the line. There, Greenblatt has expanded the Success for All program, brought in sophisticated data-analysis tools to track each child’s progress, and hired a staff of outside tutors to step in quickly when kids need help. But what makes the success of P.S. 65Q especially remarkable is how little, relatively, it has cost. The extra $1,000 per child Greenblatt has invested amounts to less than a 10 percent increase over the approximately $12,500 that the city spends on average per child—and well below what some private schools pay for the same kind of results. “Given all the negative costs of not educating the kids—more crime, fewer taxpayers, less productive people—it was less than free,” Greenblatt says.



How Is a Hedge Fund Like a School?

Hedge-fund guru Joel Greenblatt applied Wall Street principles—and $1,000 per student—to turn around a struggling Queens elementary school. And it worked, spectacularly.

By Robert Kolker, New York Magazine, 2/20/06



On a weekday morning in the spring of 2002, Joel Greenblatt took a radical detour from his usual commute. Instead of riding the Long Island Rail Road from his home on the North Shore to his office in midtown, the 44-year-old hedge-fund manager hired a car service to deliver him to P.S. 65Q, a small, struggling elementary school in working-class Ozone Park, Queens. Little about his past pointed to this visit. Over the previous two decades, Greenblatt had quietly built a reputation as one of Wall Street’s most successful stock-pickers: He had steered his fund, Gotham Capital, to a 40 percent average annual rate of return (it’s now worth about $1.6 billion), and as the author of investment manuals like You Can Be a Stock-Market Genius (Even If You’re Not Too Smart)—the predecessor to his current best seller, The Little Book That Beats the Market—he’d become something of a guru to a generation of elite fund managers. But that morning, Greenblatt was taking a break from Wall Street to focus on the less glamorous world of New York public schools.

P.S. 65Q had opened several years earlier to serve a growing population of extremely poor South American and South Asian immigrants. Housed in a former airplane-parts factory, the school sits on an industrial street with no homes in sight, in the shadow of the elevated A train. The vast majority of the school’s 540 students couldn’t read or do math at the proper grade level, and their parents were largely too beleaguered or disengaged to help.

At the time of Greenblatt’s visit, P.S. 65Q was staring down the loss of an important grant. Under Iris Nelson, the principal who had started at the school a year after it had opened, P.S. 65Q had secured government funds for a reading program called Success for All. The program had led to some promising gains in reading scores, but the grant was expiring at the end of the year. Greenblatt, who had developed an interest in public education only a few years earlier, had become a fan of Success for All and was looking for a school where he could introduce or broaden the program to boost overall achievement. The Success for All Foundation’s director, Bob Slavin, arranged a meeting between Greenblatt and Nelson to try and make a match.

The principal and her staff hadn’t been told much about Greenblatt—just that he was a wealthy banker interested in discussing a contribution. In Nelson’s office, Greenblatt didn’t let much time pass before making it clear his visit wasn’t about just a grant. “I want to keep spending money,” he said, “until everyone can read.”

Nelson struggled to contain her disbelief. Before long, she and Greenblatt were touring the school. About the only thing that didn’t get settled that day was how much money, exactly, Greenblatt would give. Before he left, he asked Nelson to put together a grant proposal.

For weeks, Nelson fretted over how much to request. Finally, she decided to take Greenblatt at his word: To keep everyone from falling behind, she calculated, it would take an incremental $1,000 per student per year for five years, or $2.5 million.

Greenblatt had clearly done his homework. “That,” he told her later, “is exactly what we thought you’d need.”

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