Thursday, June 22, 2006

Filling the Civic Gap

It's hilarious to see the contortions the author of this article (from the San Francisco Weekly) goes through to try to do a hatchet job on Don Fisher -- a truly great American who was the first major backer of KIPP (and remains so to this day). He has done so many amazing things with his fortune -- which, to the author's credit, is well documented in this article -- and KIPP is doing such great things that the best the author can come up with is the charge that he's a union buster and that, as a society, "we haven't really thought out what happens when we give up our democratic powers to a growing army of ideological philanthropists."

This is particularly silly:
if KIPP is any guide, these magnanimous magnates are at the vanguard of a trend that may shrink the portion of public life that's subject to public input...'s also easy to imagine an end game in which KIPP and other charter academies supplant regular public schools. As the chain grows, for example, it will hire more and more teachers, whose job includes spending summers recruiting more and more kids. The increased student population will mean hiring more teachers, whose salaries are paid by the state. (A 2000 state ballot proposition backed by Fisher, venture capitalist John Doerr, NetFlix founder Reed Hastings, and the California Teachers Association now requires school districts to provide free facilities to charter schools when they recruit new students.) And more teachers means more recruiting.

As this snowball effect keeps rolling, and as more kids shift to charter schools — the Fisher-backed chain is now contemplating a new S.F. high school — the San Francisco Unified School District will be compelled to close ever more publicly run schools.

The city's school system might thus transform dramatically without a single vote having been cast.

Maybe this change will work out for the best.

"MAYBE"?! We should be celebrating this trend! And the idea that this development is occurring without public vote or input is exactly the OPPOSITE of the truth. In fact, it's hard for me to think of ANYTHING that's been MORE subject to public debate, legislative approval, scrutiny by the media, etc. than charter schools!

I hesitated to send out this article because it's so biased and ridiculous, but I think it's important that we understand what our critics are saying, so that we can be prepared to rebut this nonsense.

Filling the Civic Gap
Meet Donald Fisher, the private billionaire with unprecedented sway over ordinary San Franciscans' lives
By Matt Smith, San Francisco Weekly

It's three hours into the last day of school at KIPP Bayview Academy, a nonprofit, 160-student, fifth-and-sixth-grade charter school run out of a former Catholic elementary just over the hill from Candlestick Park. But there's no noisy, school's-out scrum in the hallways. Instead, students are in class giving year-end presentations, finishing assignments, and otherwise exploiting every last minute of class time.

The silence makes it easy to hear the soft voice of 12-year-old Markia, who, like most of her classmates, comes from the poor, predominantly black neighborhood surrounding the school. She stands in the hallway pondering her future out loud.

"I'm thinking about Thacher," says Markia, referring to an exclusive Ojai, Calif., boarding school at which the horse-to-student ratio is three to five, "and Exeter," she adds, in reference to Phillips Exeter Academy, the elite New Hampshire boarding school traditionally associated with Harvard.

Considering Markia's milieu, her bold aspirations don't seem far-fetched. She recently got back from a class field trip to Thacher. KIPP Bayview's eight-hour school days and incessant pro-college message, and the whirlwind energy of Molly Wood, the school's 32-year-old Stanford MBA principal, are all geared toward getting kids to think, realistically, about places like Exeter.

KIPP Bayview is one of 52 such schools around the country (including six in the Bay Area) supported by $46 million in donations and organizational advice from retired Gap Inc. founder Donald Fisher — philanthropist, social idealist, and political campaign donor extraordinaire.

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