Friday, March 20, 2015

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story

I view it as a badge of honor to be one of the lead villains in a silly hatchet job of an article like this one. It's so laughably wrong in so many ways, I'm not going to dignify it with a detailed response, but a couple of points:
·       A key pillar of the article, that greedy billionaires oppose increasing education spending, is wrong. Contrary to the selective quotes the author uses, here is what I actually said during my presentation at the Harvard Club last week (the slide I used is page 90 of my school reform presentation, which is posted
o   In the absence of genuine reform, simply increasing spending has proven to be a waste of money
o   (e.g., Kansas City); in fact, it can do harm by further entrenching the status quo (e.g., New Jersey)
o   However, more money is a critical element to grease the wheels of reform
o   The key is to marry reform with additional resources (e.g., NYC, Washington DC, Austin)
·       The IRS never fined ERN or Joe Williams – the reporter is just repeating union propaganda (which is pretty much the entire article, come to think of it).
The true story here is very simple and the opposite of sinister – it's inspiring to me: a number of very successful New Yorkers – believing in the power of education and that every kid deserves a fair shot at the American dream, and disgusted with an educational system that does just the opposite, in which the color of your skin and your zip code pretty much determine the quality of public school a kid gets, an unjust reality that goes on, year in and year out, not because the system is broken, but because it operates just the way it's supposed to, to serve the economic interests of the adults in the system and the political interests of the gutless weasel politicians who kowtow to them – decided to donate millions of dollars, despite having absolutely nothing to gain personally, to create a counter-weight to the status quo, in which the unions historically said "Jump!" and the governor and legislature would respond, "How high?!"
I'm very proud to say that we've been enormously successful. Despite being outmanned, outspent, and outgunned 100:1, a small group of incredible people – in part the funders, but more importantly the people on the ground – have turned the tables on the entrenched powers, in part by, yes, finding and strongly supporting a courageous ally in Gov. Cuomo. What a beautiful example of the classic Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
But the forces of the status quo won't give up their power and perks easily, so one part of their strategy is to smear their opponents by filling the ears of some biased and/or clueless "journalists" to write hit pieces like this one. 
It won't work. We are winning this titanic struggle (albeit in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back way), not because we're all-powerful billionaires, but because, to quote MLK, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story

George Joseph on March 19, 2015 - 5:07AM ET 
Governor Cuomo speaks at a rally in support of charter schools on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany. (Tim Roske/ AP)

Hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson stands at a Harvard club podium in midtown Manhattan, facing a room full of investors eating eggs and bacon, and eager to learn more about charter schools. The walls of the wood-paneled room are lined with the portraits of Tilson's Harvard forefathers. Above the podium where Tilson stands hangs an ornamental gold ship, swaying. In the corner of the room is a large screen, on which the logos of the day's sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sam Walton Foundation, float like guardian angels. Two large stone fireplaces dominate the west end of the room. Their exaggerated mantelpieces are each decorated with two empty crests and a laurel—symbols of power drained of any purpose.

Tilson begins an enormous PowerPoint presentation, speaking of the inequities black and Latino children face in the public school system. "Your entire prison population is in these red bars," he explains, showing red bars indicating the high percentage of poor black and Latino children who could not read at a fourth-grade level. No such children, nor their parents, seemed to have been invited to this presentation.

Despite the role poverty plays in determining whose kids gets stuck in those red bars, Tilson declares to the room of Ivy League investors, "This is not rocket science. Notice on my list there's no #5, no Spend More Money. You get new facilities and smaller classrooms but nothing changes. Nobody believes anymore that if you give us more money we'll solve all the problems."

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