Idle Hands: When Billionaires Play With Schools Kids and Teachers Suffer

“It’s amazing,” says a NYSun columnist, “how people who brilliantly operate their businesses can turn into buffoons as soon as they purchase a pro basketball team,” or, I would add, become self-appointed experts on education.

Every summer the Aspen Institute sponsors the Aspen Ideas Festival , a gathering, by invitation only, of “movers and shakers,” (think Karl Rove, Colin Powell, Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton, Justice Stephen Breyer, and on and on …) from the business community, scholars, high ranking government types and “think tankers.” There are a range of panels and interactions among the participants in many fields, including education .

One of the panels was a number of Fortune 100 CEOs discussing a range of topics – including the US education system, and, they all had “ideas.”

Across the board they praised KIPP Charter Schools, Teach for America, merit pay for teachers, they bemoaned the lack of students majoring in science and technology and sharply criticized the quality of American schools, and wondered why parents supported local schools. On one hand there is no question that concern and involvement of the corporate sector  is important, on the other hand ignoring data and jumping at “the politically acceptable” idea of the moment is unfortunate.

Responding to an audience question: all educated their children in private schools or elite suburban public schools. One panel member recounted that he started his children in a NYC public school but moved them to a private school after a few weeks … I wonder: was it the high class size, the complexion of the student body …?  These corporate leaders paid for schools with extraordinarily low class sizes and resources for their children, yet for public schools they seek “cheaper,” unproven approaches …

KIPP, and other charter schools, are successful because they attract highly motivated parents. Regardless of the economic level of the community there are parents who will seek out what they consider “the best” schools. Charter school staffs tell me that students applying to charter schools have higher standardized test scores that the students in surrounding schools.

Teach for America attracts teachers from the most elite colleges in the country – they spend two years in an inner city school and move on to graduate school … Do they impact positively on the schools in which they serve? Not according to a recent study (work ). The impact is on the TFA teacher … a cohort of whom move on to “educational policy,” i.e., Michelle Rhee, the newly appointed Washington, DC Superintendent and a TFA alumna.

There is absolutely no evidence that teacher merit pay will increase achievement, in fact, among the keys to high achievement is collaboration: teachers working closely with colleagues. Will competition for merit pay increase or decrease collaboration?

In NYC the brazen manipulation of student achievement data, the self-aggrandizement, the denigration of teachers, their union, parents,  elected officials, and, in fact anyone who criticizes is abhorrent.

Are there workable models? Norm Fruchter, a thoughtful scholar collects a range of research and points to a number of highly successful models around the country . Unfortunately Fruchter doesn’t support the quick fix, the “flash” solution.

I guess when you have a billion or so you can play with sports franchises and the schools when life gets too boring …


One response to “Idle Hands: When Billionaires Play With Schools Kids and Teachers Suffer

  1. Cmon, dude – better that they ignore public ed entirely? Why don’t you share what “ideas” you would raise rather than criticize these folks for the limited exposure to some very well-intended ideas and orgs?


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