Would you invest in this guy?
It is always a great story to read of successfully wealthy individuals giving back to their communities. That is what the New York Times profiled on Friday about several New York City hedge fund investors supporting a variety of charter schools throughout the City (here).
One of the reasons cited by Times reporter, Nancy Haas, was the accountability factor: "Charter schools' reliance on metrics and tests to measure progress is another attraction to hedge funders," she wrote. It also matters that charter schools get less on a per pupil basis than what the City spends on district schools and therefore need private philanthropy to survive.
This is all too much for the Union Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who can't resist a cheap shot when he told the Times: "I thinks it's all good and well that these people are finally stepping up to support education" (emphasis mine).
Mr. Mulgrew wishes more of it went to him: "I wish they would do it in a more foundational way, a way that would help all the children instead of just a small group." Translation: you rich guys, just write those checks to top-off the gigantic pot at UFT headquarters so I can spread more around to everyone, regardless.
No mention is made that the UFT raises its own money through its foundation. But Mr. Mulgrew's covetousness is revealing. He would just assume have MORE--even though district schools already have MORE--with no thought to its effectiveness or return on investment, the way a hedge fund investor thinks. To be fair, union heads aren't expected to think that way, and it's his job to be voracious and distribute money equally across the board. He should rethink this 20th century mentality.
The objective of more targeted philanthropy by hedge fund investors in charter schools is to directly and realistically impact children's lives for the better. As these successful schools take this investment, improve results, and expand across the City and state, the positive impact spreads to more children, and hopefully to the public system itself. That will depend on elected officials and union chiefs like Mr. Mulgrew.
Covet or Adapt?
Mr. Mulgrew needs to decide whether he will covet and criticize, or adapt his own union contract and teacher culture to the best practices brought about by charter schools. Now would be a good time since the UFT master contract remains under negotiation with the Bloomberg Administration. Also, his UFT predecessor, Randi Weingarten, made a small but significant effort to do so by creating the UFT Charter School in Brooklyn and investing in the Green Dot Charter School in the Bronx.
Absent real change in school district practices by administrators and unions alike, investors should continue to target their philanthropy to accomplish the best results, rather than it being spread out to accomplish more of the same district mediocrity and failure that, in part, spurred charter schools in the first place.
for The Chalkboard
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