What if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had met and been wooed not by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, as reportedly happened this July in Idaho, setting the stage for Zuckerberg’s dramatic $100 million gift, but by our own Joel Klein? A hawk-eyed reader alerted us to the counterintuitive advice Klein might have given him.
The clue lies in a March 2008 issue of the New York Times Magazine in which Paul Tough led a roundtable discussion of education leaders about educational philanthropy. Tough proposed a hypothetical: A “high-tech entrepreneur” has just taken his company public, and now he has $2 billion to give away. He wants to improve public education. What should the billionaire spend his money on?
The key excerpt:
Tough: Joel, you run the country’s biggest school system. What if this money was simply added to New York City’s regular education budget for next year? Would you be able to make a difference with it? Klein: Well, I agree with Vanessa [Kirsch, founder of New Profit] that philanthropists should think strategically, and what you’re suggesting would be about as nonstrategic an investment as you could make. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t like an additional billion dollars next year. But I think our billionaire should think about this entirely differently.
Klein suggested spending the money to create a national policy group to do “serious research” to fill the many knowledge gaps in education. He also suggested investing in a handful of individual superintendents, like Michelle Rhee, with the goal of helping them demonstrate how to turn around a poorly performing school district.