Imagining a conversation between Klein and Zuckerberg

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.