This blog is an archive of the Ed Reform 101 project, designed to give policy makers and the public clear, concise information about education reform. There are five posts in the series, which are also presented in the "Pages" column. Fact sheets in .pdf format will also be available soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 2013 Best Information

Dreambox Acquired: More Blended Charters Coming

Dreambox Acquired: More Blended Charters Coming
Reed Hastings and CSGF acquired Dreambox, a K-12 adaptive math platform, with the intention of creating more scalable and sustainable charter networks. Reed, a KIPP board member, has been on this war path for a year.
Rocketship, a high-performing elementary charter network in San Jose, uses online learning to stretch the day/year, improve performance, and drop a sufficient margin to at least partially fund growth.
Here’s a note from John Danner of Rocketship, with the news:
“Rocketeers, great news today. Reed Hastings and the Charter School Growth Fund have acquired Dreambox, a great adaptive learning engine company. I will be joining their board.

Health Care and Profits, a Poor Mix

From health to pensions to education, the United States relies on private enterprise more than pretty much every other advanced, industrial nation to provide essential social services. The government pays Medicare Advantage plans to deliver health care to aging Americans. It provides a tax break to encourage employers to cover workers under 65.
Businesses devote almost 6 percent of the nation’s economic output to pay for health insurance for their employees. This amounts to nine times similar private spending on health benefits across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, on average. Private plans cover more than a third of pension benefits. The average for 30 countries in the O.E.C.D. is just over one-fifth.
We let the private sector handle tasks other countries would never dream of moving outside the government’s purview. Consider bail bondsmen and their rugged sidekicks, the bounty hunters.

Michelle Rhee's Failing Report Card

Rhee's report card gave schools a failing grade if teachers received a defined benefit pension (worse if it was backloaded). The school system gets an "A" in this category if teachers only had a 401(k) type defined contribution plan or a cash balance account.
Pensions are now and have historically been an important part of teachers' compensations. Teachers, like most public sector employees, are paid less in wagesthan workers in the private sector with comparable education and experience. They make up much of this gap with a better benefit package, including better pension benefits, than workers in the private sector receive.
Given this reality, it is difficult to see how students are helped if a school system replaces a defined benefit pension that guarantees teachers a specific level of income after they retire, with a defined contribution plan, where retirement income will depend on the teachers' investment success and the timing of the market. Since state governments don't have to care about the timing of market swings, only overall averages, assuming timing and investment risk is an important benefit that governments can provide their workers at essential zero cost. A defined benefit pension will make a job more attractive to workers than if the state gave teachers the same amount of money in the form of a contribution to a 401(k) account.

A Brash Hedge-Fund Manager Applies His Tactics to Philanthropy

A few years ago, Cheryl L. Dorsey was hosting a lunch for Echoing Green Foundation, the social-entrepreneurship fund she runs, when a man she had never met before approached her.
“If Echoing Green is as good as you say it is, I’ll commit $1-million and get involved,” she recalls him saying.
Not too long after, the then $2.6-million New York group had the money—and the man on its board.
That kind of move is quintessential William A. Ackman. The 44-year old hedge-fund manager is well known in the financial world for his brash brand of activist investing, by which he has amassed a fortune that Forbes magazine last year estimated at $700-million. (Mr. Ackman declined to confirm whether that is accurate.)
He’s not yet a familiar name in philanthropy—but that could change.
By many accounts, Mr. Ackman, who makes swift decisions and likes to nudge grantees to try new approaches and reach more people, wants his giving to achieve an audacious goal: changing the world.
Through a foundation they created in 2006, Mr. Ackman and his wife, Karen, plan to eventually give away most of their wealth. Last year, they donated $58-million to the Pershing Square Foundation, whose name reflects Mr. Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management, the hedge fund he started in 2004. The contribution, along with $1.3-million they gave to 50 other nonprofits, puts the Ackmans in the No. 17 spot on The Chronicle’s list of the most-generous donors.

Avoiding Bureaucracy

The foundation is awarding grants at that same fast clip, pledging $84.3-million so far.
Last fall, it hired a chief executive, Paul Bernstein, the former managing director of U.K. charity Absolute Return for Kids. He is charged with turning the organization into a more-professional operation while keeping it free of the sort of bureaucracy to which Mr. Ackman is allergic.
Mr. Ackman’s money, meanwhile, is behind high-profile efforts such as the attempts by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark to transform the city’s schools; a Facebook co-founder’s nonprofit-centric social-network, Jumo; and a collaboration among Harvard University, the global-health activist Paul Farmer’s charity, and a hospital system to improve health-care delivery in poor countries.
Mr. Ackman’s style might sometimes seem like self-interested grandstanding. In 2007, under scrutiny from regulators, he said he would donate any personal profits from his financial bet that the stock of the bond-insurer MBIA would fall.