Wealthy Patrons: Be Careful How You Name Your Schools

Joseph H. and Carol F. Reich, wealthy donors for the Beginning with Children charter school in Brooklyn, gave an ultimatum to the board regarding restructuring that resulted in resignations. If the New York Times quoted him accurately, Reich is disappointed with the “above average” results the students are achieving: “‘It’s above average,’ said Mr. Reich, 72, ‘but considering the effort and the capability and the resources, we don’t feel we’re getting the best we can.’” Does Reich have an ROI formula for measuring expected results for the school’s students?

Times writer David M. Herszenhorm works to analyze the situation: “And for those lucky to have such benefactors, the situation raises core questions: Who ultimately controls charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but often rely heavily on charitable donations? Do the schools, which operate outside the control of the local school district, answer to parents, or to their wealthy founders?” But for all that thinking, everyone seems to have overlooked the obvious: a school begins with children.

How would Mr. and Mrs. Reich quantify how much is the most acceptable or is the least acceptable or what is even an acceptable return on their investment from Child X or Child Y? This is not just the Reich’s dilemma but the dilemma of anyone who educates. How will the success of a program be defined and how will it be measured?

Yet, what about an even more difficult variable to quantify: How much does success of educational programs lie with the individuals – in this case the children – who are being educated?

Again, the Times: “In an interview, Mr. and Mrs. Reich said they were committed to their original promise of providing children with an education that would lead to success in college and in life. ‘We promised to build them a model education program that would lay the groundwork for their future,’ said Mr. Reich, a retired investment banker. ‘This didn’t come from nowhere. We were really worried that the school wasn’t delivering.’” This seems to imply that Reich does have a good idea of what is needed for the future.

Since the school opened in 1992, I wonder if they have statistics on how students who came through the school performed in college or on the job. Knowing these numbers would have made the story and argument much more interesting and much more meaningful: begin with the children and tell us how they are doing now.

I would be the first to agree that students don’t necessarily know what they need, but they can tell us if they are not getting what they need when they move on to the next stage in life. I would like to see Beginning with Children add some of its graduates to its board so they can give feedback on how the education they received there is serving them in life. When Herszenhorm was listing stakeholders, he mentioned taxpayers and parents and wealthy founders. He should begin the list with the children.

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