If you answered “b,” you may be in desperate need of a school voucher to improve your basic math skills. Or you may have understood that real reform in education is less a matter of how much you spend, and more a matter of how and where you spend it.
The two amounts represent two ground‐breaking gifts given by private individuals to lift the quality of education available to inner‐city school children. One was announced Monday when entrepreneur Ted Forstmann pledged $3 million, matched by investor John Walton, to fund 1,000 scholarships for low‐income Washington, D.C. children to attend the private school of their choice. The very same day the Washington Post ran a front page headline: “Can $500 Million Make a Dent?” The story revisited the historic half‐billion pledged by publisher Walter Annenberg in aid to urban public schools.
It may seem unfair — not to mention tacky — to compare the altruistic gestures of these philanthropists. But the comparison holds a vital germ of understanding about how private giving can best expand educational opportunity — particularly where it is most absent, in our inner cities.
After all, what megabucks businessmen bring to the table is not just their bank accounts, but — potentially at least — their strategic thinking. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs seem to forget the very entrepreneurial instincts that served them so well, and instead adopt a conventional, bureaucratic mentality when it comes to serving others. As a result, they are rightly seen as dilettantes less intent on solving problems than on buying publicity and posing with semi‐celebrities at “volunteerism summits.”
If the judgement seems harsh consider that virtually every one of the $1 million‐plus donors listed by Slate magazine decided to give their riches to rich universities where they probably went to learn how to get rich in the first place. Does the super‐smart media magnate Michael Bloomberg truly believe that the $3 million he gave to Harvard’s business school is where resources were most needed, or where his investment would leverage the most returns?