Middle-school kids win start-up contest

Venture students present their idea at a start-up accelerator contest.

A team of Minneapolis middle-schoolers won a contest to sell a start-up idea, beating 10 adult teams, reports Beth Hawkins on Education Post.

The students attend Venture Academy, a three-year-old charter middle school that promotes entrepreneurship and includes a “maker space” where students can tinker.

Venture enrolls “a cross-section of the Twin Cities’ most disadvantaged youth: 45 percent Latino, 35 percent Black, 10 percent Native American and 10 percent white,” writes Hawkins. “More than 90 percent live in poverty, 28 percent are learning English and one-fourth are in special education.”

Students “design their own learning plans,” combining “hands-on experiences and online curricula,” she writes. “Last year its students, many of whom start out years behind, made more growth than all but one Minneapolis school serving the same grades.”

Dave Barry’s holiday gift guide

Think you’ve bought the perfect gifts for friends and family? Check out what you missed in Dave Barry’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

The Wearable Hummingbird Feeder, a face shield with a feeder tube that comes out between the eyes, is only $79.95.

“Imagine having a hummingbird hover right in front of your face,” writes Barry. “Specifically, in front of your eyeballs. It’s darting around and thrusting with its long, pointy, needle-like beak. RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR EYEBALLS. WHICH YOU USE TO SEE.”

It’s also the perfect gift for the armed robber on your holiday list, writes Barry. (“Do what he says! He has a hummingbird!”)

Snakes Toilet Topper, $3.45-$8.99, is “a highly realistic decal that goes on a toilet lid and makes it appear as though two large snakes are emerging from the commode bowl.”

For the pet owner, there’s Cat Stay & Wash, $9.95 to $13.99, a harness connected to a suction cup. “You simply put the harness on the cat (allow six hours) then attach the suction cup to the bathtub, and then it will be “easy” to wash your cat, according to the manufacturer, who apparently tested this product on cats from another galaxy.”

Puff ‘n’ Fluff Dog Dryer, $44.99, answers the question “what do you do when your dog gets wet?” Let the dog dry out is the wrong answer.

How to spend Zuck’s bucks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan celebrated the birth of their daughter by pledging to give 99 percent of their wealth — $45 billion or so — to worthy causes, such as “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” They’ll make do with the remaining $450 million.

They’ve come in for a lot of criticism and kibbitzing.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan with their new born daughter, Max.

Some want to tell them how to spend the money:  Don’t try to change things like Bill Gates!

Anil Dash advises funding “people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.”

Others accuse the couple of trying to dodge taxes. (Giving away 99 percent of your money is not a great way to save money.)

In response, Zuckerberg explained why they set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, as an LLC rather than a traditional foundation. They want flexibility.

“This enables us to pursue our mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates.”

. . . “If we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not. And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC.”

The Initiative will focus on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities,” he wrote.

“Our education work has been funded through a non-profit organization, Startup: Education, the recently announced Breakthrough Energy Coalition will make private investments in clean energy, and we also fund public government efforts, like the CDC Ebola response and San Francisco General Hospital.”

The money will be wasted, predicts Gawker’s Sam Biddle. He sneers at Facebook’s support for Summit’s personalized learning platform — with no understanding of what it is.

The Washington Post describes the couple’s plans to provide private schooling and health care for low-income families in a heavily minority community, East Palo Alto.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Pope visits a reborn Catholic school

Children from four Catholic schools practice a song for the pope’s visit at Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote, Newsday

At Our Lady Queen of Angels, a K-8 school in East Harlem, students from the area’s Catholic schools spent days preparing for Pope Francis’ visit, reports Newsday.

Students rehearsed the song, St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

LaSalle Duke-Sample, 9, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo, will show the pope his diorama — a grassy meadow and crystal blue stream that is surrounded by trees and a farmer’s fruit and vegetable stand.

“We are thanking God for the gifts of the Earth: water, trees that give us oxygen, animals that give us food. My favorite is the fruit,” LaSalle said.

Eight years ago, Our Lady Queen of Angel’s parish closed, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. But the school was reborn as one of six campuses in “a first-of-its-kind Catholic schools network, to be governed by the archdiocese and operated and financed by a nonprofit school management organization, which I oversee.”

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Ahead of the Heard has more on the “redemptive” private school management organizations (PSMOs) that are saving urban Catholic schools.

After a 50-year retreat for Catholic schools, there’s hope for a renaissance in Catholic education thanks to social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, write Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson.

However tuition-free charter schools are tough competition for Catholic schools that don’t have philanthropic support.

New York City Catholic schools have received $125 million to fund scholarships for inner-city children. That includes a $40 million gift from Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO at Blackstone, who are Jewish.

Pope Francis greets the crowd outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.

Millionaire turns around poor Florida town

Harris Rosen visited a day care center he funds in Tangelo Park, Fla. Credit: Melissa Lyttle, New York Times

For 21 years, a Florida millionaire has funded day care centers and college scholarships in a small, low-income, mostly black town near Orland, reports the New York Times. With $11 million of Harris Rosen’s money, “Tangelo Park is a striking success story.”

Once, nearly half the town’s students dropped out of school. Now nearly all graduate and most go to college or trade school with full scholarships.

Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

The son of immigrants, Rosen grew up poor in New York City and made his money in the hotel business.

For the youngest children, he created a system of free day care centers in Tangelo Park homes, ensuring that the certified providers, who are also the homeowners, instruct children as young as 2. He also started and finances a prekindergarten program in the local elementary school and offers parents training through the University of Central Florida on how to support their children.

The Tangelo Park Program doesn’t fund K-12 education.  “It is run almost entirely by volunteers, mostly community leaders,” reports the Times.

Next year, Rosen will begin funding early education in a downtown Orlando neighborhood with housing projects and few neighborhood institutions.

A piece of the philanthropic pie

Donors give billions of dollars to higher education. Community colleges are trying to get a small piece of the philanthropic pie, reports the New York Times.

At La Guardia Community College in Queens, Karen Dubinsky is trying to “forge a closer union between the school and the wider world of moneyed New York,” writes Ginia Bellafante. The goal is to cultivate a donor base — and to expose students to the “experiences and possibilities and habits from which they have been excluded,” writes Ginia Bellafante.

Dubinsky also created the “Pushy Moms Club.”

Observing her friends uptown, Ms. Dubinsky realized that many had children who now required less of their time, but the mothers themselves were still running on surplus energy from years of meeting the obligations that the obsessive culture of modern parenting imposes. At LaGuardia there were many students with absent parents, so she paired up the women and the students, to get through the complicated process of college transfer admissions.

I think every college aspirant needs a pushy middle-class (or upper-middle-class)  mother.

How Bill Gates sold the Common Core

Bill Gates put $200 million into Common Core standards.

Common Core State Standards were the brainchild of Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, reports Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post. The godfather was Bill Gates, who put more than $200 million into developing the Core and building support for it.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

President Obama’s Education Department, “populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates”  used $4.3 billion in “stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.” Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, though some have jumped ship.

Even Catholic schools have adopted the standards, if only because it’s hard to find classroom materials or training that’s not aligned to the Common Core.

The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “States saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The Gates Foundation has put $3.4 billion into trying to improve K-12 education, reports the Post. (My other blog, Community College Spotlight is funded by the Hechinger Institute, which receives Gates Foundation grants.) It has enormous influence.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” said Jay Greene, who heads the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform.

Gates “sees himself as a technocrat” funding research in “new tools” to improve education. “Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Diane Ravitch wants Congress to investigate Gates’ role in the creation and marketing of Common Core standards.

The idea of “common national standards and tests goes back a long long way before Gates,” points out Alexander Russo. If the idea hadn’t already had broad appeal, Gates’ millions wouldn’t have been effective.

Most education philanthropy supports the status quo, adds Eduwonk. “In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure.”

Personally, I think it’s crazy to suggest that Bill Gates has given $3.4 billion to education causes — and billions more to public health — because he wants to make more money. His policy ideas may be wrong. His motives are good.

Graduation is just the beginning

San Jose’s Downtown College Prep — the charter school in my book — is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first graduating class at commencement ceremonies for the class of 2014.  Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, will be the  keynote speaker.

DCP now has three middle and high schools — the fourth will open in the fall — and more than 500 alumni. Nearly all are Latinos from low-income families. Eighty percent of incoming students are 2+ years below grade level in English and/or math. Ninety-six percent will be the first in their family to go to college.

All DCP seniors apply to four-year universities and 96 percent go directly to college

DCP students are 4 times more likely than all California Latino high school graduates to enroll in a state university

DCP students are four times more likely to complete college in six-years than their low-income peers nationwide

DCP was ranked #36 out of 2,000 schools in California by U.S. News in 2013 and 2014.

Donations made today here will be matched by the Sobrato Foundation.

Malala: ‘I want every girl to be educated’

“I want every girl, every child, to be educated,” said Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan for her advocacy of girls’ education. Recovering from surgery in Britain, the 15-year-old girl has started a charity to support schooling for girls.