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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Billionaires, here’s how to fund education

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to fund “whole-child personalized learning,” reports Benjamin Herold in Ed Week.

The billionaire couple’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative hope to use software to help teachers “better recognize and respond” to each student’s “academic needs” and “social, emotional, and physical development,” writes Herold.

Summit Public Schools’ personalized-learning model calls for students to spend most of their time on project-based learning.

“We’ve got to dispel this notion that personalized learning is just about technology,” James H. Shelton, the initiative’s president of education told Ed Week. “In fact, it is about understanding students, giving them agency, and letting them do work that is engaging and exciting.” Shelton is a former deputy U.S. Education secretary.

I wrote about the spread of Summit’s personalized-learning model, which is supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, for Education Next.

Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr., a former assistant U.S. Education secretary, has advice for Zuckerberg and Chan on how best to use their wealth to improve K-12 education.

Don’t try to change school districts, Finn writes. They’re too big and complex. As for “the colleges of education that train our K–12 teachers and principals,” they are “about as immune to fundamental change as mountains and glaciers.”

Advancing major-league reforms to district-run schools is “trying to move a mountain,” writes Finn. “You won’t have enough leverage, and even if you shift it a little, it’ll settle back down as soon as you stop pushing.”

Especially considering how puny philanthropy is next to government, its greatest asset isn’t money—it’s independence, the singular ability to do things that government cannot or will not do. . . . Will Chan Zuckerberg be a pilot fish—a brain trust, prod, and fount of matching dollars—for government? Or will it function as an autonomous actor that does very different things? These would include tackling challenges of policy and practice that engage the government but that no politician is brave enough to touch. Here’s an example: America’s forty-year-old approach to educating disabled students needs a thorough makeover, but nobody in government will go near the topic. . . . One sound reason for you to consider doing so is that the “individual education plans” (IEPs) mandated under special education are, arguably, a clumsy early version of the “personalized learning” that you—and I—believe should become ubiquitous.

How do you think the CZI should spend its hundreds of millions of dollars?

Larry Cuban’s reform lessons include “don’t swallow the hype,” “kick the tires” and “it’s the implementation, stupid.” He also suggests checking the rearview mirror: Many “new” policies have been tried before, yet advocates rarely examine “why policies did or did not work out as intended” the last time.

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