What role does philanthropy play in fixing schools?

Question: What role does philanthropy play in fixing schools?

Joel Klein: I think private philanthropy, which has really increased dramatically in the last decade, in public education can be enormously valuable.

Let me give you some sense of the dimensions. My budget annually is 20 billion dollars operating. So private philanthropy is only gonna be a small part, no matter how much it expands. On the other hand, private philanthropy is typically the R&D money, the innovation money, the venture money that can enable you to do new and different things.

So one of the things I believe, from day one, is in the absence of great school leadership, particularly in our most challenged schools, that it wouldn’t work. That no matter what you do, if you don’t have a principal who’s aligned and who was the fortitude and the coverage and the intellectual stamina to do transformative work, to do instruction work, it won’t happen.

So we raised 70 million dollars, the business community, several key foundations, to create this leadership training program and it’s getting real results.

By the same token the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation invested heavily with us in a restructuring they believed and they were correct that high schools which had a lot of struggling students, and were generally getting a graduation rate of 30 or 32%, really need to be restructured, much smaller, much more personalized, with a different dynamic, a different sense of student/teacher relationship and so forth. And we’ve basically done over 200 of those in New York City and those schools are getting very different results.

Under Mayor Bloomberg in the almost 6 years we’ve been at this, we’ve raised to our city about 400 million dollars of private philanthropy and as I say, almost always it’s been venture money. When we needed to restructure our human resource department, several foundations, Brode, Tiger Foundation, with Julian Robertson and others were there for us. And throughout our efforts our basic R&D venture money has come from private philanthropy.

It’s very hard to take money out of your year to year school budgets to siphon it off. Our accountability initiative was heavily funded by the Dell Foundation, so we’ve been very fortunate in that regard.

And when I speak to my colleagues throughout the country, they too are now looking for ways to engage philanthropy to help them do some of the things that are not your day to day costs of your arts program or your physical education or your math or your English. And philanthropy’s not gonna play on those things, they are gonna play on the transformative things that need to be done.

Recorded on: March 30, 2008

 

Private philanthropy can be enormously valuable.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.