Pay for Success. An Obama program that Trumpers can love.


We are not quite home yet. We are spending a day in Brooklyn before heading home tomorrow.

I keep getting warnings from Chicago friends and family to stay away. It seems my Sweet Home is experiencing another Arctic Blast. It was shocking enough to deboard the AeroMexico fight from Cancun at JFK – still in my shorts and t-shirt – and run for a taxi in sub-freezing temperatures.

Anne and I have spent the last week with our daughters, daughter-in-law and their friends for a destination 40th birthday party on Isla Mujeres. The island is a short 20 minute ferry ride from the mainland.

Among the many pleasures of winter in the Carribbean is the knowledge that it pisses off the trolls and corporate-minded education reformers and pension thieves who think retired teachers should be happy to live on cat food and Gatorade.

But on a beach in the Carribbean? They must have been apoplectic.

I thought of the trolls  (when I thought of them at all)  while watching the Frigate birds flying overhead.


A Frigate bird.

Visitors to Isla Mujeres have ample opportunity to see these magnificent looking creatures. They appear almost prehistoric. They seem to float in space like a kite in the warm winter wind and then soar looking for food.

We took a day trip to the Mexican national refuge on the island of Isla Contoy. The park is home to 5,000 Frigate birds.


Frigate birds on Isla Contoy. Photo: Leigh Klonsky

While appearing beautiful, they are actually thieves. They hate getting more than their toes in the water. Unlike the pelicans we watched dive for fish, Frigate birds are referred to as kleptoparasites because they rob other seabirds of their food and will snatch baby chicks from their nests.

They are a metaphor for corporate education reformers if there ever was one.

Take for example Pay for Success.

I have written about this program before. The program came from the minds of Democratic Party school reformers as a gift to Wall Street. It is a program that Repugs and Trumpers can love.

It works like this. A Wall Street firm like Goldman Sachs loans money through the purchase of bonds to a school system like CPS. With the money they get from Goldman Sachs students in early childhood programs who might normally qualify for special education programs are identified. For every identified special education student that is cured –  and pushed out of support programs, Goldman Sachs earns a return on their investment.

As a profit-based program Pay for Success runs counter to what special education programs were intended be. Success should not be measured by how many students no longer receive support services. Rather success is measured by how many students have their individual educational needs met with appropriate support, no matter how long it is needed.

When the teacher union-supported reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, foolishly named Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed Congress, it included Pay for Success as a model program.

Politico’s education report notes:

Some advocates are hopeful that one early childhood education initiative backed by the Obama administration will survive (and maybe even thrive) under the Trump administration: the Pay for Success model.

The model allows private or philanthropic funders to provide up-front capital for early learning or other social programs and the government only repays the funder if rigorous evaluations show the program achieved results.

The Obama administration has used a small $2.8 million grant competition to encourage such public-private partnerships across the country.

Megan Carolan, director of policy research at the Institute for Child Success, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that such efforts will continue under the Trump administration. Pay for Success models have received bipartisan support in Congress, she said, and they align with “a lot of very traditional Republican ideas.”

You can see why, when I saw Frigate birds, I was reminded of these reformers.

One Reply to “Pay for Success. An Obama program that Trumpers can love.”

  1. I’m convinced that SIBs will be used to build the reformers’ new paradigm of education-“learning ecosystems.” The MacArthur Foundation is behind digital learning and community-based badging programs. They are headquartered in Chicago. You all are a pilot “City of LRNG” as is Philadelphia where I live. To understand how SIBs fit into the puzzle, please watch this 4-minute video. The community-based programs (I believe) will be financed via SIBs, which allows venture capitalists to profit from our children and will require immense amounts of data collection to justify the payouts when programs are deemed “successful.”

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