Identifying Rod Paige’s legacy as President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Education is not difficult. It is the No Child Left Behind Act, which affected every state and public school across the country. The law, approved with a wide bipartisan majority, laid out a structure of accountability and directed states to define annual goals of academic progress for their schools which must be met. Paige plans to continue the work the law began as he assumes new roles, the most recent being his election to the board of trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation based in Dayton, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
“I want to continue to be engaged in the improvement of education, especially continuing to close the achievement gap between ethnic groups—the single most important task in education today,” Paige tells Philanthropy. “We need to explore any strategy that could come close to achieving that goal. The people at Fordham are a group whose work I have read and enjoyed over the last few years, and I consider them true education reformers.”
Paige is formerly a school board member, a superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, the 2001 National Superintendent of the Year, and a two-time speaker at Roundtable meetings. He is currently a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., where he’s writing a book on that much-discussed gap in academic achievement between white students and minorities. The book will also discuss African-American leadership. Paige, the first black Secretary of Education, had much to say about both issues during his four years in the Bush cabinet.
Paige’s connection with Fordham is a natural, in that both are vociferous supporters of charter schools, as well as of public school choice and private school tuition voucher programs. Those views explain why, on those issues, both Paige and Fordham often share similar opponents, none more prominent than teachers’ unions.
“He’s one of America’s foremost educators and toughest fighters for better schools for everybody’s children, especially those least well served by many of today’s public schools,” says fellow Fordham board member and Annie E. Casey senior associate for education Bruno Manno. “His wisdom and practical experience on every level of education—including his outstanding service as Education Secretary—will assist the Foundation to push even harder for high standards and new choices of schools for America’s children.”
Also newly connecting with Fordham is Michael J. Petrilli, formerly Paige’s Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Education Department. Petrilli will serve as Fordham’s vice president for national programs and policy, a new position. Petrilli’s work at Education was focused in the department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, where he oversaw education reform–related discretionary grants and coordinated evaluation activities.
This is a return trip for Petrilli, who worked for Fordham from 1997-99 as program director and led the foundation’s Dayton, Ohio education reform efforts.
“Fordham’s approach to school reform—through engaging the war of ideas, making strategic investments in promising innovations, and building networks of like-minded reformers—is a good fit with my skills and experience,” Petrilli tells Philanthropy.
“What Fordham does better than any other organization is to make the case that accountability and [school] choice are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Without accountability and the data it generates, parents can’t possibly make informed educational decisions. Without choice and the empowerment it provides, accountability does little but deliver bad news to families. Fordham bridges the gap between these two powerful strands of school reform.”
Koret Foundation’s new executive director, Jeffery A. Farber, brings significant financial expertise to his job. The 55-year-old former executive vice president at Bank of America spent 25 years with the bank working in everything from brokerage services to real estate.
His skills and experience will be put to good use at Koret. With assets over $315 million, it is one of the largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts in the U.S. Since its founding in 1979, the Koret Foundation has awarded more than $280 million in grants in a range of areas, including, education reform, community and cultural development, and policy analysis (See “Koret Foundation,” Philanthropy, March-April 2004). The foundation’s primary funding efforts are directed at the San Francisco Bay Area, but Koret also funds a number of initiatives in Israel that are focused on economic development and higher education.
Despite his experiences, Farber says he’s “almost ashamed” to admit that philanthropy wasn’t something he took to naturally. He only got involved when, as a rising corporate star he was asked to oversee some of Bank of America’s charitable interests. While working at Bank of America’s Seattle office, he was assigned to a chamber music ensemble. Though he had next to no knowledge about the musical world, he quickly realized how useful his business skills were in organizing and executing philanthropic enterprises.
This experience convinced him to become involved with issues closer to his own heart—Jewish causes. Farber says that Koret “lured him out of his retirement.” However, at the end of his banking career, the Koret Foundation seems to be a natural progression for Farber.
Farber has long been active with the foundation as a member of the board of directors of American Friends of Koret Israel Economic Development Funds, which supports through fundraising and advocacy KIEDF’s efforts in Israel to expand economic opportunity and create a true free-market economy. His familiarity with Koret’s workings and his shared values and vision has him very optimistic about the foundation’s potential.
Asked about possible pitfalls that lie ahead, he says, “I think the challenge is leveraging every possible dollar for the greatest impact.” For now, Farber has a simple plan to achieve maximum impact: networking. Farber says he has made it a top priority to try and reach out to other organizations to work on common goals and initiatives, such as developing Jewish Community Day Centers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Koret’s growing resources will help Farber achieve his goals. The Foundation’s grantmaking program has grown from $6 million in outlays in 1986 to $21 million last year.
Still, it’s Farber’s unique set of skills that are integral to Koret’s future, according to Foundation president Tad Taube. “Jeff brings that rare combination of business acumen and community leadership to the Koret Foundation.”