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How Is a Hedge Fund Like a School?


Nelson was concerned about quality, but she wound up pleased. One of the tutors turned out to be a retired teacher who had previously worked for Nelson who answered an ad in the New York Times. “You have all of these people with years of experience,” Nelson says, “and we were able to get them at a price that we would not be able to get them for through the Department of Education.” When some tutors didn’t work out, Nelson could simply fire them and hire others. “We were no longer this New York City school,” she says. “We had the ability to do things that other people could only dream about.” Still, the first-year tutoring was limited, and although the school’s fourth-graders took an astonishing leap on their state math tests—from 63 to 81 percent performing at grade level or above—the state literacy-test results were sticky, staying level at 48 percent.

In year two, with Greenblatt’s encouragement, Nelson added to the tutor ranks by enlisting ten of the school’s full-time teachers to help students for 45 minutes every morning before the start of school. Much of this tutoring would take place in the cafeteria, before kids came in to get their subsidized breakfast. Those teachers would get $25 an hour, four days a week—they could earn an extra $4,000 over a 40-week school year. For ten teachers, Greenblatt was spending another $40,000, but without some of the year-one start-up costs, he was within his $500,000 annual budget. Once this tutoring was up and running, as many as 200 of the school’s 540 kids could be flagged for extra help at any time.

The tutoring became so plentiful that it was used preventively. Even a child who was reading at the right level but was having a tiny problem understanding, say, what an inference is, would qualify for extra help. “The twenty minutes of tutoring they get is scheduled minute by minute based on what level they’re at and what they’re doing in class,” Greenblatt says. By the end of year two, Greenblatt’s goal of tutoring on demand had been reached. The percentage of passing fourth-grade readers vaulted from 48 percent to 71 percent.

Greenblatt wanted to go further. How would he really know if what he was doing at P.S. 65Q was working if the kids who had been at the school for two weeks were lumped together in the same data with the kids who had been there two years? How could he achieve success for all if he couldn’t identify which kids weren’t succeeding? He decided to give P.S. 65Q the same sort of sophisticated data-management capability he used in his business. He compares the setup he has now to his Value Investors Club, the online community he runs. “We know the background of every member,” he says. “We have a little grid on the site for each member. We know every rating they ever made and how well their investment write-ups did. I didn’t think it was that hard to have something like that for each child.”

The new tutoring coordinator had already been outfitted with a spreadsheet program to track every student. Greenblatt had a software designer from Gotham Capital find ways of breaking down not just the state standardized-test data, but all the assessment information that Success for All coughed up. Acting on the eight-week testing data and information from the classroom teachers, Nelson and her staff could target the tutoring with remarkable efficiency. “We have listed under every child what their reading level is, how long they’ve been in the building, whether they are mainstream or special ed, whether they are English-language learners or whether they came from an English-speaking household,” says Nelson. “We could take information and say, ‘Our ESL children have made good progress, but they started behind in April.’ ” They also could examine the growth of a particular group. “Let’s say teacher A has this group, and we see at the end of the eight-week cycle that half of those kids didn’t go up what we expected them to. Then we need to look at what the teacher’s doing.”

With the new data, Greenblatt was also able to come up with a benchmark for overall success that made sense. “I said, ‘Listen, if a child has been in this school for three years and they’re not at grade level, that’s our fault,’ ” he says. “It doesn’t matter how they came in or what their family situation is. If they’ve been here three years, we should be as close to 100 percent as possible with those kids. That’s our goal, and that’s a fair way to be judged.”


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