The Malcolm Endicott Peabody, Jr. Awards

Do award shows count if there are no sturdy bouncers, no velvet ropes, no red carpets, no paparazzi and no stars and starlets in poll-tested relationships?

What about if all of the awards go to just one person: Malcolm Endicott Peabody, Jr. of the Harvard class of 1950?

If not, they should.

He ran the table taking all four awards, each more coveted than the last, and all were named in his honor.

At age 85-ish (assuming he was neither a prodigy nor a dunce and graduated at about the right time), Mike Peabody has just stepped down as the Founding Board Chairman of the Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS). In 16 years, he has led an effort to create one of the largest charter school movements in the United States. It now educates 43% of the school children in the nation’s capital, though 15,000 more remain on waiting lists.

As the grandson of the founder and first Rector of Groton School, he comes to the subject of education logically, though one of America’s most prestigious prep schools is a far cry from those he has helped to launch.

Each of the awards was named after him using all of his Brahmin names including the suffix. The Key Award, presented by C. Boyden Gray, White House Counsel to George H. W. Bush, recognized his “key” catalyzing role in both the school choice and the charter school efforts, both in Washington, DC and throughout the country. The Bulldog Award was given for “never giving up or taking no for an answer” and recognized him as “a tenacious pit bull with tunnel vision.” The Apple Award recognized that “a small group of committed people could indeed change the world.” Finally, the Bike Helmet Award recognized his “endurance and his ability to push people further than they thought they could go.” It might also have recognized his propensity to leave his bike helmet on during meetings in which he was appropriately “be-suited” and “be-tied.”

Following the awards, we heard from the honoree himself. In many cases, this would have been the moment of highest tension. Would some poor old fellow dodder up to the stage with handlers right and left? Would he stumble through circuitous recollections?


He found his clicker and walked us through a series of slides on the state of Washington charter schools today. All of them are in poor neighborhoods because the DC public school system is doing pretty well in the better-off parts of town so, according to Peabody; charter schools are not needed there. He is pleased to see that the charter schools are outperforming the public school system in the neighborhoods where they are most needed.

He walked us through the future challenges: equal funding; access to unused school buildings; autonomy; and closing the income gap. He called for more competition from the DC public school system, especially as it is no longer possible for an entrenched school board or the teachers unions to stop reform.

He described the impact of the breakdown in family structures during the 1960s and 1970s when many in the middle class moved out of the city. He recalled the period before World War II when Washington’s public schools were magnets that attracted people to move in from the suburbs.

This was not the sort of presentation you would expect from a person who refers to electronic communication and information gathering as the “interweb.”

Following his remarks, he left the stage to go dancing, another Peabody passion.

So, why you may ask is Malcolm Endicott Peabody, Jr. leaving the charter school movement in Washington, DC at age 85?

The win for school choice and the charter school movement is at hand. Neither entrenched school boards nor teachers unions can stop it. He has found another group of equally determined opponents against which to do battle.

Malcolm Endicott Peabody, Jr., grandson of the founder of Groton School and father of charter schools in Washington, DC is leaving to take on campaign finance reform.

Those who might prefer the comfort of the status quo in political fund-raising would do well to consult with public school and city government officials who have seen “Hurricane Mike” in action.


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