Funding Brooklyn Castle

You may have heard about the documentary called Brooklyn Castle in which a team of public middle school kids from NYC win the national high school chess championship. It's a true story and has been written about in the NY Times and elsewhere.

A few days ago, a friend sent me this blog post saying that funding cuts in the NYC public school system are putting the IS 318 chess team at risk. At the end of the post, the Diane Ravitch writes:

About a month ago, Eva Moskowitz held a fundraiser for her Success Academy charter school chain and raised $7 million
Wouldn’t you think that just one of those hedge fund managers would adopt the chess program at I.S. 318?

Maybe we can take the politics out of this situation. I am not a hedge fund manager but I am a huge fan of Eva and what she is doing with Success Academies. And I am also a fan of IS 318 and what they are doing. There are plenty of ways to support the children in the public school system and one is not at the expense of the other, no matter what Diane thinks.

So I have connected the IS 318 chess team with DonorsChoose and we are going to run a campaign to raise the $20k they need to operate this coming year. And the Gotham Gal and I are going to do some sort of match to get this thing going.

I will be back to you all once we get this all figured out. I hope you are as excited about this as I am.

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    So you are telling them Checkmate with Donors Choose. Game on!

    1. Vineeth Kariappa

      Why do they need the money, as in what do they need it for?

      1. fredwilson

        travel, teacher support, etc

      2. Anne Libby

        Here’s what my neighborhood’s PTA supports:…(They do so through a very well oiled auction and other donation drives, an activity that schools in many NYC neighborhoods can’t possibly support at this level. Sigh.)I’m in.

        1. Richard

          Brings to mind this bumper sticker.

          1. Dave Pinsen

            I’ve always thought that was a stupid bumper sticker, on multiple levels.

          2. kidmercury


          3. LE

            I agree. If I was interviewing I would add that to my list of questions “what do you think of this bumper sticker”?

        2. ShanaC

          Semi-public information is that some districts in NYC are basically private schools due to the amount of parent donations they get. They also tend to have multiple gifted and talented classes, since the kids are prepped.Totally not fair for anyone else of course, but that is life in NYC and also helps warp the housing market here even more!

          1. Anne Libby

            Exactly my point. At a recent presentation about low income NYC high schools (measured by the percentage of kids who qualify for free lunch) we were told that high schools had one college counselor for 400 kids.And if you look at that list of what my local PTA funds for the school (it’s an elementary school), there are a number of headslap items. Extermination, you’ve got to be kidding me.It’s an awesome school, and I’m grateful for the scores of volunteers and local businesses who pave the way for a vermin-free learning environment. But understanding that private donations make this possible in my neck of the woods starts to make the chess team’s dilemma make a bit more sense, in a very messed up sort of way.

  2. Dave W Baldwin

    You are right with the “growing one by shrinking another” in the Thou Shalt Not category.

  3. Richard

    Post a pic of team.

    1. fredwilson

      from the NY Times post

      1. Richard

        Great Photo. This makes giving easy.

        1. John Revay



        Are those chess pieces really BIG or are those kids really small? lol.Just a little humor to make this fun.

  4. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Gotham Queens’ (or was it Brooklyn) Opening Gambit !

  5. Seenator

    Great idea Fred. Saw the movie 1 month ago & was really moved ESP since I played chess in school. Look forward to the update & where we can donate.

    1. Phillip Trotter

      yup -also played at middle school – so this struck a chord with me. look forward to the donate button.

    2. fredwilson

      That’s great to hear

  6. jason wright

    sponsor a chess piece. white knight.i wonder if it’s possible to play park chess with a fleet of drones?

    1. Vineeth Kariappa

      drones as pieces or drones moving the pieces?

      1. jason wright

        my reply got shuffled down the thread by disqusupdate. now it’s been pushed up the’s a game. keeps me sharp.

        1. Vineeth Kariappa

          World peace solution; conflicting armies play drone chess on a neutral ground.

          1. jason wright

            nice idea.

    2. fredwilson

      White knight. Well played

  7. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Fred – How about setting up an AVC vs the youngsters game, where each post is another move and the community squabbles (bid?) over the moves (though it could take years to resolve each step of the way !) .

    1. fredwilson

      Oy. Sounds painful

    2. ShanaC

      actually, I still think a tournament would be a good idea, except without the posts.Another option might be programs versus the students. Intro comp sci students might have fun building chess playing programs, and the chess club might have fun testing them:)

  8. DebraEllenGlickstein

    Awesome! I look forward to participating.

  9. jason wright

    if drones are powerful enough to take the weight of a kid we could dress the team up in chess piece costumes, dangle them underneath the drones, and fly them from position to position on the park grass board (or, they could each fly themselves, whichever they find more engaging).

  10. JohnEaton2012

    This should be a fast 20K, there are many of us out here ready to click on the DonorsChoose account when it launches.

    1. fredwilson

      That is so heartening

    2. Ethan Bauley

      Ditto. Get this thing fired up, Fred, and we’ll take care of it.

  11. aminTorres

    Look forward to the donating page.

  12. PhilipSugar

    The politics on this stuff does really bother me. Any politician that holds a good program hostage if there is any waste in the system should be instantly fired.Since I fly a ton the FAA is a great example. $23B, yup that’s right http://www.informationweek…. on a failed computer system, but if there is a cut who do we cut first the controllers. Politics of the worst form.I would love to see the number of admins that the NYC school system has. Cut just one worthless admin and you can fund this program ten times over.One of my former co-founders decided to run for school board. He won and was beloved by the constituents and hated by every other member of the board and all the administration. He eventually got enough others to run and now they control the board.They said because of cuts they needed to cut arts and music (if you knew this guy you knew he must be pretty disgusted to support the arts)At the same time they bought a tractor that was so big they needed to build a new garage for it, gave a secretary that he said he never saw a raise to $90k a year, and were paying off years of sick days for people that never officially took a sick day.Magically when he cut all of those they had enough money.

    1. JLM

      .Bravo for simple common sense and financial acumen. Well played!JLM.

      1. PhilipSugar

        I am not taking anything away from Fred’s efforts.My point is that when we see stuff like this we should dig in and hold the school administration responsible.When we say we’ll fund it ourselves we are pandering and enabling their behavior.Can you imagine if you were an investor in a company and you saw all of their lavish offices, exec’s traveling to worthless conferences, etc, and they said we need more money or we’re going to have to fire our programming staff?

        1. falicon

          ah…the late 90’s…those were good times 😉

          1. leapy

            I hear you! 🙂

        2. William Mougayar

          “When we say we’ll fund it ourselves we are pandering and enabling their behavior.”That statement is reflective. Someone probably told them “you’ll need to go get that money elsewhere.”

          1. PhilipSugar

            I am saying the administrators not the people trying to get things done.Don’t take my comment the wrong way. I am sitting here with a huge card from the Holy Marconi, what Cacophony project on my desk (btw: I put down I didn’t want a card, but I’m ok)But what I am saying is we should hold the administrators responsible.Talking about big data. A guy at my office sifted through the data and found the administrators budget doubled and was bigger than the teacher salary budget at this school, but the administrators said we need to cut teachers, but not a single administrator….hmmmmmm.

        3. LE

          “all of their lavish offices”Everyone draws the “lavish” line at a different place.I’m reminded of my dad who had a small wholesale import company with crappy offices on 2nd street in Philly. The entire area (at that time) was filled the same junk filled offices. My father used to tell me that the way that the office looked had no bearing who the quality of people that worked there. As if all that mattered was a) pay and b) others that worked there and c) the work.But that was not true. At a certain point I got a job in “center city” and worked in a few fancy schmancy high rise buildings. (Loved the smell of all that “new”) And what I found was that there were plenty of people that did low paying jobs that wanted to dress up and work in fancy offices for less pay than my dad would pay them to work in his office. And college students (like me) that thought it was pretty cool as well.While this isn’t exactly the example that you are trying to make (you are referring to corporate offices with expensive artwork and these workers didn’t care about that or know the difference of course) this point bears mentioning.When a company pays to have a nice work environment it can end up saving them on labor costs.At my old company there were many times that we had job interviews scheduled that people showed up and literally walked out the door. They took one look and said “this isn’t the type of place that I want to work at”. Having a nice environment does have its benefits. Corporate jets and nice offices do have a purpose. “Lavish” is different to different people.

        4. ShanaC

          NYC as an education system has other, bigger problems to it. It has some of the best and some of the worst public schools in the world, and some of the most complicated special education programs in the world. Further, due to the state, they are not fully in control of their own education priorities (the board of regents is, which is why the city is now running ads trying to convince parents to allow for more testing for practice regents for questions to be asked)Oddly, for systems like NYC, i think kicking the state out and making it either totally local and totally federal would probably solve a lot of problems.

    2. LE

      Politics is the art of compromise. You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. This needs to be recognized but more importantly you have to realize that people have different priorities as far as what someone thinks is important.Fred might think a Chess team is an important thing not to cut and someone else might think that the tennis team is more important than the chess team. Or something in the music department. And in many cases people don’t even have complete information as to all the factors in a decision anyway.”gave a secretary that he said he never saw a raise to $90k a year, and were paying off years of sick days for people that never officially took a sick day.”On it’s face of course all of the preceding sounds wasteful but perhaps votes went to allow this as a result of a compromise that was made by administrators or board members in order to achieve a pet goal that they had? Like a parent who says “ok you can watch cartoons just finish your wheaties and eat your eggs”. You can’t just step into the house see the kids watching cartoons and say “wow I’d never let my kids do that!”Thinking that this is all common sense and the right thing will happen won’t get you to the promised land. Perhaps your friend was able to get like minded individuals on the school board and that worked to his advantage but it doesn’t mean that the things that they supported will be what is important to me either (or any other parent). Who died and made his point of view king? (See where I’m going here?)People spend money when times are good and when times get tough (re tax revenue fails) there is not enough money to support all the things that had been put in place. All those takeovers and all the people they cut? Why are those people there in the first place? Because at some point someone thought the company a) needed them for some business purpose b) could pay for them. So when things go bad it looks wasteful and bloated.”$23B, yup that’s right… on a failed computer system”I was going to comment on this but now I’m seeing that that story dates back 15 years ago? January 1998.”Cut just one worthless admin and you can fund this program ten times over.”Not sure there is a school system database with a field which says:”worthless admin?” [] y [] n…that allows them to do that. What I can see though is a story in the ny post of some single mom who was an admin, who’s kid has some disease lost her job and lost her health care juxtaposed against “but the chess team in IS 318 is being funded”!

    3. ShanaC

      Mazel tov. I like this guy already.

      1. PhilipSugar

        You would not like this guy. He probably was the first in line to heckle band members with slurs that would get you suspended when he was in school. He has an un-publishable nickname for me because I went to an Ivy League school. You don’t even want to know what he thinks of Modern Art. But he cares about kids and he hates waste.

        1. ShanaC

          You’d be surprised who I get along with (I’m constantly surprised by this)

    4. John Revay

      Totally agree – & this sucks.It happens in my town too – BOE – threatening to cut programs that directly effect children vs overhead in the central office.Pisses me off!

      1. PhilipSugar

        Can you imagine if you told somebody you weren’t going to increase their budget which is a “cut” in government terms and they said ok I will cut the most important item. Fired on the spot for even uttering the thought

  13. Dale Patterson

    Once you figure it out, I want to help.

  14. Ana Milicevic

    Awesome – this team is truly amazing. Count me in.By the way, the documentary ‘Brooklyn Castle’ is up on Netflix (US link):

  15. Conrad Ross Schulman

    lets goo!! good work Fred…againyour are DA manI am ready to give…let’s get this link asap and promote the shit out of it

  16. Brandon Burns

    I was once the nerd on the chess team. You’ve got my dollars!

    1. JLM

      .The greatest bonding experience of my life was playing chess with my father for years and years and years.I never won a game for decades and then I won and then I never lost for decades.It was really not about chess at all. It was the equivalent of my sitting at his feet and being influenced by his character as he shaped mine. It was just happenstance that there was a chess board between us.Of course, at the time I never knew what was going on there.The most fundamental observation about life is that some folks are playing checkers and some folks are playing chess.One has to know how and when to “castle”, no?JLM.

      1. takingpitches

        BRC must expand this into a full on post:The most fundamental observation about life is that some folks are playing checkers and some folks are playing chess.

        1. JLM

          .Funny I spoke to the BRC just this morning and this is exactly what he said.Cheeky monkey, he is.JLM.

          1. takingpitches


      2. fredwilson

        so much truth in this comment that it hurts

        1. JLM

          .Hey, Happy Father’s Day to you and yours. We both got lucky in the Dad department.JLM.

          1. fredwilson

            thanks. i am looking forward to it. i hope you have a good one too.

  17. markslater

    The big apple is a better place for counting the wilsons as New Yorkers.

  18. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I’m in :)In related news, apparently Alec Baldwin has a thing for chess teams

  19. andyswan

    Is it normal for schools not to have names in NYC?

    1. ShanaC

      some schools do and some schools don’t. I think the public school in my area (not totally sure how districting works) is named after Henry David Thoreau the great american literary and biology hero

    2. LE

      Makes me wonder how much they could raise by selling naming rights to the schools. Or maybe the schools could have “chairs” similar to what is done at the University level. This would be an easy sell.At my daughters high school graduation they had dozens and dozens of “scholarships”. I was surprised to find out that some were for as little as $500 or $250 but you received mention at the graduation as well as thanks from the recipient. And when they mentioned the scholarship they didn’t say the amount. So a local realtor or attorney or cosmetic dentist could give a scholarship and seem like they were the shit all for less than a newspaper ad (this didn’t happen but I can see the potential.) And receive a plaque for their office and use it in their marketing. (Same way people sponsor sports teams).

  20. Michael Angst

    I’ve never completely understood why such bitterness surrounds individual philanthropy in education. Why is it so common for folks to interpret philanthropic support for one initiative as a devaluing or lack of validation of another initiative.Anyway — great idea to start a campaign to support the team. I look forward to supporting the DonorsChoose project once it is up.

  21. Mike

    My kids asked what they could get me for Father’s Day. This works.

    1. fredwilson


  22. D14 Parent

    I think it’s terrific that you’re helping fund IS318! As a district 14 parent, so think you.Thanks said, there simply is no way to take politics out of the equation when it comes to afterschool programs. While the DYCD (Department of Youth and Community Development) has been decimating our afterschool programs, they’ve been increasing their funding stream for start up funds for charter schools.Last year, the DYCD spent $500K on start up funds for charter schools in our district including Success Academies. That’s money that could have gone – not just to IS318’s chess team – but to their afterschool band, dance drama, etc., which, while much less high profile, also got cut.

    1. Toby Bryce

      I am also a Wmsburg resident, public school parent, and fan of IS318. And I agree with D14 Parent that you can’t ignore the politics here.There is pretty universal sentiment in this area against charters in general and Success in particular. Respecting Fred’s opinion, I am curious what it is about Success that makes you a fan?I confess to not being fully informed on the issue — which is why I’m interested in counter case to the prevailing local sentiment — but your (Fred’s) statement that “one is not at the expense of the other” seems to me to be untrue, at least in our area and in a school system with limited financial resources.By way of specific (and topical) example, we just learned this week that next year’s budget for my daughters’ school (PS 132 — which is great) is being cut by $500k, which will force the principal to lay off 8 teachers. (Including, for example, one of my daughters’ teacher last year. Who was great but is on the junior end of the totem pole.)The city’s funding of charter schools in the district is at minimum indirectly causal of the budget cut at PS 132. And most folks around here see it as directly causal. I’m curious as to the other side of the coin, if there is one.

      1. pfreet

        I’m curious, is the amount per student being cut? Is the $500k cut because there are not as many students as in previous years?

        1. Toby Bryce

          No, the school is growing / oversubscribed. Again I don’t have all the details but what I’ve heard is that they’re increasing average class size by ~30%.

      2. fredwilson

        the best charter schools, like Eva’s, have great outcomes for their students. way better than the district schools. they let the people who run them do things that you cannot do in a bureaucratic system like the district schools. the numbers are staggering. you can’t ignore them. you should want more charter schools in your neighborhood. that’s what will help you children the most.

        1. Toby Bryce

          The data on charter vs district schools are by no means unequivocal. Without debating the merits of any individual study I think it’s safe to say that one can find ample fodder for either side of the question, and it’s extremely difficult to sort the numbers and get to the “right” answer. (With a quick search I found “staggering” numbers against charters, and I’m sure you can just as easily find “staggering” numbers for.)At a macro level I do think the injection of competition into the educational system has been generally good and needed. And DOE bureaucracy is certainly a problem.But a lot of advocacy of charter schools (I’m not saying yours) is from people and groups who want to break the teachers unions, which I’m not particular fan of but which is another complex and loaded issue.At my own micro level what will help my children most will be not to cut the budget of their (highly rated and educatively successful) district school.Eva or whoever can build whatever charter schools they want and can get funding for; and I’m ok with cutting budgets of demonstrably “failing” district schools; but charter funding should not come at the expense of successful and thriving district schools. Which is what seems to be happening in Williamsburg.

          1. fredwilson

            I agree completely. I am for both not one or the other

        2. wgburg

          The politics become especially notable in D14, where we have been inundated with charters, in spite of many excellent elementary schools that outperform Success Academies. Because of a steadily declining population (with the exception of the Hassidic community), our public schools are under-enrolled in spite of high performance, blue ribbons, etc.,Adding MORE elementary schools to an under-enrolled district doesn’t help children at all – it depletes resources and increases class size.

    2. fredwilson

      why does it have to be one or the other? why can’t it be both? charters are awesome. they deserve more funding too.

  23. William Mougayar

    In fundraising and helping others, it’s the story that moves the hearts and minds, and the wallets follow.We just had our own thrill last week as we almost lost our dog after he experienced multiple seizures. The doctor gave him 1 hr to live…but he came back after 5 days in the ICU. We brought him home on Tuesday. I pledged to raise funds to help other dog owners who can’t afford an MRI test because they are expensive. I’m in the process of setting up the Fundraising page today and co-ordinating with the Ontario Veterinary College. His campaign is called Pasha Gives Back.

  24. andrewmaguire

    When Diane Ravitch talks about education, it usually makes sense to pay attention. It blows my mind that a program like this is at risk while charter schools continue to proliferate. Chess was a huge part of my own education from “chess club” in elementary school through playing blitz out on Broadway or at Washington Square Park while in college. The game teaches discipline, hard work, problem solving, teamwork, and probably dramatically improves memory and intellectual curiosity. Count me in.

    1. fredwilson

      charters are awesome. we need more of them not less. diane is wrong about that.

  25. ShanaC

    I really wish public school money in NYC was equitably shared. Why are some districts effectively private schools and others terrible. This should not be happening because the kids live in some area of brooklyn and not the West Side

  26. ope_b

    This is wonderful – ready to donate as soon it goes live! Thanks for doing something that works for the kids. As someone who works in education, the politics gets exhausting. It is possible to support school choice and charter schools, while being pro-teachers and leery of test-driven accountability. Still, the prominent voices in edu like Eva and Diane love to force you to choose a side.

    1. fredwilson

      exactly. i wish more people saw things the way you do

  27. pfreet

    Why does a chess team need $50,000? Having a hard time wrapping my head around that.

    1. fredwilson

      i think the number is $20k

      1. pfreet

        Sorry misread that. More reasonable. I know that the after-school programs like this at my child’s school in Atlanta simply charge to participate. $200 times 100 kids and problem solved.

        1. PhilipSugar

          This is where a cranky conservative like me disagrees completely. They are at a school that is below the poverty line. Think their parents have $200??But things like this give a love for education and knowledge. I paid for a van and hotels for my brother who is a Robotics Professor at Arizona State to take kids from the Phoenix Barrio to LA for the GM Robotics contest.Things like this are critical. Much more critical than teaching for a text.

          1. takingpitches

            Good on you for doing that.I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to participate in many activities growing up if there was a fee associated with each of them…

          2. PhilipSugar

            I don’t believe in the everybody wants to succeed or do well. But if you want to really try then I’m great.I don’t mind donating to a program that gives you decent clothes and teaches you what employers expect. But the reason I don’t mind is that if you are a minute late more than once they kick you out.I am not just going to give you money.

          3. fredwilson

            yup. totally agree.

  28. Paul Sanwald

    looking forward to watching the movie, and donating also. I played a lot of chess as a kid and think it really helped me learn how to think about a problem. Also, if the kids don’t learn chess, how are we going to enjoy chess boxing matches for years to come?

  29. Steve Poppe

    Another reason to read AVC. Get smart AND do good.

  30. Scott Barnett

    as a kid, a bunch of us used to play chess after lunch – somehow, it became a “cool” alternative/enhancement to running around in the field. This was in the ’70’s.Kids need to exercise for sure, but what’s really troubling me is the cutting of non-athletic activities that sharpen the mind. Isn’t that the primary goal of education? If Brooklyn Castle doesn’t make chess cool, I can’t imagine what would. This program MUST continue.Let me know when this campaign goes live – I’m in.

  31. Greg Damiani

    This is the way it should be. I’m glad the government is getting out of the after school business and concentrating on what it’s actually good at: spending my tax dollars on weapons, defense research, and stationing young men and women without any other kind of opportunity on our military bases at home and abroad in lands that violent people have sworn blood oaths to protect since Before the Common Era.

  32. pointsnfigures

    interesting the comments on school that this thread created. I think that it’s awesome that Fred is trying to work outside the box to get something done. In a small way, it blazes a path for scalable innovators to think outside the box to get something done. One of my portfolio companies, is doing that with the way they recruit talented kids.My father was an educator, so I get all the politics etc. My friend has built a charter school in Chicago, and was fought every step of the way even though he poured $100M into the community.I did some research on how much teacher’s really make. It was an eye opener. Unfortunately, to do the numbers right, you have to figure out on averages. I took the average teaching salary, then the average number of years they taught. I then took the guaranteed pension they would earn, and amortized it back using a present value table. You’d be amazed at what teachers really make.Administrative costs are skyrocketing faster than teacher pay. I should do the math on that. But, because the numbers are so large, it’s working with big data (firmly plants tongue in cheek)

    1. PhilipSugar

      That is the challenge of pensions. Guaranteed pension of $100k at age 55???More than most people here would think they could ever save in a lifetime.

  33. Bob Labarre

    Fred– that is a great idea. MIT graduates (like Fred and me), have seen the most brilliant people in the world up close. These rare individuals seems so gifted and elite. And so it has always been startling for me to learn about seemingly ordinary African-American kids in NYC (Harlem, Brooklyn) who can become Chess Champions! It makes you realize that it is true that poverty, politics, and racism have long stomped out an enormous amount of great leaders, innovators, thinkers, researchers, Doctors, etc.–

    1. fredwilson

      Bob Labarre in the house! its great to hear from you.

  34. John Revay

    Fred Wilson – Godfather of NY Tech – PandoDaily”I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”

    1. JLM

      .Hahaha, the funniest damn thing I have seen in a long time.WELL PLAYED x 1MM!JLM.

  35. Jack Bracegirdle

    One of my former co-founders decided to run for school board. He won and was beloved by the constituents and hated by every other member of the board and all the administration. He eventually got enough others to run and now they control the board.telecharger spybubble pro gratuit

  36. BillMcNeely

    Fred, Craig Newmark does a lot of fundraising for small programs like all the time. I will reach out to him and let him know what you are doing.

  37. LE

    ” It’s a crazy system that allows both unqualified, unmotivated, and politically motivated people to have control over”I’m curious how many of those board members are either attorneys or realtors?

  38. PhilipSugar

    Your third paragraph is on the money. My buddy said when he asked how did they bid out computerizing the school and how could a computer cost $5k to install, he got huge push back. And what he found was an inside deal.

  39. LE

    “and one wise-ass startup founder/ceo/agitator/urban farmer.”Curious if this guy would handle things any differently if in the future he has to do something like this again with a completely new group of people? Has he learned how to work this group? Or would he continue to be the same person again?

  40. PhilipSugar

    And everybody should be really happy for that wise-ass startup founder. I give both you and my friend Dave great credit. Its one thing to bitch about it like I am, its another to put your time into it. I’m afraid I’d go postal.

  41. William Mougayar

    “wise-ass startup founder/ceo/agitator/urban farmer.” Good one.