How John Paulson lost billions in textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin

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How John Paulson lost billions in textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin
<a href="https://pixabay.com/users/jarmoluk/">jarmoluk</a> / Pixabay

Published on May 18, 2017

About the Subject
The past 30 years have seen dozens of otherwise successful investors try to improve education through the application of market principles. They have funneled billions of dollars into alternative schools, online education and textbook publishing, and they have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts.

In “Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education,” professor and investment banker Jonathan A. Knee dissects what drives investors’ efforts to improve education and why they consistently fail. Knee takes readers inside four spectacular financial failures in education: Rupert Murdoch’s billion-dollar effort to reshape elementary education through technology; the unhappy investors—including hedge fund titan John Paulson—who lost billions in textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin; the abandonment of Knowledge Universe, Michael Milken’s 20-year mission to revolutionize the global education industry; and a look at Chris Whittle, founder of EdisonLearning and a pioneer of large-scale transformational educational ventures, who continues to attract investment despite decades of financial and operational disappointment.

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Knee asks: What makes a good education business? By contrasting rare successes, he finds a dozen broad lessons at the heart of these cautionary case studies.

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Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education

The past thirty years have seen dozens of otherwise successful investors try to improve education through the application of market principles. They have funneled billions of dollars into alternative schools, online education, and textbook publishing, and they have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts.

In Class Clowns, professor and investment banker Jonathan A. Knee dissects what drives investors’ efforts to improve education and why they consistently fail. Knee takes readers inside four spectacular financial failures in education: Rupert Murdoch’s billion-dollar effort to reshape elementary education through technology; the unhappy investors?including hedge fund titan John Paulson?who lost billions in textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin; the abandonment of Knowledge Universe, Michael Milken’s twenty-year mission to revolutionize the global education industry; and a look at Chris Whittle, founder of EdisonLearning and a pioneer of large-scale transformational educational ventures, who continues to attract investment despite decades of financial and operational disappointment.

Although deep belief in the curative powers of the market drove these initiatives, it was the investors’ failure to appreciate market structure that doomed them. Knee asks: What makes a good education business? By contrasting rare successes, he finds a dozen broad lessons at the heart of these cautionary case studies. Class Clowns offers an important guide for public policy makers and guardrails for future investors, as well as an intelligent exposé for activists and teachers frustrated with the repeated underperformance of these attempts to shake up education.

Class Clowns

About the author
Jonathan A. Knee is a professor of professional practice and co-director of the media and technology program at Columbia Business School.

About the Museum
The Museum of American Finance is the nation’s only independent museum dedicated to preserving, exhibiting and teaching about American finance and financial history. Housed in an historic bank building on Wall Street, the Museum’s magnificent grand mezzanine banking hall provides an ideal setting for permanent exhibits on the financial markets, money, banking, entrepreneurship and Alexander Hamilton.

The Museum is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) Smithsonian affiliate creating non-ideological presentations and programs for purposes of education and general public awareness. Financial education is at the core of the Museum’s mission, seeking to promote lifelong learning and inquiry.

As a chronicler of American financial achievement and development, the Museum seeks to play a special role as a guardian of America’s collective financial memory, as well as a presenter and interpreter of current financial issues, thereby connecting the past with the present while serving as a guide for the future.

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