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It's 10 O'clock. Do You Know Where Your Data Are?

Readers Report

It's 10 O'Clock. Do You Know Where Your Data Are?

Your issue of Feb. 14 contains two contradictory articles, "Privacy: Outrage on the Web" (News: Analysis & Commentary) and "Park your files on the Net" (Business Week Lifestyle). The first contains a welcome discussion of many privacy issues; the second is a virtual instruction manual on how to throw privacy straight out the window. It suggests that one can store sensitive information in strangers' databases, and it completely ignores the privacy issues discussed in the first piece.

I store my data very securely on high-density CD-ROMs that cost almost nothing. I can scatter-store multiple copies in several different directions at once. Only I know where they are, and only I can access them. I do not at all mind "lugging a laptop home from the office." My palmtop tucks away in one pocket, and a portable CD-ROM drive almost loses itself in the other. That is all the storage I need.

If remote data storage were my only option, I would insist that the company allow me to test their system by storing a secret file and hiring, with their full knowledge, a "hacker" to access that file. And, if distant data storers should just happen to, even unwittingly, be used by criminal money launderers, action by law-enforcement agencies could go way off the Richter scale, and all of their customers' data will be searched.

Frank S. Colligan

Bethesda, Md.Return to top

In a Growing Market, Margin Debt Is Relative

"The risk that boom will turn to bust" (Cover Story, Feb. 14), reports that margin debt is soaring and may have an impact on the length of the expansion. I don't argue with your overall point, but the data should be presented differently, as some kind of ratio rather than just raw margin dollars.

One ratio might be margin debt as a percentage of total trading dollar volume. Another might be margin shares as a percentage of total trading share volume. As trading volume, trading dollars, and the number of people and institutions active in the market increase, the level of margin debt is bound to rise to some predictable level. Only levels beyond the predictable should be cause for concern.

Bob Moore

Darien, Conn.Return to top

Should Johnny's School Be on the Big Board?

The for-profit management companies on which you focused in "For-Profit Schools" (Cover Story, Feb. 7) are part of a much broader market that is emerging for school reform. The handful of public schools being run by these for-profits is dwarfed by the thousands of schools already transforming themselves through comprehensive school reform--a combination of the best educational research, business principles of sound management, and hands-on assistance to educators. More than 2,400 schools in all 50 states have contracted with one of the eight whole-school designs in the New American Schools portfolio alone, and other providers, such as Accelerated Schools and Core Knowledge, have national networks of their own.

Most of these comprehensive designs are offered by nonprofit organizations, and the growth rate for their services is almost as great as that of the emerging for-profits. Most important, many of these models have been around long enough to prove their potential.

The bottom line of better student performance is what matters, and our organization is taking specific steps to support quality in the school reform market. Our investment fund offers proven providers--whether for-profit or nonprofit--low-cost capital and unparalleled market expertise to keep them competitive. We are working with an independent blue-ribbon panel of education and business leaders to arm consumers--teachers, principals, school boards, superintendents, and parents--with a set of quality standards for judging school-reform products and services.

Donald M. Feuerstein


New American Schools

Arlington, Va.

For-profit schools are inevitable. Public schools are subject solely to the discipline of politics. In these politically complex times, this has produced bloated administrative staffs focused on the politics of teaching and has created a climate of politically correct teaching that is restricted to delivery of diluted and sometimes ersatz knowledge.

Only the discipline of the market can restore efficiency and effectiveness to education. For administrators, teachers, and parents, the transition will be wrenching. For students, it may be the equivalent of being released from the dungeon.

Glenn A. Bassett

Bridgeport, Conn.

It's too early to say whether private companies can do a better job of educating America's kids. However, the benefits to low-income children living in urban areas appear promising. Not only are for-profit schools offering frustrated parents a viable alternative, they are also providing free research and development to public schools. And what's wrong with being motivated to turn a quarterly profit? That public education would be compromised, as the education Establishment argues, is nonsense: Companies have always made money from public schools, selling everything from textbooks to school lunches.

The debate on whether private companies should be in public education in the first place is premature: They have not been around long enough for anyone to credibly argue against them. It is because for-profit schools are still in their infancy that skeptics and pundits should withhold judgment for now. After all, this is a potential win-win situation, both for the public system, which will have the motivation to improve from the competition, and for the education companies, which will hopefully turn a profit after surmounting the initial losses. Of course, the real winners will be the children.

Dale Chu

Harlingen, Tex.Return to top

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