This CATO Institute report comes to a frank and disheartening conclusion: “Philanthropy has not proven itself to be a reliable systematic mechanism” for identifying and promoting the best educational models—at least when it comes to charter schools. We learn how little correlation there is between grant funding and charter-network performance. Looking specifically at California, analyst Andrew Coulson shows that most of the roughly $250 million that have flowed from philanthropists to Golden State charter networks over the past eight years have not been directed toward the most academically successful schools, whether gauged by California state test data or AP results. The top three charter networks (according to CA state test scores), rank twenty-first, twenty-seventh, and thirty-ninth in grant funding (out of sixty-eight networks analyzed), for example. Coulson’s paper offers an interesting analysis, and one that should spur discussions on the most effective ways to target education philanthropy. Should donors, for example, concentrate monies on proven charter schools or those with potential? Note, though, that this analysis is not without fault. The report doesn’t break down spending by pupil (only reporting aggregate grant-giving), nor does it account for student growth over time or for how long the charter networks have been operational. In the end, Coulson asks an important question: Why is it so hard to scale up successful educational models? But his own answer has a lot to do with his underlying ideology. Instead of relying on philanthropists to save education, he argues, we must seriously work to push education provision to the “free enterprise system.” Why, though, must it be one or the other?
|Click to listen to commentary on this CATO paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Andrew Coulson, “The Other Lottery: Are Philanthropists Backing the Best Charter Schools?,” (Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, June 2011)