Philanthropy: The Myth Of The All-Powerful Billionaires
#privatemoneypublicschools I came away from this weekend's foundation-funded Columbia Journalism School workshop on the role of private philanthropies in public education eager for more transparency and accountability from funders but even more focused on getting the same from school districts, government agencies with education oversight, and the US Department of Education. Sure I'd love to see the internal evaluations foundations do on their programs (and would love for more humility and better policy choices from education philanthropies in general) but I don't really believe that that there's more transparency and accountability and opportunity for public input (aka democracy) in school districts and government agencies than among funders and the nonprofits who receive grants from them. Nor do I really believe that the richest people in America have free rein to impose any extreme or cockamamie idea they feel like on American schoolchildren. They choose from among ideas that education experts (including academics and practitioners) present to them, from the political mainstream, and have to maintain credibility with districts and elected officials in order to maintain access to public systems -- even as distressed and desperate as many are.
Most of all, I don't believe that there is something inherently sinister, or malicious, or even all that new about philanthropic involvement in public education -- or all that much better about public, for-profit, or nonprofit involvement. The fat cats are easy targets, convenient scapegoats, excellent distractions -- almost as much fun as the for-profit education companies and the public employee unions -- but they're not all-powerful or even disproportionately corrupt compared to the general population, far as I know. (Just a little more arrogantly annoying than the rest of us.) Just because someone is a businessperson or wealthy or set up a foundation doesn't mean he or she is (a) Republican or (b) an evil capitalist. (Just because someone is a teacher doesn't mean he or she is a saint, or necessarily good at his or her job.)
In the end, the vast majority of American schools will likely elude any direct effects of the current foundation funded reforms, since most reform efforts are focused on the worst performing schools and systems and the public system is so large. This current wave will likely have no really transformative effects on public education, for better or worse, as past waves have done. So let's demand more transparency and accountability from everybody but let's not run off on some wild goose chase, give in to paranoia, or focus our skepticism on only one player on the education scene. There are some really broken schools and school systems out there, and millions of kids getting really poor educations. There's blame -- and opportunity -- enough for everyone to play a role.
Potentially useful tidbits of information: Joann Barkan is putting out another article in Dissent next week on teachers and unions. (In her presentation Barkan kept saying she wasn't suggesting a conspiracy theory but after a couple of repetitions that seemed, well, disingenous.) Meanwhile: IRE has an RSS feed for education stories from around the country. ProPublica's Jen Lafluer provided all sorts of ideas and resources (PPT here). Stanford poiltical scientist Rob Reich gave a provocative presentation (@robreich) and is on a panel tonight with Wendy Kopp and others in NYC. I hear there's a New Yorker article on Newark in the works. One of New America Foundation's prestigious fellowships is going to go to an education writer.