Almost every paper presented at the American Enterprise Institute’s conference, Is the ‘New’ Education Philanthropy Good for Schools?, made me somewhat more hopeful that the Gates Foundation, at least, will learn and back off from insisting that stakes be attached to standardized tests, and start down more promising policy paths. The exception is Alexander Russo’s Inside Foundations: Eight Lessons for Funders and Grantees on Education Giving.
According to Russo’s astute article, the lessons of this new generation of philanthropy are:
1. Policy and advocacy are great tools—to a point.
2. New approaches complicate measurement/evaluation issues.
3. Newly-created organizations bring focus and fidelity but can lack credibility and engagement.
4. “Strategic” philanthropy is a powerful way to narrow priorities—unless it’s applied too rigidly.
5. Setting clear metrics helps—until you take them too far.
6. Fail fast—but don’t overreact to bad news, either.
7. Don’t forget/underplay “the grind.”
8. Little more coordination, please (but not too much!)
In a rational world, this witty and insightful call for balance would contribute to better policy-making. In contrast to the statements made by other insiders to the other contributors, however, I fear that the several elites interviewed by Russo are concluding that, yes, we lose credibility with each of our risky policy gambles -- but we will make it up on volume.