With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy is Reshaping K-12 Education

Frederick M. Hess, editor
Harvard Education Press
2005

Papers presented at Rick Hess's K-12 education philanthropy conference last spring are now out, and the volume should be on every education grantmaker's shelf. (See earlier Gadfly conference coverage here.) It's not, however, very happy reading. Despite the attention that philanthropy's education funders receive?especially high-profile behemoths Gates and Broad?their financial contributions are, in Jay Greene's words, "buckets into the sea." Trying to move education policy and practice with funds that are a pittance compared with those of the government is mostly a recipe for disappointment. Indeed, the contributors to this volume seem to be aware of the sorry history of education giving. Today's education philanthropists operate in the shadow of the Annenberg Challenge?Walter Annenberg's 1993 $500 million gift to improve schools?which had too little lasting effect (see here). Today's foundations, seeking to do better, practice a brand of "venture philanthropy" that is more hands-on and seeks to replicate the practices of modern business. Here's wishing them well, but it's hard to find evidence in this volume that their efforts will lead to better results than past philanthropic endeavors. Still, as Richard Lee Colvin points out in his overview chapter, getting the nation to focus on problems and ideas once ignored is a worthwhile thing to do and a contribution that philanthropy can make. The topics of high school reform and urban (mis)management are now on the policy agenda thanks in no small part to Messrs. Gates and Broad; turning their instincts into action and results is now the work of elected policymakers. An overview of the book, table of contents, and ordering information are here.

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