Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey W. Snyder explain the new educational philanthropy–and how it intersects with federal priorities–in this valuable article.

They spot three significant trends:

“Our analysis proceeds in three parts. First, we examine phil- anthropic grant-making for political activities and demonstrate that funding for national policy advocacy grew from 2000 to 2010. Second, we analyze the shifting policy orientation among top education philanthropies. We find that most major education foundations increasingly support jurisdictional challengers— organizations that compete with or offer alternatives to public sector institutions. Meanwhile, funding for traditional public education institutions has declined. Third, we examine the range of actors and perspectives supported by philanthropic grants, applying social network analysis to identify overlapping patterns of grant-making. We find that top donors are increasingly supporting a shared set of organizations—predominantly jurisdictional challengers. We argue that the combination of these trends has played a role in strengthening the voice and influence of philanthropists in education policy.”

What are jurisdictional challengers? These are organizations that challenge the traditional governance of education, such as charter schools. More philanthropic money goes to these challengers, less money goes to traditional public schools, and more money goes to networks of jurisdictional challengers, like the NewSchools Venture Fund and Stand for Children.

This is a fine scholarly work that confirms what many of us saw with our own eyes. The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.

Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong?