Archives for category: Philanthropy

Christina Samuels of Education Week reports that philanthropists continue to pour a large percentage of their donations into education, but are losing interest in K-12 due to the poor record of their efforts to “reform” the schools. 

ironically, this is good news because the philanthropic money was used to impose “reforms” that disrupted schools, ranked students based on their test scores, and demoralized teachers.

Schools that serve the neediest children definitely need more money but not the kind that is tied to test scores, stigmatizing students and teachers, or the kind that funds charter schools to drain resources from public schools, leaving them with less money to educate the neediest children.

Samuels reports that a growing number of grant makers to early childhood education are looking to help children before they start school, and giving money to issues such as “education and mental health, education and criminal justice, education and the arts.”

In 2010, I visited Denver and met with about 60 of the city’s civic leaders. I was supposed to debate State Senator Michael Johnston, the TFA wunderkind in the legislature, who arrived the minute I finished speaking, never hearing my critique of test-based “reform.” Johnston proceeded to sing the praises of his legislation to introduce exactly what I denounced and proclaimed that judging teachers, principals, and schools by test scores would produce “great teachers, great principals, and great schools.” The philanthropists bought these promises hook, line, and sinker.

They were false promises and a total failure. Now, as this article shows, philanthropists in Denver realize they made a huge mistake. Good intentions, wrong solutions.

Samuels interviewed Celine Coggins, the executive director of Grantmakers in Education, who said,

What we saw in our recent study was that members were more thinking about the whole learner and moving away from just thinking about the academic standards,” she said. Working outside the boundaries of the K-12 system is seen as a way to have more impact, as well as more freedom from governmental controls.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation, created to improve public education in Colorado, is an example of a charitable organization that is moving away from trying to influence education at the K-12 level, said Tony Lewis. Once known as the executive director of the Denver-based foundation, Davis said he eliminated staff titles about a year ago, to create a more egalitarian structure in the organization.

“Over the past five or six years, we’ve gotten frustrated with the lack of progress in improvement in the K-12 system,” Lewis said. “We’ve tried hard, and our partners have tried hard and everyone is still trying hard. The results have been disappointing at best. That’s a Colorado story and it’s a national story.”

Lewis said the organization has pulled back from areas such as school performance frameworks, district accountability, and “turnaround schools” because the gains have been minimal. The organization is also less involved in supporting new charter schools and in early-childhood education than it was several years ago.

Instead, Donnell-Kay is now taking a closer look at the out-of-school space, including afterschool and summertime. That’s where children spend most of their time, he said.

“We keep layering more and more work on schools, reading, math, STEM, nutrition, mental health,” Lewis said. “I don’t think loading more onto the school day is actually the answer any more.”

But, he continued, “What if you really intentionally maximize the time in the out-of-school space? You can make a huge difference in both academics and in life skills.”

Next question: Will Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and the other billionaire funders of disruptive reforms get the message?

I just opened my email and discovered this brilliant post by Audrey Watters, whose critical voice on EdTech is indispensable.

Watters lists the 100 biggest EdTech debacles of the past decade, and seeing them all in one place is astonishing.

What strikes me is the combination of unadulterated arrogance (i.e., chutzpah), coupled with repeated failures.

What is also impressive are the number of entries that were hailed by the media or by assorted journalists, then slipped quietly down the drain, without impairing the reputation of the huckster who took the money and ran.

Again and again, we encounter EdTech start-ups and innovations that are greeted with wild acclaim and hype, but whose collapse is ignored as the parade moves on to the next overpromised miracle technology.

Whatever happened to the promise that half of all courses in school would be taught online by this year (false) or that most colleges and universities would die because of the rise of the MOOC (false)? Why do virtual charter schools make money even though they have horrible outcomes for students (lies, lies, lies)?

This post is stuffed with flash-in-the-pan technological disruptions that planned to “revolutionize” education, from K-12 through higher education but then tanked.

Please read it. Share it with your friends and colleagues.

Lessons: Learn humility. Believe in the power of human beings, not machines designed to replace them. Don’t let them sell you stuff designed to control the brains, emotions, and social development of students. Be wary. Be skeptical. Protect your privacy and the privacy of children.

Protect your intellectual freedom.

Read Audrey Watters.





Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.


Readers of this blog are well aware of my views. When I have a chance to share them with others who are not readers, I grab that opportunity.

I was recently interviewed by Julia Travers of “Philanthropy Women.”

This is the interview.

Investor Robert F. Smith was invited to give the commencement address at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college in Atlanta. Smith is the wealthiest black man in America, with a fortune estimated at $4-5 billion.

Smith began his speech by talking about his good fortune, having been bused to an integrated public school in Denver. 

Smith described being bused to a high-performing, predominantly white school across town in Denver, where he grew up. He said he’ll never forget climbing onto bus No. 13 to Carson Elementary.

“Those five years drastically changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “The teachers at Carson were extraordinary. They embraced me and challenged me to think critically and start to move toward my full potential. I, in turn, came to realize at a young age that the white kids and the black kids, the Jewish kids and the one Asian kid were all pretty much the same.”

After talking about how he achieved success, he dropped his prepared remarks and announced that he was paying all the student debt of the class of 2019, some 400 young men. The students were stunned, then broke into cheers and tears, along with their families.

This was a beautiful act of genuine philanthropy. Mr. Smith is not controlling anyone’s life, he is giving without strings or conditions. I know many readers will react by saying that higher education should be tuition-free, and I agree. But it is not. So for now, I say, thank you for this generous and kind act, Mr. Robert F. Smith.

Since the Washington Post is behind a paywall, here are other sites on which to read this heart-warming story, including a video clip.

See here, here, here.

Something tells me Robert F. Smith will have many invitations to give commencement addresses in years to come.



The billionaires understand the growing rage caused by inequality on an unprecedented scale. They worry that the rage might be directed at them. This far, it has been captured by rightwing populists like Trump, whose tax policies deepen the crisis of inequality by transferring more wealth to the one tenth of the one percent.

Jacobin explains that multibillionaires like Bill Gates are trying to buy time through their philanthropy and “the giving pledge,” which commits them to give away a big chunk of their billions when they die. Unfortunately, or fortunately for them, their capital is so vast that they make more money than they give away, without working. At a certain point, capital multiplies just by sitting in stocks and bonds.

Anand Girihadaras hit a nerve in his book Winners Take All, where he described the elite Charade of pretending to save the world through philanthropy, while building mechanisms to control the lives of others.

Charter schools are a perfect example of elite philanthropy that offers a way to “save poor children” while destroying democratically controlled institutions and transferring control to private boards directed by financiers. The parents of the children being “saved” will never have a voice in the education of their children, will never meet face to face with a board member, will never gain admission to a board meeting, and-if they complain too much-will be told to take their child and go elsewhere.


Mercedes Schneider writes here about a peculiar development that is percolating among “reformer” groups: Bring back racial segregation!

While civil rights groups are concerned about the alarming increase in racial segregation in recent years, about the retreat of federal courts from enforcing desegregation decrees, and about the role of “school choice” in promoting segregation, a few leading figures in the “Reform” movement have decided to embrace segregation.

At a recent convening of Global Silicon Valley (GSV) at Arizona State University (ASU), “Reformers” offered a panel discussion titled: “No Struggle, No Progress: An Argument for a Return to Black Schools.”

The panel was moderated by school choice advocate Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform; its leadoff speaker was Howard Fuller, who has received millions of dollars from rightwing foundations to promote school choice among African Americans.

Schneider writes: The panel description reads like, “Since racial separation and hate crimes abound, let’s just go with it.”

School choice has predictably led to every kind of segregation–by race, religion, ethnicity, and social class, not only in the U.S., but in other nations that have adopted school choice.

Fuller’s organization, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, was the recipient of grants from the pro-voucher, rightwing Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation. BAEO was a good gig while it lasted–its revenues ranged from $2 million to $8.5 million a year. Fuller and BAEO carried the gospel of school choice to black communities, especially in the South. BAEO closed its doors at the end of 2017; the rich white philanthropists must have decided to shift their resources elsewhere.

In 2011, Schneider points out, Fuller won an award established in John Walton’s name to honor “champions of school choice,” presented at the national convention of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children.

Rucker Johnson of Berkeley has written about the substantial and lasting advantages conferred by attending integrated schools. His latest book, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works, co-authored by journalist Alexander Nazaryan, explains why school integration was a great success, and why we must not abandon it.

I would pay to watch a debate between Howard Fuller, the well-funded advocate of a return to segregation, and Rucker Johnson, whose research demonstrates the value of school integration.

Fuller has become the black voice of separatism and segregation, a line that seems to resonate with wealthy white conservatives and philanthropists like Betsy DeVos, the Bradley Foundation, and the Waltons.

Powerful rightwing foundations like Bradley and Walton generously funded Fuller’s advocacy.

Did he use them or did they use him?


Caitlin Reilly of “Inside Philanthropy” writes that philanthropies no longer see charter schools as the means to transform American education. Although a few have doggedly doubled down on their commitment to charters, there seems to be a broad shift underway. Reilly calls it an “inflection point,” a point where change is undeniable.

She writes:

“Though charter schools have acquired a powerful ally on the national level in the form of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, local backlash and scaling challenges have led to questions about the future of the publicly funded, privately run schools.

“Philanthropic enthusiasm for the charter movement is at a similar inflection point. For now, support for charters seems to be holding. However, the schools have had trouble reaching scale and have yet to catalyze the system-wide transformation many backers hoped for.

“Some of the field’s champions take that as a sign of the work left to do. Those foundations are doubling down on their support for the schools.

“Other funders, including former stalwart backers of charters, see the failure of this model to scale and spread as a reason to pause and consider their future investments. Those foundations tend to see charter schools as an important part of the education landscape, but not as a means to transform the system.

“Meanwhile, major new donors arriving on the education scene from the business world haven’t gravitated to charters in the same way that many such philanthropists did a decade ago. While these schools remain a growing sector within K-12, drawing political support and philanthropic dollars, the momentum around charters among funders has palpably slowed in recent years.”

The bottom line is that charters have become politically toxic, and its hard to paint them as “progressive” when Betsy DeVos is their most potent champion and striking teachers demand a moratorium on them. What’s “progressive” about schools that are highly segregated, overwhelmingly non-union, and have a record of excluding the neediest children?

It’s no accident that the foundation most deeply invested in creating new charters is the archconservative, anti-union Walton Family Foundation, which claims credit for opening 2,000 charters, more than one of every four in the nation. Why is this family, whose net worth exceeds $150 billion, devoted to charters? Charters kill unions. That works for Walmart.

We learn here that Eli Broad seems to losing his once-passionate commitment to charters. Eli  Broad!

“There does seem to be a faction of the charter movement that is stepping back to consider what comes next, and are open to charters playing a smaller role in future efforts.

“One of those people is Andy Stern, a board member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and board chair of the Broad Center.

Stern started out as an unlikely ally of the charter movement. He is the president emeritus of the Service Employees International Union, which grew by 1.2 million workers under his leadership. Given the antagonism many felt charter schools held toward unions, some were surprised by Stern’s decision to get involved with Eli Broad, an early and ardent supporter of the charter movement.

“Stern didn’t see charter schools as antithetical to his work on behalf of workers and unions, though.

“I got involved in charters because of the members’ of my union’s kids,” he said. “To me, giving janitors’ kids a chance to get the best education possible was everything they wanted from coming to this country. In Los Angeles, where we started, that was not their experience.”

“Now, Stern’s enthusiasm for the schools is waning, and it sounds like Broad’s may be, as well.

“So I would say Eli [Broad], absent any of the recent strikes and activities, has been rethinking what he wants to do in education, as he has been thinking about what he wants to do in the arts and science, as well,” Stern said. “As he thinks about his age and what he wants to see happen in a transition, I’d say there is a natural rethinking and reprioritizing going on.”

Reilly did not speak to any critics of charter schools, other than Randi Weingarten, whose union operates a charter school in New York City. She did not speak to Carol Burris or me or Jeff Bryant or Peter Greene or Anthony Cody or Leonie Haimson or Julian Vasquez Heilig or Mercedes Schneider or Tom Ultican or any of the many others who have warned about the rise of charters and the danger they present to public education.

Nor did she examine the many scandals that have brought down the repute of charters, like UNO in Chicago or ECOT in Ohio.

The good news is that many philanthropists are disenchanted with school choice.



On this site, we have often complained about the philanthropists who impose their bad ideas on schools, which this far have consistently failed.

This article in The New Yorker reviews the new world of philanthropy, where the rich pay as little as possible in taxes and use their foundations to reorder the world as they think it should be. When they give, they end up in control, undermining democratic institutions and as rich as ever.

I strongly recommend a book titled “The Spirit Level,” which demonstrates that the most equal societies are the happiest societies.

On this subject, I recommend a book discussed in this article, Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.


Bill and Melinda Gates ignore critics of their philanthropic efforts to change society as they wish. They even host weekly meetings with other billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg and Charles Koch, to share ideas about redesigning the world.

In an article in Forbes, Gates defended his record and blamed me for the failure of the Common Core standards, which happened because I used the phrase “billionaire boys club” in my 2010 book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Resting and Choice Are Undermining Education.” Actually, the book scarcely mentioned Common Core, Which was not yet complete when the book went to press but it specifically criticized the hubris of Gates, Walton, and Broad for foisting their half-baked ideas on American public education, even though they are unelected and unaccountable.. I pointed out that they threw their weight around merely because they are billionaires, and I referred to them as the Billionaires Boys Club.

Yes, they do undermine democracy. The truth hurts.

It is gratifying to know that my pen is able to get his attention. I regret that he has refused to meet with me over the past decade. I have some good ideas for him. But he doesn’t listen.