The Other Lottery: Are Philanthropists Backing the Best Charter Schools?

This CATO Institute report comes to a frank and
disheartening conclusion: “Philanthropy has not proven itself to be a
systematic mechanism” for identifying and promoting the best educational
models—at least when it comes to charter schools. We learn how little
correlation there is between grant funding and charter-network
performance. Looking
specifically at California, analyst Andrew Coulson shows that most of
roughly $250 million that have flowed from philanthropists to Golden
charter networks over the past eight years have not been directed toward
most academically successful schools, whether gauged by California state
data or AP results. The top three charter networks (according to CA
state test
scores), rank twenty-first, twenty-seventh, and thirty-ninth in grant
(out of sixty-eight networks analyzed), for example. Coulson’s paper
offers an
interesting analysis, and one that should spur discussions on the most
effective ways to target education philanthropy. Should donors, for
concentrate monies on proven charter schools or those with potential?
Note, though, that this analysis is not without fault. The report
doesn’t break down
spending by pupil (only reporting aggregate grant-giving), nor does it
for student growth over time or for how long the charter networks have
operational. In the end, Coulson asks an important question: Why is it
so hard
to scale up successful educational models? But his own answer has a lot
to do
with his underlying ideology. Instead of
relying on philanthropists to save education, he argues, we must
seriously work
to push education provision to the “free enterprise system.” Why,
though, must
it be one or the other?

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Andrew Coulson, “The Other Lottery: Are
Philanthropists Backing the Best Charter Schools?
(Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, June 2011)