Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Private Money to Public Schools

  • Making it Count: A Guide to High-Impact Education Philanthropy by Kelly Amis ,Chester E. Finn, Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, September 1, 2001. Charitable giving in the U.S. is at an all-time high, as is the public's concern with the state of our K-12 education system. This guide provides practical advice for the philanthropist who is fed up with the status quo and eager to support effective education reforms. "Making it Count" reviews the state of U.S. public education, examines different ways that philanthropists are trying to improve it, explains why some strategies work better than others, and profiles a number of education philanthropists.

  • Private Giving to Public Schools: Does it Work? by David Salisbury, July 19, 2002. "This week, three major charitable foundations announced that they would no longer provide grants to Pittsburgh public schools. The Pittsburgh, Heinz, and Grable Foundations have made a responsible decision in the face of the Pittsburgh Public School system's continued failure to improve. In retrospect, failure should be no surprise. Other foundations and individuals that have tried to help public schools with private funds have been similarly frustrated and disappointed."

  • Businesses Not Feeling So Charitable Toward Schools by Del Jones, USA Today, September 17, 2002. "Many businesses and corporate foundations say they have grown so frustrated with the pace of public education reform that they are ready to cut back on contributions to public schools. These businesses saw themselves as the cavalry in the 1990s, riding to the rescue and injecting public schools with business practices of standards and accountability. Now those companies, after giving billions of dollars to public schools over the last decade, are falling back on perhaps the first rule of business: Don't throw good money after bad. ... State Farm Insurance CEO Edward Rust, an outspoken executive on education for years, says more money won't solve the problem. Throwing money at the worst schools only rewards poor performance, he says, and the focus must be shifted from 'inputs to outcomes.'"

  • Seven Studies in Education Philanthropy: The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation asked experts to share their knowledge and ideas on topics related to effective education philanthropy. Here are seven papers that answer some of philanthropists' most important questions in the education reform arena:

  • Can Philanthropy Fix Our Schools? Appraising Walter Annenberg's $500 Million Gift to Public Education by Raymond Domanico, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Carol Innerst, Marci Kanstoroom and Alexander Russo, April 1, 2000. According to this study, Ambassador Annenberg's gift has left only small footprints on the urban school systems it set out to reform. Good intentions and a generous checkbook were not enough to transform troubled urban schools. This report includes case studies of New York (by Raymond Domanico), Chicago (by Alexander Russo) and Philadelphia (by Carol Innerst) and an afterword by Chester E.Finn Jr. and Marci Kanstoroom.

  • From Frontline Leader to Rearguard Action: The Chicago Annenberg Challenge by Alexander Russo. This is a chapter of particular local interest taken from the above report, Can Philanthropy Fix Our Schools?

  • Giving it Away: An Open Letter to Bill Gates by Chester E. Finn, Jr. January 1, 1998.

  • The Evolution of the New American Schools, by Jeffrey Mirel, October 2001. In July 1991, the New American Schools Development Corporation was launched with the help of both government and private funds, and charged with encouraging innovative ideas for a new generation of schools. In this vivid report, Jeffrey Mirel charts how the good intent of the NAS became bogged down in bureaucracy.

  • There are many more articles on philanthropy available from the Fordham Foundation

  • DonorsChoose: a program to send more money to the government
          DonorsChoose is an organization that starts off with a nice-sounding premise -- let teachers post projects for which which they'd like donations. But step back a bit and the premise falls apart. For example, let's look at some requests from Chicago.
        A teacher in a school in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago wants $372 to buy calculators for all of her students in her class that uses the dreaded Everyday Math curriculum. Right away, that's a terrible idea, and we think that the donations would be much better spent on buying some math worksheet books, or Singapore Math books for the kids to make up for what they won't learn with Everyday Math.
          Another teacher, in the Chatham neighborhood, says "Many of the students I teach read far below their grade level" but what she wants is $260 to buy books at a low reading level so she can teach them "reading strategies". Sounds like yet another Illinois school where whole language is crippling kids that desperately need phonics instruction, not "strategies". (See more here.)
          But deeper than all that, we have to wonder why do these government-operated schools need more money? The Chicago Public Schools system already spends $11,333 per child per year (as of 2008), a generous amount. (See here for details.) Clearly, what they need isn't money. What these kids need is for their parents to be empowered to get those kids to schools that see them as the priority, not the bureaucracy.
          What about schools that really need money? Does DonorsChoose help out teachers in struggling private schools that are working hard to teach kids, often with a budget half of that provided to the CPS? The answer is no. DonorsChoose flatly refuses to have anything to do with anything other than government schools. It seems that according to DonorsChoose, parents can't choose, so donors can't choose either.
          (Note: The work of DonorsChoose to encourage donations to the government -- but explicitly not to private schools -- is sponsored in part by grants from Crate & Barrel, Budget Rent-A-Car, and in Illinois by Lehman Brothers.)

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