Billionaires and Their Education Efforts
May 2nd, 2011

A new report on the efforts by philanthropists to improve urban schools has good news and bad news for New York City. Iwatch News, part of the Center for Public Integrity, did a computer analysis of 10 school district, including New York’s, that together raked in almost one quarter of the $4.4 billion four very rich donors — Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Dell and the Walton family — have poured into public school in the last 10 years. The biggest chunk — half a billion dollars — went to New York.

Overall, the researchers found successes and failures — and much in between. “The results, though mixed, provide dispiriting proof that the billionaires have not found a one-size-fits-all solution to education reform and that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education,” writes Rita Beamish.

And the study found that some of the districts s, actually saw some indicators, such as graduation rates, got worse during the period studied, 2002 to 2007. In New York, though, the study concluded that graduation rates “while still trailing state averages significantly, improved markedly — up 18 points, compared to the state’s 10 point rise. ”

But the report reminds us, “Last year New York state declared only a quarter of the city’s graduates college-ready, sending officials back to the drawing board.” This helped spur Gates to abandon his $2 billion effort to create new small high schools, an effort the city credited with some of the rise in graduation rates.

The report also contends that the changes pursued by former schools Chancellor Joel Klein “bred resentment among some parents and educators. But quoting Klein and James Kemple of the Research Alliance for New York City schools, it concludes results have been positive — though perhaps overstated.

As far as we could tell, while iwatch looked at test scores in its calculations, the report does not address the controversy over standardized tests which anyone involved in New York City education over the past decade would see as key. Did the report consider the rapid rise in test scores recorded through 2009. And how did it factor in the recalibration of the test scores, instituted after the state concluded that the rising results might have been due more to dumber tests than smart kids.

Finally — and we know no study can consider everything — the article also has little discussion of the achievement gap between races, an odd omission given than reducing that gap is an oft-cited goal of so-called school reformers and the philanthropists who fund their efforts.

By on May 2, 2011, 6:17 pm
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