Hand over the money

At AFT’s NCLBlog, Michele is upset that philanthropists don’t just hand over the money to educators to spend as they see fit. They try to direct their giving to ideas and programs they think will be effective.

The philanthropists who take an interest in public education don’t give school districts the funds and say, “You are the experts–do what you know will work.” As per usual, anyone who went to school, including philanthropists, thinks they know best how to “fix” schools–so it’s their way or the highway. Small schools anyone?

It’s interesting, and sad really, to note that this approach stands in marked contrast to how philanthropists approach the field of public health. They don’t pretend to know how to stop the spread of tuberculosis–and they don’t tie the purse strings to their “vision” for public health.

As EdPol observes, philanthropists do direct their health giving. They don’t just give the money to the National Institutes of Health. However, philanthropists have a lot more faith in the ability of medical professionals to determine what works than they have faith in educators.

Rick Hess looks at education philanthropy in With the Best of Intentions. It’s clear that donors are afraid their money will be wasted: The massive Annenberg grants showed how to put more into the old system and get the old results. Many of the new education philanthropists are trying to leverage change by funding choice, charters and social entrepreneurs.

Update: If you like snark — and who doesn’t? — read Eduwonk on teacher-voice squelching.

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Comments

  1. 1)Medical researchers are scientists who have established–over the last century–a strong track record in curing and mitigating diseases. It is ludicrous to compare them with “educators,” a significant number of whom are driven primarily by fad-following.

    2)Clemenceau said, famously, the “war is too important to be left to the generals.” This was particularly true of WWI generals, whose performance was in some ways analogous to that of today’s education establishment…not least in the endless demands for “more resources,” with little effective thought as to how those resources might be best employed.

    3)The new breed of philanthropists–successful venture capitalists, for example–is tending to be much more involved in their causes, rather than simply sending money. If you don’t like it, don’t take the money.

  2. JuliaK says:

    Philanthropists are usually retired entrepreneurs, or the children of entrepreneurs. They made their money by discovering a good or service which they could deliver 1) more cheaply, 2) more attractively, or 3) more quickly than the competition. They may even have invented a new good or service which the marketplace needs. Most of them will have taken full advantage of new technologies to increase their profits and decrease their costs. They have seen yesterday’s “experts” outpaced by innovation. The business section of any daily newspaper is filled with stories of businessmen getting more work from their employees, or making their capital go further.

    I can’t think of a group of people less likely to look at an existing school district and say, “Oh, everything’s fine. You only need more money.” If you wish to defend the status quo, these are very scary people.

    In addition, the yearly budget of any small to mid-sized school district probably rivals the amount of money an average sized philanthropist has to disperse. The philanthropists are looking to find a way to leverage the money they have to give into better results for the schoolchildren.

  3. Millions for vouchers, not a penny for bond measures.

  4. Gayl K says:

    I beg to differ that people who donate money for medical research let the experts handle it. I worked for three years at IU Medical School and funding of medical research was purely based on politics. My boss would write many grants, often the same thing, but with a different emphasis. One year heart disease would be where the money was being given, the next year would be AIDS. The following year the fad was Parkinson’s due to celebrites raising awareness for that particular disease. It was also very difficult to do research with a long term emphasis because money was based often on fads and alot of money is needed. My boss alone had a small lab and her budget was nearly $300,000. Indiana University alone raised billions for research and how research got funded was very political. I have friends who work at NIH (who worked at IU with me) and they tell me that NIH is even more political and fadish. I went on to later work directly in politics and it was LESS political than working in medical research.

  5. Except that your boss had to produce something for the money other then excuses. Getting a paper published in a prestigeous journals for instance.

    But that’s not the case in public education. The idea of measuring outcomes is considered quite controversial and has been bitterly resisted. How’s a philanthropist supposed to determine whether their money is being spent wisely then?

    The answer is, just like the rest of the public, they’re supposed to take it on faith. Well, the faith’s rubbing a little thin.

  6. Gayl K says:

    True, my former boss would lose funding for sure if she did not produce reputable papers. That was not the particular point I was arguing. I was arguing against the idea that philanthropists don’t try to tell medical/public health researchers how to do their jobs. Money givers do act like they know what is better for science than scientists and since they have the money, their visions win out over scientists. However, even with an esteemed reputation, my former boss has never had the ability of being able to determine the course that her own research should take based on her views of science. Scientists don’t choose the course of future research, outside political groups and money does. My former boss still has no choice but to follow the money or otherwise she can not afford to do any research. Research used to be relatively alot less expensive. I remember many of the older scientists complaining that if scientists (free of political pressure) could determine how to spend the money, there would be alot more general basic scientific research and alot less topical fadish research. Just my personal two cents.

  7. Gayl K says:

    I had better clarify that I don’t think that educators should expect people to hand them money and then be able to choose what to do with it. I was trying to illustrate the point that even the best current medical researchers have outside folks and philanthropists that get to tell them how what to research in the first place. These educators are entirely in a world of delusion because even scientists don’t get to decide how to spend money nowdays. I remember talking to the older scientists who would talk about the good ole days when they pretty well got to research what they wanted to and the public trusted them as long as they produced results. I remember my former boss published a paper on how her findings helped the understanding of hypertension. It was praised even. However, when it came time to renew her grant money, hypertension research that year was going down in terms of funding available. She did not get renewed for hypertension research. So, my former boss eventually had to find new funding and went in a new direction of how cellular death plays a role in disease control. So even if a scientist produces results, there is no guarantee that funding will be available. Yet educators expect to be treated better than medical researchers? Based on what?

  8. ragnarok says:

    Gayl K wrote:

    “Yet educators expect to be treated better than medical researchers? Based on what?”

    Reversion to the mean, I suspect, using the cross product of ability (as measured by GRE/SAT scores) and expected treatment. 🙂

  9. Wayne Martin says:

    > I remember talking to the older scientists who
    > would talk about the good ole days when they
    > pretty well got to research what they wanted to
    > and the public trusted them as long as they
    > produced results.

    Legislatures have an obligation to the tax payers to manage the public assets intelligently. If there are diseases (such as Cancer or HIV/AIDs) that might be understood and cured because of “research”, it stands to reason that money invested in public health issues should be targeted by the source of the funds. Keeping in mind that a lot of public money is spent taking care of people through various government programs, seeing cures for these diseases ought to be a primary goal for public health care spending. It is only good money management to apply public funds to areas that have a high likely hood to reduce public spending over time.

    If private people have their own “hot buttons” that they want “research” to dig into, what’s the problem? Sooner or later someone who’s interested in that field of endeavor will be matched up with this money.

    A gift is a gift. If you are uncomfortable taking the gift, you have the right to decline.

  10. GaylK wrote:

    Money givers do act like they know what is better for science than scientists and since they have the money, their visions win out over scientists.

    Nope. Money givers act like it’s their money and that if you want that money you’ll accept the strings that they attach. The reason your boss gets the money is that she’s established enough of a reputation for doing what she says she’ll do that the money givers have enough confidence to write the check. That doesn’t mean there are no strings but as her reputation improves so does her bargaining position.

    I remember many of the older scientists complaining that if scientists (free of political pressure) could determine how to spend the money, there would be alot more general basic scientific research and alot less topical fadish research.

    Ignore them. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also seems to, quite often, result in the donning of rose-colored glasses. The Good Old Days™ weren’t all that good and in many ways, sucked. And as far as getting a pile of money without any oversight, good luck. That happens in the middle-to-latter stages of a speculative binge, re the Internet bubble. Hope clouds judgement and never more so then when the smell of vast wealth is a’blowin’ in the wind.

    The other place where you can get a pile of money without any oversight, at least with regard to demonstrating results, is government in general and the public education system in particular. Which brings us back to Michele over at NCLBlog and what she’s actually upset about. And that is that the philanthropists now have some choice about where to put their dollars.

    It’s the opening up of choices that’s the real threat because it’s the lack of choice that underpins and defines monopoly. Increase the scope and variety of choices and the power of the monopoly goes away. That’s what’s got Michele’s knickers in a twist.

  11. I think Gayl K did a better job of saying it than I did. Here is another shot: Witness the scramble for Gates money to set up small schools or “schools-within-schools.” Maybe I am cynical, but I find it hard to believe that all of these districts think that creating small schools is THE best high school reform. In fact, as most educators know, you can have a lousy small school–a lot more needs to happen than just changing the structure. Money talks, and I think district officials are always looking around for how to bring more outside resources into a school.

  12. ragnarok says:

    Michele,

    I think you’re missing the point.

    Why should philanthropists trust you? You (plural) have a long and consistent record of failure. They probably believe that they can direct their money better than you.

    Don’t like it? Just say no.

  13. Michele,

    I think there’s a strong case for smaller schools..from research I’ve seen, there’s less anomynity and fewer behavior problems. Which makes sense since it’s far easier to establish a sense of community in a smaller organization, or in a subdivided one. Anomie, in the Durkheimean sense, thrives in large, bureaucratically-managed organizations.

    Interestingly, I’ve also read a book by a manufacturing expert in which he argues that no factory should ever have more than 300 people, unless there are very strong technical or economic reasons why this is necessary.

    Some high schools are bigger than some auto assembly plants. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    >got to research what they wanted to
    > and the public trusted them as long as they
    > produced results.

    That’s nice, but we’re talking about public education.

  15. Michele at AFT wrote:

    Maybe I am cynical, but I find it hard to believe that all of these districts think that creating small schools is THE best high school reform.

    Lose the cynicism then, it’s just an affectation anyway, but appreciate the motivating force of a big check. It’s real enough to get all those school district to praise the virtues of small schools which tells you that it’s the prospect of the check that motivates the school districts and not the prospect of improving education. After all, there’s nothing all that novel or startling about small schools and if there were some significant educational advantage to small schools that shouldn’t have been that difficult a fact too uncover and act on by building small schools.

    All the school districts vying for those Gates foundation checks could have implemented small schools a long time ago if they had had any motivation to do so. From that observation it’s not too much of a stretch to infer that educational quality wasn’t a sufficient motivation to counter the trend to bigger schools. Either there isn’t any educational advantage in small schools and the districts are just after the cash or there is an educational advantage in small schools but that wasn’t enough of a reason for districts to build them before the prospect of the Gates foundation checks.

    On the other hand, you can be damned sure that Bill Gates is after improvements in education and that he’s seized on small school as a means to that end. Otherwise, why bother with the grants? There’s certainly nothing in it for Gates other then improvements to education so it’s safe to assume his motivations are pure.

    By the way, we agree on one point; a school can easily be small and lousy. The small school movement isn’t exactly rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, it’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in the hope that the correct arrangement will prevent the ship from sinking.

    photoncourier.blogspot.com wrote:

    Some high schools are bigger than some auto assembly plants. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

    Since there’s zero data to suggest that bigger is better, educationally, in high schools it’s reasonable to wonder what the motivation is for building very large high schools.

  16. Michele at AFT says:

    Allen,

    Being cycncial is not an affectation–at least not in my case.

    Michele at AFT

  17. Well then you’re probably unique.

    Every other example of cynicism I’ve come across inevitably devolved to nothing more then convenient, inexpensive evidence of intellectual superiority or at least insightfulness.

    But that draws us away from the central point which is that you’re unhappiness with the fact that Bill Gates can dictate the purposes to which his money will be put rather then deferring to an expert in the field.

    Would it be safe to say then that your position is that for a societal function as important as education the opinions of experts should be paramount?

  18. Andy Freeman says:

    > Since there’s zero data to suggest that bigger is better, educationally, in high schools it’s reasonable to wonder what the motivation is for building very large high schools.

    There’s more money sloshing around and not significantly more people watching it. Plus, empire building.

    The “good” reason is that a large high school is should have critical masses in more areas. Okay, so this isn’t always good.

  19. Indigo Warrior says:

    allen:
    Since there’s zero data to suggest that bigger is better, educationally, in high schools it’s reasonable to wonder what the motivation is for building very large high schools.

    It’s cheaper.

    Also, mega-schools make good jock farms, and for too many public educators and parents, that is the number one educational criterion.

  20. Indigo Warrior wrote:

    It’s cheaper.

    Not cheaper but cheaper by some per-unit measure like cheaper per student or cheaper per square foot. But I don’t believe that’s the case although it’s large districts that lay claim to lower costs and never deliver on the promise. I just don’t see the economies of scale, which don’t operate at the district level, operating at the school level.

    I like the “empire-building” explanation. Makes sense and is observable in all sorts of situations so it’s no stretch as an explanation in this case.

    And jeez Indigo, you’ve got to get that bug up your butt about jocks under control. They may not necessarily be rocket scientists but they’re not uniformly the troglodytes you make them out to be. Get a grip son.

  21. Indigo Warrior says:

    Allen:

    The “jock farm” is a real factor in large schools, especially suburban and rural. And unfortunately, jocks are troglodytes in many cases, or rather the jock culture is a troglodyte one. I’m not being a bigot here, nor are the thousands of innocent children who were their victimss.

    I have a certain respect for you, which is why I am saying this. I have been bullied unmercifully myself at government schools by jocks, as have many of my friends, one of which resulted in suicide. My cousin was a science teacher for many years then quit to become an engineer, and he says that teachers (at least at his school) have their own hierarchy of “jocks” over “nerds”, full of bullying and domination, and they pass it on to students. I believe him.

    If you’re looking for non-anecdotal statistics here, I can’t produce any. There has been very little research done on bullying, and almost none on the jock culture.

    I have nothing against young people who love sports and physical activity, as long as they don’t force it on others, or treat others as dirt. And not all sports have the same Jock culture. Football and basketball do. Gymnastics, golf, figure skating, even track and field do not.

    How come then jock so often equals bully? Answer that question. And how come their victims are usually the smart people that schools are supposed to nurture?

    I think that if anything, what needs to be kept under control is jocks and the jock culture. Any serious anti-bullying program must do that, challenge any artificial elite that is above the law. Japan, and many other Eurasian countries, have no real jock culture in schools, and that doesn’t hurt them any. This is not to say that America need adopt the Japanese or German or Swiss system wholesale – they too have their own problems.

    The Columbine tragedy could have been prevented if the jocks (among others) were kept under control.

    I think that separating sports from public schools is a step in the right direction. In schools, sports are a cult-like waste of resources that too often create a vicious elite. Good for “school spirit” maybe, but not education. Corporate sponsors could always pay for youth sports, and supply the buildings and equipment. And there could be private or charter schools based on athletics, even specific sports.