Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Beware of Billionaires Bearing Gifts: A Review of "The Givers" - Living in Dialogue

Beware of Billionaires Bearing Gifts: A Review of "The Givers" - Living in Dialogue:



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By John Thompson.
I began David Callahan’s The Givers with a commitment to avoid three types of confirmation bias. As Callahan observes, plenty of teachers (like me) detest corporate school reform, but if he turned out to be supportive of accountability-driven, competition-driven policies, I shouldn’t let that prejudice my reading of his book. As it turned out, Callahan’s analysis of edu-philanthropy is objective and outstanding – and he repeatedly returns to school reformers’ strategies when illustrating the dangers of today’s philanthropy. (A second post will focus on my second bias and how it was clobbered by Callahan’s book.)
The Givers often used education philanthropists as examples of “the rising confidence of the donor class.” The best example of the new, rushed approach to reform is the Gates Foundation that didn’t conduct research on its technocratic theories until after it “dangled millions of dollars before school districts to enact certain policies.” Bill Gates and many other entrepreneurs forgot that:
Making a bundle in software or short trading doesn’t mean you’ll know the first thing about, say, K-12 education, and it’s easy for misguided philanthropists to do a lot of damage. … Overconfidence is a dangerous thing when combined with great wealth and little in the way of accountability.
Similarly, philanthropists such as Eli Broad who made their money in a more old-fashioned economy share the young elites’ hubris. Broad says that since he doesn’t worry about getting fired, his foundation exists to “take big risks.” Younger and older venture philanthropists believe that “disruptive” innovation and competition can unleash “transformational change.” As Warren Buffett says, they can provide “society’s risk capital,” and thus become “society’s passing gear.”
In the inner city where I taught, we need more disruption like we need another gang war.
In terms of the outcomes produced by outcome-driven education donors, Callahan concludes, “It’s hard to think of many social entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded in bringing about changes on a truly large scale.” For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to transform Newark schools shows “what happens when things accelerate too quickly, without enough careful thought.” In Newark, philanthropists were in passing gear but lacking community buy-in, they “end(ed) up in a ditch.”
Moreover, the scaling up of charter schools to use competition as a driver of change has created turmoil without producing much improvement. Callahan notes, “The only thing that’s really clear is that, compared to the systematic revolution that charter funders were hoping for, the results have been disappointing.”
Callahan further explains that charters “don’t necessarily exert pressures on traditional schools to improve” and they can hurt neighborhood schools by leaving behind the more challenging students in high-poverty schools, while draining away their funding.
On one hand, Callahan observes that some “charter funders absorbed hard-earned lessons.” Now, Priscilla Chan says that she and her husband Zuckerberg learned from Newark, and “we are deeply connected to Beware of Billionaires Bearing Gifts: A Review of "The Givers" - Living in Dialogue:
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