In the early 2000s, a group of prominent philanthropists looked at America’s public schools and saw a dire situation. “The narrative was that school districts are broken, the public schools are broken. We’re losing a generation of children. We need to really act now,” says author Megan Tompkins-Stange.

Tompkin-Stange’s new book provides a critical account of how philanthropy responded to the perceived crisis in public education. Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform and the Politics of Influence profiles the efforts of four foundations at the forefront of the charter school movement. Among those profiled are the Gates and Broad Foundations, which are bankrolled by men who made their fortunes in business.

Tompkins-Stange, who teaches public policy at the University of Michigan, says the business mindset of Gates, Broad and other donors led them to “experiment” with entrepreneurial approaches to improve America’s schools. “Let’s bring all the capital and expertise we have to bear. And with the right people and the right initiatives, we should be able to fix this problem,” she says of their approach.

But Tompkins-Stange uncovers myriad problems with their top-down approach, which was often deployed in poor school districts filled with students of color. “A word that I’ve heard used is colonization,” she tells us. “Good intentions but [philanthropy] comes into a community that has less political power, that is poorer, that is of color, and can do some real damage if they don’t listen,” she tell us.

Additional Resources

Megan Tompkins-Stange on Twitter

Washington Post: NAACP Members Call for Ban on Privately Managed Charter Schools

Inside Philanthropy: The “Big Bet” of a Funder That Hasn’t Forgotten Traditional Public Schools

Harvard Magazine: Post-Regulatory School Reform: With many students still at risk, choice and competition remain the country’s best hope.

Mother Jones: Here’s Why Some Black Leaders Are Fighting the NAACP Over Charter Schools

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Following Newark’s $200 Million Charitable Windfall

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