Good Intentions: Making High-Profile Education Donations More Effective – Introduction

The following several posts are, basically, a paper I wrote this fall. It was graded very highly (I got 50/50!), but more importantly I hope you find it interesting. Will post in several parts. Today is just the introduction.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg went on The Oprah Winfrey Show to tell the world he was going to save Newark, and he largely failed. More recently, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced, through the Washington Post (which he owns), his own attempt to save vulnerable children and families, but his donation might stand a better chance at success than Zuckerberg’s did, for reasons I will discuss. Plenty of other high-net-worth individuals have donated to public education, either individually or through foundations of their own creation, but I want to focus my concluding argument on Zuckerberg, Bezos and other individual investors because I believe this trend will not only continue but accelerate. Why would a billionaire take the time to give piecemeal to various causes when they could publicly declare their philanthropy and, if successful, be seen as an unimpeachable savior to thousands of children and families?

I will discuss what did and didn’t work in Newark, with a case study drawn from Dale Russakoff’s “The Prize” and other sources within. I will look ahead to what Bezos has promised, I will discuss the work of education foundations, particularly those of Bill Gates and Eli Broad, to examine what has and hasn’t led to positive outcomes for vulnerable students. Ultimately, I will return to the individual investors and offer an argument for what organizations and localities can do to ensure that their donations lift the fortunes of their children and families. These individual donations are going to continue, and if the money is going to come, the recipients might as well make sure it goes to the right place. I intend to offer a road map for how true and sustainable success can be achieved. In other words, if a billionaire wants to save the day, you are unlikely to stop them from doing what they want, so why not make it so they have a better chance to make the changes a community really needs?

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