Donations outpace education investments 2 to 1

By: Tonya Mead, CFE, PI, MBA, MA Educational Psychology

Venture capitalists invest $2 billion in US education annually with the expectation of realizing significant financial gains [1], At the same time, private foundations led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation donate $4 billion to public schools and universities [2]. These “Captains of American industry have long used their wealth to remake public education, with lasting and not always beneficial results,” says Mr. Hastings when interviewed by the NY Times [paragraph 9].

How are results measured? It depends upon the funding vehicle. There are two ways.

  1. assess the effectiveness of the donation, or
  2. evaluate the return on the investment.

One reason why donations outpace investments in education at a 2:1 ratio is that mega donors may exercise an over-sized influence in determining the criteria by which effectiveness is based.  In investments, on the other hand, shareholders may  care about one concrete criteria, earnings per share.

For instance, one researcher as cited by Barkan observed that “academics, activists, and the policy community live in a world where philanthropists are royalty…” As such, “researchers themselves compete fiercely for the right to evaluate high profile reform initiatives. Almost without exception, the evaluators are hired by funders or grantees… most evaluators are selected at least in part because they are perceived as being sympathetic to the reform in question” [2].

So the next time you read about the effectiveness of an initiative widely touted by a private foundation or group of private funding sources, take a cursory look at the source of the independent evaluation used to measure effectiveness. It may not be as independent as has traditionally  been the custom (see my book, page 89).


  1. Koba, “Education tech funding soars-but is it working in the classroom?” Forbes, 28 April, 2015. Available:
  2. 2. J. Barkan, “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools,” Dissent Magazine, Winter 2011. Available:

Tonya J. Mead, CFE, PI, MBA, MA, Certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC

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