Who’s Really In Charge? A Look at the Rising Influence of “Boardroom Progressives”

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, January 19, 2016

These days, schools are facing demands from an increasing number of governing bodies. In addition to the usual policies and laws imposed on schools by local, state, and federal government, Boardroom Progressives are playing an increasing role in influencing how students are educated. Dr. Sarah Reckhow has coined the term “Boardroom Progressives” to describe private actors such as national foundations, education nonprofits, and charter school founders who are leading education reform efforts, especially in large, urban districts.

Who Are the Leading Boardroom Progressives?

 In their article titled “The Expanding Role of Philanthropy in Education Politics,” Drs. Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey W. Snyder examine the most influential education foundations from 2000 to 2010. They identify the largest donors to K-12 education in 2000, 2005, and 2010. Five donors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, made the top 15 list all three years.


How Are They Influencing Education?

Photo Courtesy of http://401kcalculator.org

Photo Courtesy of http://401kcalculator.org

Foundations give substantial money to K-12 education and these donations are on the rise. Reckhow and Snyder found that the top 15 education foundations gave $486.6 million in 2000, $738.1 million in 2005, and $843.7 million in 2010. Not only are foundations giving more money to education, but they are also taking a more active role in how this money is being invested. In her book, “Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics,” Reckhow argues that foundations are becoming increasingly more strategic and selective in deciding where to use their resources. Foundations are moving away from investment in traditional public schools to what may considered their competitors – charter and private schools. From 2000 to 2005, money for research and universities also decreased, while support for areas such as venture capital and public school network operators increased. Reckhow also cites the trend in support for high-poverty urban school districts under state or mayoral control.


What Does This Mean for Detroit?

Detroit is not immune to the whims of private actors. Organizations such as The Skillman Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation provide significant resources to Detroit schools. These resources, however, are not without an accompanying agenda. The Governance and Finance Blog will be taking a closer look at the influence these foundations are having in Detroit in a future post.

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.