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Walton Foundation releases 2010 education donations, a third for ‘shaping public policy’

MahurinLobbying_Thumb_1526.jpg
MahurinLobbying_Thumb_1526.jpg

Charter school champion The Walton Foundation has released its 2010 giving breakdown for the group’s education donations. Seven geographic areas received money: Albany, Denver, East and South Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Newark and Washington, D.C. Though the city of New Orleans received roughly $5 million of the Wal-Mart-related organization’s $157 million in education philanthropy for the past year, many non-profits that have a hand in the city’s school landscape were also recipients of Walton largesse.

From the Times Picayune:

Teach for America, which has more than 200 instructors in local classrooms, received almost $17 million; and the KIPP Foundation, a charter school operator that will be running nine schools in New Orleans this fall, received about $9 million.

In the press release announcing its 2010 summary, The Walton Foundation boasted that, through its involvement, schools in New Orleans have “improved student achievement and have closed the proficiency gap between the city and the state by 11 percentage points over the past three years.”

According to the education group Research on Reform, over 90 percent of schools in the state-run school district that is the focus of the city’s charter school movement would earn a letter grade of D or F using Louisiana’s own academic performance index.

The Walton Foundation also broke down its numbers according to initiative, with roughly a third of its spending going toward shaping public policy. To date, the group says it has distributed around $1 billion in education grants.

Charter schools in New Orleans and elsewhere post mixed results. In 2010, the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race and Poverty completed a study examining the charter school effect on post-Katrina New Orleans, finding the biggest school re-organization effort in the country has led to “‘a separate but unequal tiered system of schools’ that sorts white students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective, high-performing schools, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty, low-performing schools.”

Putting a kink in the school choice argument that competition among schools promotes a scaling up of working education models, the study warned “that school choice in the form of charter schools does not by itself empower students of color to escape the negative consequences of segregation, especially when it leads them to racially segregated, high-poverty, low-performing schools.”

In another study from 2010, a team at the University of Colorado in Boulder followed the graduation rates of displaced students who were relocated to new schools after administrators closed down ones in which they were enrolled. The results, summarized in a feature that appeared in Ed, the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, show transfers hurt a pupil’s performance:

[D]ropout rates among displaced students rose from 7 to 15 percent; the likelihood of graduating fell from 71 to 49 percent. Study coauthor Matthew Gaertner, who produced calculations for this article that were not part of the published study, said displaced student test scores dropped 12 percent in reading, 9 percent in math, and 19 percent in writing compared with what they would have scored had the school not closed (using modeling developed from historic test data).

The study also included surveys and interviews with 115 displaced students in which 25 percent reported being mistreated by youths or adults at new schools, blamed on the stigma of coming from a failed school. Forty percent described a loss of friendships; 40 percent also reported weaker relationships with adults at their new school. Only 8 percent appreciated the new school’s greater program offerings. Because the study tracked students for just one year after closure it’s possible that they may perform better and feel happier as time passes.

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