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Working Paper: Philanthropies and CMOs

While charter schools are often thought of as a single entity, they actually take three distinct forms: "standalone" or "mom and pop" schools, which are independently operated to serve a local community; for-profit charter schools, which are operated by education management organizations (EMO); not-for-profit schools, which are operated by charter management organizations (CMO). These distinctions are important in that each form operates under different principles and serves students in different ways. In this paper Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson argue that charitable foundations have focused their giving almost exclusively on CMOs. Thus, the goal of this paper is to explore the role that foundations have played in the rapid growth of CMOs, and their influence on the CMO form itself.

By: Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson
Working Paper No. 221

While charter schools are often thought of as a single entity, they actually take three distinct forms: "standalone" or "mom and pop" schools, which are independently operated to serve a local community; for-profit charter schools, which are operated by education management organizations (EMO); not-for-profit schools, which are operated by charter management organizations (CMO). These distinctions are important in that each form operates under different principles and serves students in different ways. In this paper Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson argue that charitable foundations have focused their giving almost exclusively on CMOs. Thus, the goal of this paper is to explore the role that foundations have played in the rapid growth of CMOs, and their influence on the CMO form itself.

The authors collected a variety of different kinds of data in this study. In addition to examining enrollment growth trends for each type of charter school, the researchers assembled a database of foundation giving to charter schools in California between 1999 and 2005, and they examined which types of charters received the funds. They conducted interviews with key stakeholders at CMOs, non-CMOs and foundations and collected other documentary evidence. They then systematically examined their interview data in order to draw themes about how foundations have influenced the growth of CMOs.

One important finding in the study is that enrollment growth in CMOs has increased markedly relative to the other types of charter schools. In 1999 California had a single CMO -- Aspire Public Schools -- operating two schools that served about one percent of all charter school students. By 2005, 14 CMOs operated close to 150 schools and enrolled over 18,000 students (about 11 percent of all charter students) across the state.

Philanthropic support of CMOs increased dramatically during the same period. In 1999 giving to CMOs totaled approximately $1 million, while giving to non-CMO charter schools was about half that. By 2005, giving to CMOs totaled almost $35 million, while non-CMO charters received less than $2.5 million. Four large foundations accounted for about 75% of all grant dollars allocated to California CMOs during this period: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF).

The authors report that the form of CMOs today is largely due to the influence of these foundations. That is, key features of CMOs -- acute focus on achievement targets and other evaluative metrics, networks of charter schools run by central headquarters, student enrollment growth targets and branding -- were either strongly encouraged by foundations or directly included as a necessary condition to receive a grant. Foundations also encouraged or directly stipulated the inclusion of a new breed of educational entrepreneurs, often with MBAs, to take key management positions in CMO central offices, such as CEO and chief instructional officer (CIO). Foundations sponsored exclusive networking events for these new professionals to share information. The primary takeaway from this paper is that the CMO form is not a product of chance; large, well-endowed foundations played a deliberate role in creating it in order to strongly influence the quantity and quality of charter schools to reflect the ideological orientation of these foundations.

View paper

- An updated version of this paper was published in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Vol XX(X), 2013.

Published Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014

Working Paper: Philanthropies and CMOs

By: Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson
Working Paper No. 221

While charter schools are often thought of as a single entity, they actually take three distinct forms: "standalone" or "mom and pop" schools, which are independently operated to serve a local community; for-profit charter schools, which are operated by education management organizations (EMO); not-for-profit schools, which are operated by charter management organizations (CMO). These distinctions are important in that each form operates under different principles and serves students in different ways. In this paper Rand Quinn, Megan Tompkins-Stange and Debra Meyerson argue that charitable foundations have focused their giving almost exclusively on CMOs. Thus, the goal of this paper is to explore the role that foundations have played in the rapid growth of CMOs, and their influence on the CMO form itself.

The authors collected a variety of different kinds of data in this study. In addition to examining enrollment growth trends for each type of charter school, the researchers assembled a database of foundation giving to charter schools in California between 1999 and 2005, and they examined which types of charters received the funds. They conducted interviews with key stakeholders at CMOs, non-CMOs and foundations and collected other documentary evidence. They then systematically examined their interview data in order to draw themes about how foundations have influenced the growth of CMOs.

One important finding in the study is that enrollment growth in CMOs has increased markedly relative to the other types of charter schools. In 1999 California had a single CMO -- Aspire Public Schools -- operating two schools that served about one percent of all charter school students. By 2005, 14 CMOs operated close to 150 schools and enrolled over 18,000 students (about 11 percent of all charter students) across the state.

Philanthropic support of CMOs increased dramatically during the same period. In 1999 giving to CMOs totaled approximately $1 million, while giving to non-CMO charter schools was about half that. By 2005, giving to CMOs totaled almost $35 million, while non-CMO charters received less than $2.5 million. Four large foundations accounted for about 75% of all grant dollars allocated to California CMOs during this period: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF).

The authors report that the form of CMOs today is largely due to the influence of these foundations. That is, key features of CMOs -- acute focus on achievement targets and other evaluative metrics, networks of charter schools run by central headquarters, student enrollment growth targets and branding -- were either strongly encouraged by foundations or directly included as a necessary condition to receive a grant. Foundations also encouraged or directly stipulated the inclusion of a new breed of educational entrepreneurs, often with MBAs, to take key management positions in CMO central offices, such as CEO and chief instructional officer (CIO). Foundations sponsored exclusive networking events for these new professionals to share information. The primary takeaway from this paper is that the CMO form is not a product of chance; large, well-endowed foundations played a deliberate role in creating it in order to strongly influence the quantity and quality of charter schools to reflect the ideological orientation of these foundations.

View paper

- An updated version of this paper was published in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Vol XX(X), 2013.

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