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Sponsors of Policy: A Network Analysis of Wealthy Elites, their Affiliated Philanthropies, and Charter School Reform in Washington State


by Wayne Au & Joseph J. Ferrare — 2014

Background/Context: Charter school policy has evolved into a major component of the current education reform movement in the United States. As of 2012, all but nine U.S. states allowed charter schools, and in one of those nine, Washington State, charter school legislation was passed by popular vote in November 2012. There is a substantial, if contested, research base focusing on charter school effectiveness, particularly related to test score achievement, as well as an equally contested literature base on charter school enrollment selectivity, student expulsions, and increased segregation in charter school populations.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to analyze the network of relations of policy actors surrounding the statewide campaign to pass the charter school Initiative 1240 in Washington State in order to better understand how wealthy individuals and their associated philanthropic organizations influence educational policy.

Research Design: Making use of available tax records, public election information, individual and organizational websites, and institutional and foundation databases, this study uses simple directed graphing techniques from social network analysis to analyze the complex relationships and affiliations of policy actors relative to the campaign to pass charter school Initiative 1240 in the state of Washington.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study concludes that, compared to the average voter in Washington, an elite group of wealthy individuals, either directly through individual donations or indirectly through their affiliated philanthropic organizations, wielded disproportionate influence over the outcome of the charter school initiative in the state, thereby raising serious concerns about the democratic underpinnings of an education policy that impacts all of the children in Washington State. This study also concludes that elite individuals make use of local nonprofit organizations as a mechanism to advance their education policy agenda by funding those nonprofits through the philanthropic organizations affiliated with those same wealthy elites. In light of these conclusions, the authors recommend that a mechanism for more democratic accountability be developed relative to education policy campaigns, initiatives, and legislation.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 8, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17387, Date Accessed: 7/22/2014 3:30:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Wayne Au
    University of Washington, Bothell
    E-mail Author
    WAYNE AU is an Associate Professor in the Education Program at the University of Washington, Bothell, and he is an editor for the social justice magazine, Rethinking Schools. His research interests include critical analyses of high-stakes testing, critical educational theory and practice, curriculum studies, and multicultural education. Most recently, he co-authored the article, “Rethinking schools: Enacting a vision for social justice within US education” for Critical Studies in Education and co-edited Pencils Down: Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools.
  • Joseph Ferrare
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    JOSEPH J. FERRARE is a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include issues of equity related to course-taking and degree attainment at the secondary and postsecondary levels, as well as the social and cultural dimensions of education policy and reform movements. His work in these areas of interest has recently appeared in a diverse array of journals including Sociology of Education, Critical Studies in Education, the Journal of Higher Education, and Journal of the Learning Sciences.
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