Giving Compass' Take:

• Dylan Matthews argues against education philanthropy using the principles of effective altruism.

• Matthews argues that funding education reform is ineffective because there are many competing interests. How might advocates help those forces that disagree on education reform find common ground?

• Learn more about effective altruism.

Philanthropists need to take a step back from the American education system before it ruins them, they ruin it, or both.

Improving the American education system, while important, is neither a neglected cause nor a tractable one. It is a system on which hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually by diffuse governments whose policies are difficult and expensive to change, where matters of importance are intensely contested, and where interest groups tend to fight each other to a standstill.

And it’s a system where, even after investing millions if not billions in research, we still don’t have a lot of confidence as to which interventions are helpful and which are not. The views of key actors, notably the Gates Foundation, have tended to shift rapidly on those substantive questions.

A formula for deciding what causes to give to: importance, neglectedness, tractability

The framework for judging causes based on importance, neglectedness, and tractability (INT, for short) is not new ... It’s hardly perfect, but I find it very useful. A good baseline test for any philanthropist is that they work on issues that are genuinely important — but that’s not enough of a filtering mechanism. A lot of stuff is important ... [and] importance comparisons are often tricky and subjective, especially within given cause areas.

That’s where thinking about neglectedness and tractability can help. Even when choosing among equally important causes, you probably should choose the cause that is more neglected, that has less money and fewer resources mobilized behind it than others. The basic reason is diminishing marginal returns.

Tractability is the final criterion in this framework, and worth breaking down a bit further. For a cause to be tractable, funders don’t just have to know of cost-effective interventions that can help; they have to know ways to get those interventions adopted.

Read the full article about effective altruism in education by Dylan Matthews at Vox.