Giving Compass' Take:

The author discusses the work of nonprofit XQ, supported by Laurene Powell Jobs, with the aim of improving high schools in Rhode Island through philanthropic funding. 

The author points out that this is another attempt from a donor to enter the world of education philanthropy, and the results are not always successful. How can donors learn from past philanthropists' mistakes with these types of initiatives?

Read more about accountability in education philanthropy.


The state of Rhode Island and XQ, a nonprofit formed and supported by mega-philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, have partnered in an effort to transform the state’s public high schools.

The partnership will bring five of the state’s schools grants of $500,000 and XQ’s ongoing technical assistance. In exchange, this gives the nonprofit a chance to implement its approach to “reimagine high school education in the United States” and “transform high school so every student succeeds."

While seemingly collaborative, XQ’s approach is based upon seeking solutions for a problem they have defined toward an end result they have also defined. But what if their premises are wrong? Jack Schneider, assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the director of research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment raised this concern in comments reported by the Washington Post back in 2017.

And America’s schools have changed significantly over the past decades. As Schneider noted, “Encouraging such tinkering is a fine use of philanthropic dollars. But that isn’t what the XQ project is promoting. Instead, it is publicizing a historically uninformed message that today’s technologies demand something new of us as human beings and that our unchanging high schools are failing at the task.”

NPQ has followed how other mega-philanthropists have used their great wealth to impose their desired approaches toward fixing the nation’s education systems. A prime example can be found in the Gates Foundation’s several efforts to solve the nation’s educational problems. Each was well financed, each proved unsuccessful, and each left the funder unscathed—but not so the schools and students who had been their guinea pigs.

Read the full article about funding education by Martin Levine at Nonprofit Quarterly