I often take a critical view of private philanthropists' role in education reform. But when I took a closer look at this particular study's methodology and results, I found that there are good reasons why big donors might avoid the top three charters here, despite their good performance on 2010 Advanced Placement exams and state standardized tests, the only measures used by Cato to assess quality.
The American Indian Public Charter Schools (#1 in Cato study, 21st for funding) were founded by Ben Chavis. (CORRECTION: A DIFFERENT BEN CHAVIS, FORMERLY BEN CHAVIS MUMAHAMMAD, WAS FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE NAACP.) I've written before about "No Excuses" charters, but AIM is somewhat infamous for taking the ideology to a whole 'nother level, so to speak. When Chavis was principal of the schools, he was known for berating employees and directing racial epithets toward students, supposedly to motivate them to overcome negative stereotypes.
Even though Chavis is no longer principal, the AIM schools continue to embrace controversial discipline practices, such as sending misbehaving students to sit on the floor of older childrens' classrooms. There are few music, art, or sports programs. What's more, the school's website is filled with unusual references to the importance of "free-market capitalism." Children and teachers are given cash rewards for academic success.
Plenty of folks celebrate Chavis and his schools. Others might be uncomfortable funding them, and I can't say I blame then.
As for the Oakland Charter Academies (#2 in Cato study, 27th for funding), they came under new management are were renamed the Amethod Schools in 2004, as a means of addressing a history of organizational turmoil. Since then, achievement results have been good, but until the schools garner a longer, more stable track record, it's unlikely they'll attract much foundation support.
The number three school in the Cato report is Wilder's Prepatory Academy Charter School (#3 in Cato study, 39th for funding(, a combined elementery and middle school in Ingleside, CA. Its website is not up-to-date and contains little information on the school's approach to curriculum, instruction, or anything else. Nor did I find any media mentions of the school. Other than test score data, there's not much here to convince a philanthropist to make a large investment.
Anyhow, I'd say this Cato report serves as a reminder that we always need to probe deeper than test score data when we assess any school. Philanthropists rightly look for other evidence of success, including competent management, the political viability of the school's model, and a coherent approach to learning.