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Will Philanthropists Gamble on Detroit's Schools?

In the current issue of FORTUNE Magazine, I profile philanthropist Carol Goss. Here's an excerpt:

Can a cause seem so lost that not even many philanthropists feel charitable toward it? Detroit's schools have been that kind of hard case. In recent years public schools in such cities as New York, Chicago, and New Orleans have enjoyed major infusions of cash from charities like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But that never happened in Detroit, whose school system is so far gone that barely 3% of its fourth-graders meet national math standards. "Between the destruction of the auto and manufacturing industries, massive blight, and political problems, the philanthropic view is that there's been no basement to build on in Detroit," says Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank.

If Detroit schools have a last best friend, it's Carol Goss. The charity she heads, Detroit's Skillman Foundation, a $457 million fund based on the fortune of 3M adhesives pioneer Robert Skillman and his wife, Rose, devotes the majority of its giving to one cause: the children of Detroit. And Goss, 62, realized they were suffering because of infighting among the grownups: teachers resistant to change, politicians battling over conventional vs. charter schools, parents protesting the closing of failed programs. The dysfunction became so bad that a few years ago Detroit refused a rare offer from a philanthropist to donate $200 million to build charter schools across the city.

Read the full story here.

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