It’s because in academic circles, improving academic performance is seen as an extremely thorny problem with a very long list of past failures. (See pages 1-2 of the paper for an overview.) The very strong default assumption is that an education program will fail to improve performance. To the point where a one-time, one-standard-deviation bump in math scores is considered (by David Brooks) to be a “miracle.”
But you’d never know it from the world of education philanthropy. Attend any fundraiser or read any annual report and all you’ll hear is stories of success.
There’s a similar split between two worlds in international philanthropy. Academics nearly all stress the challenges, the frustrations, and the sense that progress hasn’t matched expectations. Talk to a charity and you’ll hear “success, success, success.”
Many people are incredulous that we recommend so few charities. I can only guess that that’s because they’re coming from the world of fundraisers, where every charity is assumed to be a success. In our world, “recommended” is the exception, not the default.