What role does philanthropy play in K-12 education? How much private funding is devoted to public education? What roles have philanthropists played in advancing reform? What are the challenges facing foundations that want to contribute to K-12 education? These questions were the focus of an AEI conference in April of this year, and the resulting research is now published in With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K-12 Education (Harvard Education Press, October 2005). This multifaceted volume is a provocative first look at the issues of education philanthropy that will be of interest to anyone concerned with the present and future state of education.
Please join editor Frederick M. Hess, contributing authors, and several others as they consider questions which, until now, have rarely been examined. They will survey the current landscape in philanthropic giving to education, examine the major goals of recent philanthropic efforts, and consider some of the key issues--for educators, philanthropists, policymakers, and community leaders--of philanthropic contributions to schools and school systems.
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Richard Colvin, Columbia University
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Jane Hannaway, Urban Institute
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Bruno Manno, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Edward Pauly, The Wallace Foundation
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Stephanie Sanford, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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Frederick M. Hess, AEI
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What role does philanthropy play in K-12 education? How much private funding is devoted to public education? What roles have philanthropists played in advancing reform? What are the challenges facing foundations that want to contribute to K-12 education? These questions were the focus of an April 2005 AEI conference, and the resulting research is now published in With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K-12 Education (Harvard Education Press, October 2005). This multifaceted volume is a provocative first look at the issues of education philanthropy that will be of interest to anyone concerned with the present and future state of education. At an October 25 AEI book forum, editor Frederick M. Hess, contributing authors, and several others considered these questions which, until now, have rarely been examined.
Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media
Much discussion has been generated by the publication of these conference papers, particularly regarding the “new generation” of philanthropists that are highlighted in the volume. We must be reluctant to draw too many distinctions between those foundations that have existed for decades and those that have arisen in just the past ten years. There are, however, some new dynamics at work. One noticeable difference is the rise of entrepreneurs as philanthropists. These business leaders--like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, or the Walton family--bring their business savvy to their giving and to their relationships with grantees, often requiring more in accountability and results.
Along with the rise of the new philanthropists has come an increased attention to transparency and honest assessment. The public, as well as foundations themselves, are more willing to question grantmaking openly and modify giving strategies when results have not been accomplished. The Gates Foundation, for example, has recently said publicly that it initially underestimated how much resistance the small high schools initiative would meet, and foundation officials are in the process of reevaluating strategy for that series of grants. But no matter the giving technique or evaluation tool, it is important to remember that philanthropists, for all of their impressive wealth, cannot alone raise student achievement levels. That is a burden that must be shared.
Studies have shown that the most influential classroom variable for student achievement is the quality of the teacher, which highlights the importance of philanthropy’s role in labor market reforms. Two efforts in particular were examined in the volume, Teach For America (TFA) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), both of which were supported significantly in their infancies by philanthropies.
There are several lessons to be learned by the examples of TFA and NBPTS. Both prove that institutional change is not easy. NBPTS, for example, existed for nearly ten years before it certified its first teacher, and both organizations were met with significant resistance from those in the “established” education field. Both also tinker with the structures of education, having effects that simply a new program could not. Finally, an important takeaway from this exercise is the emphasis that these reformers made on cultivating both the supply side--their new education-related product--and the demand side--their future consumers. Addressing both elements appears to be a necessary step to the success of education reforms.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
This examination is only the first step for the philanthropic sector, but it is a welcome first step in a field where the players have only the best of intentions. The Gates Foundation believes its role in the area of education is to accept the risk and take the chances that the public sector cannot. While the government has an obligation to fund proven reforms and programs, philanthropies have the freedom to test innovative ideas and modify their strategies as necessary. However, while the public sector lacks the ability to innovate, it alone has the ability to scale proven programs into widespread and far-reaching reforms.
The Gates Foundation has also adopted the strategy of giving where others do not. When Bill and Melinda Gates set out to find the world’s greatest inequities, the American high school became a focus of its philanthropy--in part because other groups were not focusing on high schools. This initiative has proven challenging, perhaps more challenging than originally thought, but it has emphasized the importance of building partnerships with officials in the school districts and consistently evaluating results. Finally, the importance of having a giving strategy based on outcomes and a particular theory of change cannot be overstated.
The Wallace Foundation was founded on the philanthropy of DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, publishers of Reader’s Digest, and it has developed a philosophy of giving that focuses on changing the systems, incentives, and pipelines of educational organizations, not simply creating new programs. In particular, its perceived role is to draw attention to areas neglected by the education system and other philanthropies. This has lead to its focus on educational leadership.
Like other philanthropies, the Wallace Foundation believes its function is to provide risk capital to allow for innovation in the public sector. The New York City Leadership Academy, for example, trains future principals with the goal of placing a principal in every New York City school, which represents a “pipeline” change that will create systemic reform in these districts. Another important element of the foundation’s giving is the funding of research. Often innovative school officials suffer more from a lack of knowledge than a lack of grant money, so the Wallace Foundation asks where the knowledge gaps exist and funds research in order to fill them.
Annie E. Casey Foundation
With the further review of this research and the publication of the book, several questions arise for the philanthropic community. One is the extent to which foundation funding is a sustaining or a disruptive enterprise. Clay Christensen wrote about this distinction in The Innovator’s Solution, and there are examples of both in the volume discussed here. While sustaining innovations bring better products into the marketplace, disruptive innovations bring products that are not as “accepted” by their fields, whose details and strategy are unknown. Throughout history the most successful ventures rejected the status quo of their time, yet today much philanthropy is not leading to or supporting disruptive innovation.
Another important question raised by the book is the existence of a theory of or framework for results in foundation giving. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for example, assesses several performance measures to help determine the effectiveness of a particular grant, including its impact, its influence, and the leverage it is creating within the community. Every foundation may approach this evaluation process differently, but the existence of some sort of framework for results is essential.
AEI researcher Morgan Goatley prepared this summary.