With the Best of Intentions
Lessons Learned in K-12 Education Philanthropy
About This Event

While philanthropical efforts such as the Gates small school initiative, the Annenberg challenge, and the Broad Prize for Urban Education appear to constitute only a small portion of total U.S. K-12 spending, there is reason to believe these efforts may have a disproportionate impact in shaping reform agendas and promoting broader change.

This conference will examine key aspects of K-12 philanthropy, including donor strategies, accountability, and effectiveness. The analyses and discussion will provide practical guidance and raise important questions for public officials, parents, educators, and the philanthropic community. Topics of discussion will include: How much money is there? What strategies are getting funded, and what do we know of their effects? How do funders decide what to fund? What are the practical challenges that bedevil funders? What lessons might education philanthropists draw from other sectors or from other nations? How can these lessons be used to invest more wisely and more effectively?

8:15 a.m.

Registration and Breakfast

8:45 Welcome: Frederick M. Hess, AEI
8:55 Panel I: Understanding K-12 Philanthropy
Presenters: Richard Colvin, Hechinger Institute at Columbia University
Tom Loveless, Brookings Institution
Donald McAdams, Center for Reform of School Systems
10:00 Break
10:10 Discussants: Michael Feinberg, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)
Susan Fuhrman, University of Pennsylvania
Lawrence Patrick, Black Alliance for Educational Options
William Porter, Grantmakers for Education
11:10 Break
11:25 Panel II: Assessing Major Strands of Giving
Presenters: Jane Hannaway, Urban Institute
Bryan Hassel, Public Impact
Jay Greene, Manhattan Institute
Andrew Rotherham, Progressive Policy Institute
12:45 p.m. Luncheon
1:30 Discussants: Arlene Ackerman, San Francisco Unified School District
James A. Kelly, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Bruno Manno, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Kim Smith, New Schools Venture Fund
2:30 Break
2:40 Panel III: Lessons Learned
Presenters: Peter Frumkin, Harvard University
Steven Heyneman, Vanderbilt University
Dan Katzir, Broad Foundation
Leslie Lenkowsky, Indiana University
4:00 Break
4:15 Discussants: Alan Bersin, San Diego City Schools
Howard Fuller, Marquette University
Wendy Kopp, Teach for America
Warren Simmons, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
5:15 Break
5:25 Conclusion: What’s Next?
Discussants: Chester E. Finn Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
Stefanie Sanford, Gates Foundation
Dan Fallon, Carnegie Foundation
6:15 Reception


Event Summary

April 2005

With the Best of Intentions: Lessons Learned in K-12 Education Philanthropy

While philanthropic efforts such as the Gates small schools initiative, the Annenberg Challenge, and the Broad Prize for Urban Education appear to constitute only a small portion of total U.S. K-12 spending, there is reason to believe these efforts may have a disproportionate impact in shaping reform agendas and promoting broader change. At an April 25 AEI conference, experts examined key aspects of K-12 philanthropy, including donor strategies, accountability, and effectiveness. Topics of discussion included: How much money is there? What strategies are getting funded, and what do we know of their effects? How do funders decide what to fund? What are the practical challenges that bedevil funders? What lessons might education philanthropists draw from other sectors or from other nations? How can these lessons be used to invest more wisely and more effectively?

Frederick M. Hess

Education philanthropy has historically been locally and privately focused, largely funding individual schools, community building, and private institutions. However, recently philanthropists have played a much more public role, which is both appropriate and constructive.

There is, however, a reciprocal exchange that takes place when philanthropy shifts from the private and small scale into the public sphere. Once the conversation becomes public, it is important to embrace transparency and accept scrutiny of motives and methods. This helps policymakers, practitioners, and researchers make good decisions and also benefits philanthropists with honest feedback on how to spend their money well.

Philanthropy has played a central role in recent reforms, most notably urban, choice-based, and teacher labor market reforms, and understandably, these efforts have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the press, practitioners, and scholars. This aversion to criticism has several causes. Philanthropists are, almost by definition, worthy of public praise. And academics, reformers, and policymakers hesitate to criticize the individuals and foundations that provide funding for their own projects. Even the most insulated of scholars feels the need to be wary of criticism of philanthropists in order to remain on good terms with their colleagues in the field.

Though constructive in some ways, the self-appraisal and evaluation that philanthropists conduct to review their own initiatives does not occur in the public forum, meaning it likely does not provide the hard-hitting back and forth that would be truly beneficial. For this reason, a forum to analyze the role of philanthropy in education in a critical and honest way is necessary.

Panel I
Understanding K-12 Philanthropy

Richard Colvin
Hechinger Institute at Columbia University

There is approximately $1.2 to $1.5 billion involved in education philanthropy, and it is important to examine its landscape, key players, and theories of action, and to evaluate the effectiveness of philanthropic efforts. Because there was a major shift when philanthropy converted from impacting individual students and schools to engaging public dollars, accountability is now essential. There is a mutual responsibility both for foundations to be disciplined in how they give, and for recipients to be disciplined in how they request and utilize. Ultimately, the focus must be on outcomes for the children involved.

Since A Nation at Risk was released in 1983, philanthropists across the country have expressed a real sense of unease about where American schools are headed. This bold rhetoric on the part of education donors is quite unusual in the philanthropic sector.

Donald McAdams
Center for Reform of School Systems

This study examines philanthropic efforts in three school districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Houston; and San Diego. Chosen because they are large school districts, geographically diverse, and have received visibility for their reform efforts, these districts have utilized different theories of action.

Three main grants in Charlotte-Mecklenburg were given by philanthropists who approached the district with both funding and ideas. The first was focused on community involvement in the district, the second on local fundraising, and the third on the establishment of a district foundation. Overall, these philanthropic efforts have not had a major impact on the school district.

In Houston, as in Charlotte, it was the philanthropists, not the recipients, who initiated the reform projects. The two major programs revolved around professional development (Houston A+ Challenge) and reading and math instruction (Project Grad). The reports evaluating the effectiveness of these programs indicate improved achievement in schools participating Project Grad, but not in the A+ Challenge.
San Diego was the only school district of the three that had clear strategic intent. There, the superintendent and the district actively solicited money to carry out a specific objective. The money was used for the purposes it was intended, and there are measured results in the performance of elementary schools where the money was spent.

This limited study indicates that strategic intent, stability of leadership, and broad local support of an initiative are the key factors in determining the success of philanthropic efforts.

Tom Loveless
Brookings Institution

This study reveals that program officers at education philanthropies are outside of the mainstream of public opinions on educational issues, particularly the ideas of discipline, basic skills and work habits, and student accountability. In order to help close this opinion gap, philanthropies could hire program officers with teaching experience; maintain staffs with balanced points of view, including both progressives and traditionalists; and appoint outside review committees to evaluate their grant portfolios. Listening to feedback from parents, K-12 teachers, and taxpayers could also bring the philosophies and opinions of philanthropists closer to the mainstream.

William Porter
Grantmakers for Education

Foundations do not face the same competitive pressures that nonprofits and private companies face. They have the ability to stay in business regardless of public opinion about their work and whether or not they are successful. This independence is an asset for providing leadership and taking risks but is a liability for assessing results.

Conversations about education philanthropy must go beyond chest thumping about the virtue of philanthropy or superficial criticism about the ways donors fail in their efforts. However, there is a lack of existing research and data about the effectiveness of education philanthropy and a similar lack of tough assessment of the field. These challenges seem perennial and endemic to the philanthropic sector.

Lawrence Patrick
Black Alliance for Educational Options

These analyses do not adequately address the issue of race in public schooling. In reality, the system was not designed to educate low-income racial minorities. When philanthropists engage in massive efforts to reform school districts, they must consider the politics of race as the biggest factor, eclipsing considerations of having the right ideas or the right implementation plan.

The total amount of money given in philanthropy is insignificant when compared to the number of taxpayer dollars spent on education. One way philanthropy could be more effective is to focus on advocating for permanent social change, like school choice. It is not only the right thing to do for the sake of social justice, but it also foments lasting change by permanently altering the power arrangements that protect the status quo.

Susan Fuhrman
University of Pennsylvania

Philanthropists each carve out their own areas of interest and separate from one another in order to be distinct and known in the field. This results in a disappointing lack of cooperation among education philanthropies. Collaborative efforts would improve the overall output of the industry.
It is evident that foundations do not put enough money into evaluation that would illuminate problems within their own system. However, foundations should also fund other types of research distinct from evaluation. Research that would allow for the understanding of problems and defining of alternative solutions could serve as important compliments to programmatic efforts.

Michael Feinberg
Knowledge Is Power Program

There are two important points to remember when thinking about education philanthropy. First, the focus must remain on results. This applies to school leaders and teachers, but also to the grantors and the grantees. Grantors should fund and reward results, and grantees should be accountable for results. Second, the power to lead reforms must remain with the recipients. Leaders at the state, district, and school levels should have the authority to lead their education systems. School leaders must be in an environment where they can allocate philanthropic dollars however they see fit, without going through a complicated bureaucratic formula.

The central challenge of education philanthropy, however, is to find the proper balance between funding existing programs with good results and funding innovative new programs.

Panel II
Assessing Major Strands of Giving

Jay Greene
Manhattan Institute

According to 2002 reporting data from the nation’s thirty largest foundations, a total of $660 million was given to fund public education. This compares to $430 billion in public funds spent on education. Thus, attempts to reform the education system solely through the use of philanthropic money is like pouring buckets into the sea. There is too little private money and too much public money to affect meaningful change. For philanthropists to leverage reform, they must use their private dollars to redirect and shape how public dollars are spent.

Nearly all foundations have “theories of leverage,” but few foundations define leverage in terms of redirecting future public expenditures. And no matter one’s reform strategy or philosophy of education, the most effective way to see it implemented broadly is to redirect the vast amount of public dollars to support it in the future.

Jane Hannaway
Urban Institute

This study examines the role philanthropy has played in labor market reforms, specifically focusing on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and Teach For America (TFA). Though everyone knows teachers are the critical element in improving student achievement, improving teacher quality by way of labor market reforms is a very difficult charge. NBPTS and TFA attempt to attract and retain the best students for a profession that the best students are leaving.

From the very different histories and structures of these two organizations, a few lessons emerge. First, labor market reforms are complex and are not likely to come from inside the labor pool. Both NBPTS and TFA were outside organizations implementing reforms within the system. Second, difficult reforms will not happen quickly; any systemic change will have a natural incubation period and require time to be accurately assessed. Lastly, systems that truly fulfill a need, like NBPTS and TFA, will likely survive the bitter politics of education reform over time.

Bryan Hassel
Public Impact

This study examines the role of philanthropy in the educational choice landscape, including areas of grant making to private schools, charter schools, vouchers, small and alternative public schools, and school choice research. Data from the top fifty foundations that categorize giving by its purpose reveal that much money is dedicated to school choice-related activities, but a large portion of that is in the form of individual grants to private schools.

Choice-related philanthropy can be divided between those funds that build and create a supply and those that inform and sustain a demand for increased educational options. Demand-side giving can include informing inner-city parents, providing information services to families, grassroots organizing, and even advocacy for more favorable state regulations for choice.

Andrew Rotherham
Progressive Policy Institute

This study examines the effectiveness of philanthropic investing in public policy research and advocacy and determines several reasons why grant makers have an important role in the field. Policy research is the first step in a long process of codifying educational reforms. If donors want to sponsor lasting and systemic change, they must begin by sponsoring research and advocacy. Second, philanthropists can create the financial incentives that do not exist in education like they exist in other sectors. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, has market incentives for research and development, but save for a few exceptions, the education research field is not inherently lucrative.

Data collected for this conference suggest that the amount of education philanthropy earmarked for research and advocacy is small when compared to total giving. This occurs for numerous reasons, including legal restrictions on political activity, the bitter politics surrounding K-12 education reform, and a perceived lack of valuable and unbiased research organizations to fund.

James A. Kelly
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Though most of the focus on K-12 educational philanthropy has been in urban districts, a large majority of American school children do not attend urban schools—they attend rural and suburban schools. So one way for philanthropies to avoid “throwing buckets into the sea” is to experiment in these smaller districts that already have less bureaucratic tape to endure and determine the effectiveness of a given program. Similarly overlooked is the phenomenon of philanthropic localism. A large percentage of foundation activity takes place in the communities in which the individual foundations are based. The Walton Family Foundation in Arkansas and the Eli Lilly Foundation in Indiana provide excellent examples of this trend.

Implementation of philanthropic programming is essential to the effectiveness of the field. While strategy and planning cannot be ignored, they constitute probably 10 percent of the work that is necessary to the survival of a program; a large part of the effort involved is simply dealing with daily obstacles that arise. Only those foundations that are committed to seeing long-term results manifest and are willing to accept criticism openly and reflectively will sponsor effective and lasting reforms. However, many of the program officers in philanthropies today come from a background of education advocacy, with predetermined theories of education reform. This can be dangerous to the institution which, by design, is a conservative and long-term organization.

Arlene Ackerman
San Francisco Unified School District

The San Francisco school district has made much progress in the last five years through the Excellence for All strategic plan, and it has overcome what was a very real and looming crisis. Because district officials made a decision not to accept donations that would have diverted attention and energy away from its strategic goals, little philanthropic money has been accepted in the past five years. The few monetary gifts that have been accepted were given because the district was already engaged in strategic reforms that the donors specifically supported.

It is very tempting for practitioners and superintendents to choose attractive fluff over more difficult substance. For example, Teach For America is an alluring program for urban school leaders because of its prestige and its inherent attractiveness. However, the underperforming schools in San Francisco do not accept TFA teachers because of the brevity of their two-year commitment. A lack of stability in teaching staff is part of the reason these schools are already underperforming. It is difficult, however, for superintendents to resist this young, intelligent, and willing cadre of teachers. For the same reason, school leaders need to carefully consider philanthropic activities they pursue and ensure the money will not sideline the district’s ultimate strategic goals.

Bruno Manno
Annie E. Casey Foundation

While everyone agrees that philanthropic giving constitutes only a small portion of total education spending in America, numerous examples have been given of the disproportionate influence those dollars have had on creating systemic change in the sector. This leads to a discussion of theories of leverage within philanthropies and how important the creation of both grant-making tactics and programmatic tactics is to effective giving.

Equally important to theories of leverage are theories of action, and donors need to have coherent and explicit theories of action to be effective in their giving. This includes activities like the assessment of impact, the setting of specific goals, and the analysis of other funding alternatives. Some observers say philanthropists are in the “change business,” but it may be more accurate to observe that philanthropists are in the values business. They create performance value more than they create change for its own sake.

Kim Smith
NewSchools Venture Fund

There is a philosophy that is critical in the philanthropic sector, and it is the belief that the segmentation of the market is acceptable. Because the kind of change education philanthropy is trying to create is multidimensional and varied in strategy, donors must be similarly committed to varying philosophies and methods of giving. Different players must be willing to take different risks. And because there is often more emotion involved than rationale, organizations seeking funding must remember that philanthropic activity is more of an art than a science.

It is also important to note that higher education has been left out of this philanthropic puzzle. Foundations have become more important in research and the generation of ideas because higher education has become less and less active in this role. The bifurcation that has arisen between universities and foundations is not helpful for creating systemic change in the American education system, and it is time the two fields came back to the table to discuss these ideas.

Panel III
Lessons Learned

Dan Katzir
Broad Foundation

As a newer education philanthropy based in California, the Broad Foundation’s giving strategy is to fund school district work in large urban areas, focusing on the school’s leadership to leverage the most change. The founders believe that improving student achievement is the paramount concern and that disseminating the best practices learned as examples for other districts to follow is critical to fomenting change. The foundation also sponsors a few branded initiatives, including the Broad Institute for School Boards, the Broad Center, and the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The foundation offers several lessons that have been learned throughout its existence. The first is that failure is an option. Like any venture fund, there are excellent performers in the portfolio and there are those that do not perform well. With extensive annual evaluation and review, lessons can be learned from those failures. Another strategy that may appear counterintuitive is the funding of separate initiatives that seem contradictory. The Broad Foundation sponsors large urban districts while also sponsoring charter management organizations outside of public education. The pursuit of numerous and sometimes divergent goals is not counterproductive, but instead is an attempt to find those programs that work best.

Leslie Lenkowsky
Indiana University

Historically speaking, philanthropists have had a significant impact on America education, instigating innovations that later became widespread and common. When separated by objectives, five broad motivations surface: creating better schools; creating better teachers, which began the modern-day education schools and teacher certification movement; creating better curricula, which is part of the impetus behind the standardized testing movement; creating better communities; and creating better children, which includes scholarships and the current Head Start program.

When using a historical focus to analyze the effectiveness of education philanthropy, it becomes apparent that some of the most successful efforts were not overly ambitious but limited in focus. They also generally rejected the “conventional wisdom” of the time, promoting agendas that were often contradictory to mainstream educational practices.

Steven Heyneman
Vanderbilt University

Entitled “Educational Philanthropy: The International Dimension,” this study addresses the effects of philanthropy outside of the United States, a system that educates 98 percent of the world’s children. One significant difference in how philanthropy is conducted outside of this country is in the definition of a “foundation.” Abroad the term can refer to nearly any group or association, whether public or private, whose purpose may or may not be philanthropy. Thus, determining the extent of international education philanthropy can be a tedious challenge.

International giving can be separated into two categories: private philanthropy, which everyone is familiar with, and foreign aid. Because foreign aid is voluntary on the part of the donating government, it can be considered philanthropic giving. And the United States is the largest donor worldwide. Using a definition that includes foreign aid as philanthropy, among OECD countries, philanthropy accounts for only 8 percent of total spending on education. Though its leverage may be diminished because of the small percentage of total spending it constitutes, foreign aid needs to also be subject to the same measures of effectiveness that the work of private foundations endures.

Warren Simmons
Annenberg Institute for School Reform

The conference today, while it has addressed the separate issues of education philanthropy and K-12 education reform, has not adequately separated those areas. Since the Annenberg Challenge was issued in 1993, the national education landscape has changed dramatically, making the existence of reform-based philanthropy even more complex. Prior to the standards-based reform movement in education, donors were less concerned about results at scale or units of change. Because now schools must improve--and not only improve, but achieve a certain measurement of improvement--so must education philanthropies shift their focuses.

Too often individual education philanthropies operate from their own particular philosophies, making it difficult for districts to coordinate reform efforts. In a similarly disjointed way, donors rarely operate from evidence-based perspectives, spending little time determining why particular efforts succeeded or failed. What is ignored is the building of appropriate capacity in local infrastructure that is capable of sustaining reforms and improving them over time.

Wendy Kopp
Teach For America

So much of the success of philanthropy in education depends on an organization’s willingness to remain devoted to continual evaluation and improvement, innovation and outcomes, and identification of best practices. This is, of course, very difficult to achieve. But numerous examples point to the catalytic role that effective giving and institutions can play in education.

Too often institutions like Teach For America are so focused on short-term and immediate improvement that they forsake the more important long-term vantage point. And those reform initiatives that seem the most systemic at their founding are not necessarily the efforts that have the most lasting effect on long-term institutional change.

Howard Fuller
Marquette University

Too often organized interest groups within school districts, out of knee-jerk fear, attack those donors trying to initiate reforms instead of debating the potential value of those reforms. In the same way, others criticize organizations who receive philanthropic support based upon the origins of their funding. Neither of these approaches is helpful to sustaining educational reform.

To achieve fundamental change, instead of illusionary change around the fringes, the political and power struggles within school districts have to be addressed. Making technical modifications in a district without addressing issues like collaboration and equity in power relationships will fail to create any lasting change. Much more needs to be made of particular approaches to change and the willingness to address conflict than how to evaluate change.

Alan Bersin
San Diego City Schools

This conference and these papers have been most useful because, like in the philanthropic sector, K-12 education today has the tendency to succumb to “superficial congeniality”--that is, placing too much importance on adults cooperating with one another and not enough on looking critically at systemic change. And both the education sector and the philanthropic sector flee equally from real accountability. Most districts clamor to be benefactors of large donations, in part because of the way public education is financed, giving donors substantial leverage in the public sphere.

In order to maximize these private funds which have so much leverage in a district, the education sector must build up a knowledge base, like other professions have done. Generally accepted assessment principles must be developed so that each piece of data does not become a political battle. Investments also need to be made for building research strategies and creating competition in the sector.

Panel IV
What’s Next?

Stefanie Sanford
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Officials at the Gates Foundation recognize that--despite the size of their own fund’s investments in education--philanthropic efforts alone cannot create an education environment that adequately prepares students for post-secondary study. Public funding must be animated and engaged. Where philanthropy can be effective is in taking on the “risk of innovation.” Because the role of government is not to experiment with uncertain and costly new policies, the philanthropic sector can take on the burden of investing in potentially precarious structures and determining their levels of effectiveness.

The education policy and advocacy work that occurs at the Gates Foundation rests on the principle of removing the existing barriers of creating effective schools. The movement toward early college illustrates how these barriers can hinder educational innovation, and legislative progress has been made in the state of Texas to remove some of that red tape and determine if early college is a worthwhile educational concept. But Bill Gates’s focus on high school intervention is not purported to be the “silver bullet” to making sure each child receives a quality education. High school reform was an area that few philanthropies considered, which was the reason the Gates Foundation began to focus on the reinvention of the American high school.

Daniel Fallon
Carnegie Corporation of New York

The Carnegie Corporation, founded and funded by Andrew Carnegie, was created at a critical turning point in the history of philanthropy. Carnegie himself resolved his theories of giving in his 1893 essay, “The Gospel of Wealth,” which is based on the theory that “he who dies rich dies disgraced.” Wealth, according to Carnegie, is only held in trust by the capitalist, whose obligation it is to return it to the society who produced it. When he died in 1919, Carnegie had achieved the goal of donating his entire fortune. And the difference between charity and philanthropy was clear to him: philanthropy’s purpose is to build ladders upon which aspiring classes can rise.

Like in Andrew Carnegie’s time, the philanthropic society is today at a critical turning point. This conference is a manifestation of that. The fundamental shift in the economy in the last century, mass higher education, the reliance now on technology and not manual labor, large concentrations of wealth, and significant corporate philanthropy have all brought us to a different philanthropic paradigm. The answer to surviving in this new world of donors is to build a system based on high accountability and rooted in honest public conversation.

Chester E. Finn Jr.
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

Just as in education politics and the diagnoses of its problems, there is diversity of thought and disagreement in education philanthropy and attempts to remedy these problems. It is not a detriment in the world of foundations that there are many voices and methods. This dissonance must be accepted. But what has changed in recent years is the extent to which philanthropy now follows public policy instead of leads it. Because government initiatives today are so lacking in coherent direction, philanthropies often are merely playing catch up.

The best donors in the field learn from their experiences. Because the personal education theories of philanthropists are key factors in the types of activities they fund, there is little systematic direction in giving. Therefore, evaluation and modification of strategies are critical to effective education philanthropy. The ability to shift methods and procedures based on experiences and failures of the organization is the sign of a healthy foundation.

AEI research assistants Morgan Goatley and Rachel Hoff prepared this summary.

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