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213 posts categorized "Education"

[Review] 'Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology'

June 26, 2015

Don't be fooled by the title of Kentaro Toyama's Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology: this is not an iconoclastic anti-technology manifesto. Nor is it a paean to an idealized pre-digital age when social change was driven by "people in the street." Instead, as back-cover blurbs from both Bill Gates and William Easterly, the NYU economics professor whose book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor excoriated the kind of "technocratic" global health interventions favored by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Geek Heresy presents a nuanced argument for a human-centric approach to development work that leverages, rather than relies on, technology to create change.

Cover_geek_heresyA "recovering technoholic," Toyama, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and now the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, once believed fervently in the power of technology to solve a range of "social afflictions." Like many of his peers in the tech industry, he embraced the idea that digital technology and cleverly designed devices could improve failing schools, eliminate health disparities, and lift communities out of poverty. But his work in India and elsewhere soon disabused him of that notion, convincing him, instead, that technology's role in society, not to mention its many grave consequences, was widely misunderstood. He couldn't ignore the fact, for instance, that Microsoft Research India's pilot projects, though successful in well-funded, closely monitored demonstration schools, faltered when scaled to underfunded government schools — in part due to the lack of adequately trained teachers, engaged administrators, and tech support and infrastructure. In those situations, technology not only didn't improve things; it exacerbated existing problems and disadvantages.

This "Law of Amplification" is the crux of Toyama's argument. "[T]echnology"s primary effect," he writes, "is to amplify human forces...[and] magnify existing social forces" — another way of saying "the degree to which technology makes an impact depends on existing human capacities." While it isn't a novel idea, as the author himself admits, Toyama sees it as a useful framework for a discussion of how NGOs, development experts, and industry leaders can leverage technology more effectively to address poverty, educational disparities, and other development challenges.

In the area of education reform, for example, Toyama notes that despite the popularity of Khan Academy, MOOCs, and other online innovations, studies show that while technology has the potential to open vast new worlds to millions of young learners, it also amplifies their tendency to choose entertainment over education. What's more, absent qualified, motivated teachers trained to give each student "caring, knowledgeable, adult attention," as well as an environment that fosters good learning habits — two things struggling schools typically lack — technology alone will never help children learn better. Followers of the Cult of Technology know this, Toyama adds, pointing to "Silicon Valley executives who evangelize cutting-edge technologies at work but send their children to Waldorf schools that ban electronics." Nor is he under any illusion that efforts to bridge the digital divide will reduce inequality; the rich always will be able to afford more of the latest and best technology, he writes, and even if equal distribution of high-tech devices were possible, literacy, Internet skills, social networks, and other factors have more to do with what any individual can hope to accomplish with those tools.

Indeed, Toyama is deeply suspicious of such "packaged interventions," which he defines as "any technology, idea, policy, or other easily replicable partial solution," any one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local contexts and individual capacities. In the book, microcredit programs come in for special scrutiny, and he devotes entire chapters to debunking "geek myths" and criticizing a "technocratic orthodoxy" that fetishizes measurement.

But if his Law of Amplification isn't exactly new, neither is the idea that effective interventions require capacity building efforts focused on humans. Toyama takes that idea a step further by arguing that technology is most effective when used to support existing trends moving in the right direction and is implemented by experienced partners. And he cites Digital Green, a project his outfit supported in India, to outline the three qualities — "heart, mind, and will" — of a good partner.

By way of demonstration, Toyama, a fellow at the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, shares stories about students, parents, educators, computer engineers, nonprofit practitioners, and social entrepreneurs who have succeeded as a result of what he calls "intrinsic growth" in their aspirations, knowledge, and perseverance. Girls in developing countries who are given access to a quality education, for instance, tend to earn higher wages, have fewer babies, lower rates of HIV infection, and are less likely to be abused and more likely to participate in civic life. At the same time, their children are less likely to be malnourished and more likely to go to school, while their villages are more likely to adopt more productive farming methods — all because, according to Toyama, the girls not only gain knowledge (mind) but also develop an aspirational outlook (heart) and learn to value effort and perseverance (will) over luck.

While an argument for creating "long-term change in society through growth in individual character" may strike some readers as condescending, Toyama emphasizes that those who design, implement, and fund development projects must also tend to their own "heart, mind, and will" if they hope to achieve lasting results that are truly sustainable. "What's missing in today's main paradigms of social change," he writes, is "a framework of internal human betterment" that fosters intrinsic growth in the rich and powerful as well as the poor and marginalized — and which strengthens and is reinforced by "societal intrinsic development."

The framework he has in mind is mentorship. In the case of Digital Green, he notes that Pradan, one of the partners in the project, focused on building mentor-mentee relationships based on trust — some of which was driven by Pradan's embrace of self-help groups. In the Pradan model, instead of providing food, equipment, infrastructure, and/or technology without consultation, a mentor helps the group assess and articulate its aspirations, then brings in experts to "foster knowledge, skills, social networks, and other forms of individual and communal wisdom" designed to increase community capacity and self-sufficiency. That is not to say that packaged interventions have no place in Toyama's vision; as Toyama himself puts it, "anytime there's an intention to provide a packaged intervention, there's an opportunity to mentor." But whereas a technological solution might involve teaching a man to fish with a "turbo-charged, heat-seeking, robotic fishing pole," mentors push "instructors to teach fishing, encourage entrepreneurs to manufacture fishing equipment, promote...well-regulated fish markets...cheer nations toward sustainable fishing, and on and on."

As evidenced by his contention that "we should see social situations less as problems to be solved and more as people and institutions to be nurtured," Toyama likes to re-cast existing concepts — the Law of Amplification, Maslov's hierarchy of aspirations, the importance of human capacity development — for his own purposes. But he is careful to give credit where it's due and to admit the limitations of his arguments. And if he has a tendency to take what appears to be a radical position and undermine it, as when he suggests that fostering intrinsic growth in individuals and society will give rise, on a global scale, to a "compassionate class" and a more "compassionate world" before dismissing it as "a dream worth believing in" — well, so be it.

Because, in the final analysis, Geek Heresy is aspirational. Sprinkled with anecdotes from Toyama's own experiences and told, rather than written, in an endearingly geeky voice, it combines a healthy dose of much-needed skepticism about the real value of technological interventions in development work with an inspired idealism that puts humanity first and challenges all of us to bring out the best in each other. Some might even say that's exactly the kind of heretical thinking we could use a little more of.

Kyoko Uchida is PND's features editor.

Narrowing the Excellence Gap Requires a Multifaceted Approach

May 22, 2015

Natalie_jansorn_for_PhilanTopicAs globalization continues at breakneck speed, the United States needs to increase the number of talented individuals — tomorrow's innovators and leaders — in the workforce in order to remain economically vibrant and competitive.

Changing demographics means we will be able to tap the most diverse workforce in the history of the world to fill many of these critical positions. However, we continue to overlook one of our most promising talent pools: high-achieving, low-income students.

In part, that's because many public education reformers over the past few decades have been fixated on the "achievement gap" and have advocated for significant resources to be dedicated to helping as many low-income students as possible reach minimum academic standards. While that effort has met with some success and is certainly worthwhile, we believe it has come at the expense of the highest achievers among the population of low-income students, resulting in an "excellence gap" — the disparity in the percentage of lower-income students who reach an advanced level of academic achievement compared with those from higher-income households.

The reasons for this gap are many. While there are gifted students from poor backgrounds who pave their own road to success, they tend to be the exception; for every low-income student who forges his or her own way forward, there are dozens with comparable abilities who don't get the attention they need. In fact, a recent study found that more than one million school-age children who qualify for free or reduced lunch rank in the 25th percentile academically; that's about eighty thousand very smart but poor students per grade nationwide.

Fewer than half of these students take at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) course (compared with 71 percent of their wealthier peers), while only 22 percent apply to college, even though their academic abilities and achievements more than meet the admissions requirements at many schools, including highly selective ones.

What's more, this gap appears in elementary school and persists as students move through middle school, high school, college, and beyond. This makes closing the gap doubly challenging. There is no "silver bullet" solution to the problem; instead, it needs to be tackled from many different angles. With that in mind, our team at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation would like to share the following key strategies and recommendations:

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 9-10, 2015)

May 10, 2015

TulipsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the battle against climate change is likely to be won or lost in Asia's expanding megacities, which are poised to contribute more than half the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next twenty years.

In a Q&A with the Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek, Jerry Taylor, of the Niskanen Center, makes the conservative case for a tax on carbon tax. 

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Tech Crunch site, Kim-Mai Cutler reports on Salesforce Foundation head Suzanne DiBianca's efforts to spread the San Francisco-based cloud-based computing company's "1-1-1" philanthropic model" -- in which 1 percent of the company’s equity is set aside for philanthropic donations, 1 percent of employee time is earmarked for volunteering, and 1 percent of its products and services are donated to nonprofits -- to the tech startup scene in New York City.

Data Visualization

On the Fast.co Design site, Mark Wilson, founder of Philanthroper.com, reports  that the days of the truly creative infographic are over, killed -- like so much else -- by the smartphone, which now accounts for roughly 50 percent of the traffic on the World Wide Web.

Disaster Relief

Be sure to check out the report in The New Yorker by Prasant Jha, an associate editor at the Hindustan Times and a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, on the scale of the devastation in and around Kathmandu, the sprawling capital city of Nepal, which was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Elsewhere, the Asian Philanthropy Forum shares some helpful advice and a list of NGOs currently on the ground in Nepal, which will be dealing with the consequences of the disaster for weeks, months, and years to come.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2015)

May 02, 2015

PhilanTopic hosted lots of great content in April, including opinion pieces by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation in Detroit; and Peter Sloane, chairman and CEO of the New York City-based Heckscher Foundation for Children; Q&As with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org; Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina; and Judith Shapiro, president of the New York City-based Teagle Foundation; a terrific book review from the formidable Joanne Barkan; thought-provoking posts from regular contributors Mark Rosenman and Derrick Feldmann; and a great Storify assembled by our own Lauren Brathwaite. But don't take our word for it...

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Weekend Link Roundup (April 25-26, 2015)

April 26, 2015

Ss-150425-nepal-earthquake-09Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Disaster Relief

In the aftermath of a major natural disaster like the powerful earthquake that struck Nepal yesterday, early assistance -- in the form of money -- is the best and most effective kind of assistance. On her Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog, Joanne Fritz shares other ways to help victims of a natural disaster.

Nearly $10 billion in relief and reconstruction aid was committed to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in that impoverished country. Where did it all go? VICE on HBO Correspondent Vikram Gandhi reports.

Education

Has the education reform movement peaked? According to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, "The zillionaires [who have funded the movement] are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity." Which is why, says Kristof, it might be time to "refocus some reformist passions on early childhood."

Evaluation

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Johanna Morariu, director of the Innovation Network, shares five grantmaker and nonprofit practices "that undermine or limit the ability of nonprofit organizations to fully engage in evaluation."

Fundraising

What is social fundraising? Liz Ragland, senior content and marketing associate at Network for Good, explains.

Nonprofit With Balls blogger and Game of Thrones fan Vu Le has some issues with the donor-centric model of fundraising. "When [it's] done right," he writes, "it’s cool; when it’s done wrong, we sound like the used car salesmen of justice...."

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Classroom Saints and Fiends

April 21, 2015

Cover_teacher_warsThe Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Dana Goldstein
Doubleday, 2014, 368 pp.
___

Reviewed by Joanne Barkan

The crusade — now more than a decade old — to remake K–12 public education in the image of a business enterprise moves on two fronts. One is private management of public resources: convert as many "regular" public schools as possible into privately run charter schools while also setting up voucher systems that allow individual students to use public funds to pay for private school tuition. The second front is transformation of the teaching profession into...what? Here the stated goals and actual policies of the market-model "ed reformers" are a tangle of contradictions.

Ed reformers, whose political identities run the full gamut, claim that putting a great teacher in every classroom will offset the disadvantages suffered by poor and minority children outside school and will close the academic achievement gap between these students and middle-class white students. Teaching, therefore, must become a highly respected, well paid profession that attracts the most talented graduates of the most prestigious colleges and universities.

Yet these same ed reformers have worked tirelessly and successfully to undermine the substance and reputation of the profession. They bear responsibility for focusing public school teaching on standardized test preparation and for using student test scores to determine how much teachers are paid (merit pay), who is fired, and which schools are shut down. They promote mini-length training programs to replace experienced teachers with lower-paid, non-union neophytes; they help to pass state laws that weaken collective bargaining and cut pensions and benefits; they advocate abolishing tenure (due process) so that teachers can be fired at will; and they've conducted a nonstop media operation to depict public school teachers as greedy, poorly trained, and ineffective to the point of endangering the nation's future.

The disrespect for teachers embedded in the ed reformers' policies is matched only by their overt hostility toward teacher unions. Not surprisingly, job satisfaction among public school teachers has plummeted in recent years.

The ed reformers' stance looks like a Madonna-whore complex: teachers are miracle-working saviors of poor and downtrodden children, or they are villains preventing these children from benefiting from a good education. According to Dana Goldstein in The Teacher Wars, this kind of saint-fiend split has characterized Americans' view of teachers since universal public education first took hold in some states in the 1830s. Again and again since then, reformers of different stripes have tried to improve teaching with some of the same fixes — merit pay based on test scores, fast-track training programs, ranking teachers — with the same lack of success.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 4-5, 2015)

April 05, 2015

Baseball_grassOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Community Improvement/Development

"[T]he stories of individuals, communities and organizations who are working to help... transform [Detroit] street by street — in small and much larger ways — are often overlooked," writes Frances Kunreuther, co-director of the Building Movement Project, on the Transformations blog. In contrast, Detroiters who are working at the neighborhood level "know that the real promise of urban transformation comes not from the outside in, but from the inside out — building a new city from the bottom up."

Education

The debate in Congress over reauthorization of "No Child Left Behind," former President George W. Bush's signature education initiative, is a useful reminder, writes Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books, that "[p]overty is the major obstacle to equal education. To overcome that obstacle requires not only investing greater resources in the education of poor children, but creating economic opportunity and jobs for their parents."

Fundraising

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Michael Anft reports on research which shows "the charity world lacks a basic understanding of how donors' brains work, how would-be donors behave in certain situations, and what incentives can successfully woo them."

NPR reports that the dramatic shift in fundraising engendered by social media -- think Movember, the Ice Bucket Challenge, and Giving Tuesday -- is putting pressure on large national nonprofits to rethink their walk-related events.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 28-29, 2015)

March 29, 2015

Umbrella_april-showersOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Collaboration

On the Rockefeller Foundation blog, Zia Khan, the foundation's vice president for initiatives and strategy, shares four "counter-intuitive lessons" about cross-sector collaboration.

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Bill Anderson, technical lead for the Secretariat of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), examines the potential for a people-based data revolution across Africa.

Education

50CAN, a network of local education advocates "learning from and supporting each other," has launched a new blog called The Catalyst to help local education leaders develop policy goals, craft their advocacy plans, and secure lasting change.

On the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation blog, Cari Schneider, director of research and policy for Getting Smart, suggests that one of the least appreciated barriers to effective education reform is definitional in nature.

Fundraising

Why do people give to charity? The Guardian explains.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 21-22, 2015)

March 22, 2015

Think_springOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Cold winter, wasn't it? Well, yes, if you were on the East Coast of the United States. Not so much everywhere else.

According to Equities.com, the Guardian has launched a campaign to encourage the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, the two largest funders of nongovernmental medical and scientific research in the world, to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil fuel companies. "We have to confront our own inconsistencies," said Professor Chris Rapley, former director of the Science Museum in London. "Either [Gates and the Trust] accept the argument that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels or they don't. It's highly symbolic when charities like this make a stand."

Education

On the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. program, argues that annual, comprehensive education data is vital to ensuring that all students have access to a quality education.

International Development

In the Washington Post, Kevin Sullivan and Rosalind Helderman offer a closer look at how Bill and Hillary Clinton's charitable work in Haiti has both succeeded and failed.

Leadership

On the NCRP blog, Britt Yamamoto, executive director of iLEAP, a nonprofit organization that works to inspire and renew social leaders, shares some key takeaways from the NCRP report Cultivating Nonprofit Leadership: A (Missed?) Philanthropic Opportunity.

Grantmaking

The future of innovation in the social sector is...general operating support, writes Jocelyn Wyatt, executive director of IDEO, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Nonprofits

Boston-based venture capitalist Todd Dagres is a fan of Shark Tank, the ABC business-pitch reality show, and according to the Boston Globe's Sacha Pfeiffer, he's looking to create a competition modeled on the show where "[e]arly-stage not-for-profit organizations could pitch their missions to investors, who would vet them on their plans and fund those they consider most promising."

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 7-8, 2015)

March 08, 2015

Daylight-Saving-TimeOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Criminal Justice

"For years, punitive policies...have conspired to reinforce injustice and inequality [in America]. Together, they have produced an overrepresentation of people of color in our prisons and jails. Today, more African Americans are part of the criminal justice system than were enslaved on the eve of the Civil War," writes Ford Foundation president Darren Walker in an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee. Walker goes on to mention some of the things Ford is doing to bring change to the criminal justice system and urges policy makers and his colleagues in philanthropy to do more to address the root causes and systemic issues that contribute to the shameful pattern of mass incarceration in the U.S.

Education

In the Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton reports that New Jersey governor Chris Christie's plan to remake the Newark public school system with the help of a $100 million investment from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has run aground.

Fundraising

In a post on LinkedIn, Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steve Nardizzi applauds the Humane Society of the United States'  suit against Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, who, according to Nardizzi, "has waged a public war against the HSUS, accusing the organization of exorbitant fundraising costs for misleading solicitations and untruthful advertisements."

On the other hand...a new report (“Pennies for Charity”) shows that for-profit telemarketers operating in New York in 2013 retained the majority of the funds they raised on behalf of charities.

Governance

Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jim Thaden, executive director of the Central Asia Institute, offers a staunch defense of the organization's decision not to fire co-founder Greg Mortenson after a 60 Minutes segment in 2011 questioned  many of the "facts" in Mortenson's best-selling 2006 memoir Three Cups of Tea and raised questions about the organization's finances.

Impact/Effectiveness

"Impact investing advocates can sometimes give the impression that they have 'outsmarted poverty' (and other societal problems)," writes Alex Counts, president and CEO of the Grameen Foundation, on the Center for Financial Inclusion blog. But "[i]t is important to remember that few if any social innovations besides microfinance have proven capable of reaching large scale and generating consistent profits – which should give people pause before they create a new impact investing 'bubble'."

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 28-March 1, 2015)

March 01, 2015

Leonard-nimoy-spockOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Data

On Medium, Dan Gillmor, the long-time technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News, argues that governments and powerful tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are creating "choke points" on the Internet and "using those choke points to destroy our privacy, limit our freedom of expression, and lock down culture and commerce. Too often," Gillmor adds, "we give them our permission — trading liberty for convenience — but a lot of this is being done without our knowledge, much less permission...."

Education

In an op-ed for the Minn Post, progressive activist and education blogger Lynnell Mickelsen suggests that Minneapolis could change its schools to work better for kids of color, but it "would involve asking mostly white middle-class administrators, teachers and employees to change their work lives — i.e. their schedules, assignments, job locations and even pay — around the needs, comfort and convenience of low-income people of color and their children." Be sure to check out the comments thread.

Giving

Pamela Yip, a business columnist for the Dallas Morning News, reports on a recent presentation by Sharna Goldseker, managing director of 21/64, a New York consulting firm, in which Goldseker touched on several factors that distinguish younger donors from their parents and grandparents.

Global Health

In a podcast on the Humanosphere blog, Gilles van Cutsem, a physician and medical director for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, says the Ebola crisis in West Africa is far from over.

Higher Education

As this well-thought-out data visualization from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows, America’s postsecondary student population is more diverse than ever.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 14-15, 2015)

February 15, 2015

No-snow-signOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

Foundations and philanthropists need to find new ways to advocate in the post-Citizens United world, write Shelley Whelpton and Andrew Schultz on the Arabella Advisors blog, "or risk ceding influence over national policy to those who are willing and eager to play by the new rules."

Arts and Culture

Nice post on the Dodge Foundation blog by ArtPride's Ann Marie Miller, who curates recent research and opinions on what she terms the "shifting paradigms" in the arts field. 

Education

The American Enterprise Institute's Jenn Hatfield shares three takeaways from a series of papers released last week at an AEI-hosted conference on education philanthropy:

  1. Education philanthropies have shifted their focus from trying to influence school systems to trying to influence policy.
  2. Education philanthropy is getting more attention, and a lot more criticism.
  3. Education philanthropies are evolving, and maybe even learning.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a heartfelt post that serves as a compelling counterpoint to a recent op-ed by Jennifer and Peter Buffett in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jed Emerson argues that, yes, "metrics matter." And while "too many of those in the impact investing community view an effective metrics reporting system as 'nice to have' as opposed to 'critical to our practice in advancing impact'...

the myth persists that we can attain our goal of effective and relevant metrics assessment and reporting. One must ask, after all the frustration and challenges, why do we bother? I submit we persist in our pursuit because we know at a deeply visceral level our goal of integrating meaningful metrics into the core of our efforts to create a changed world has value and is central to who we are....

International Development

Are insecticide-treated bed nets the most effective intervention against malaria in the global development toolkit? Maybe not, writes Robert Fortner in a special report on the Humanosphere site.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 7-8, 2015)

February 08, 2015

Winter-wonderland-tumblr-3Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The Guardian's Damian Carrington reports that Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the richest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets totaling more than $850 billion, dumped 32 coal-mining companies from its portfolio in 2014. "Our risk-based approach means that we exit sectors and areas where we see elevated levels of risk to our investments in the long term," said Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for GPFG, which had had $40 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. "Companies with particularly high greenhouse gas emissions may be exposed to risk from regulatory or other changes leading to a fall in demand."

Communications/Marketing

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, argues that, in the age of the Internet, "communications is not just an opportunity for nonprofits; it's a necessity. Whether we're fundraising or trying to influence policy," he continues,

how we reach the right person with the right message has changed profoundly. Now it can take far more to figure out who the right people are, what channels to reach or influence them through, and how to hear them. It’s one thing to land a grant to open a new art space; it’s another to convince city hall that the community wants it, and still another to build a community to support it....

Education

It is troubling and a very big deal, writes Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, that a majority of U.S. public school children today live in poverty and are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. 

Grantmaking

On the Glasspockets Transparency Talk blog, Jessica Bearman (aka "Dr. Streamline) shares six things foundations can do to improve the diversity and inclusion of their grantmaking.

Impact/Effectiveness

In a LinkedIn post, Peter York, founder and CEO at Algorhythm, a Philadelphia-based software company that is working to "democratize" impact measurement, asks: Who really has access to the power of impact measurement? And is there more we can do to make it available to everyone, including the beneficiary?

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Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty

February 07, 2015

Instead of posting an infographic, as we usually do on Saturdays, we decided to mix things up this week and share a compelling presentation put together by journalist and author Jeff Madrick (Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World; Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present), Clio Chang, and their colleagues at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank here in New York City.

Built with an online tool called Creatavist, Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty opens with a reminder that the official child poverty rate in the United States today stands at 20 percent, the second-highest among the world's developed countries. The presentation then segues into an articulation of  seven "lessons" about childhood poverty in the U.S. — lessons formulated at the Century Foundation's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June. They are:

  1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts
  2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally
  3. The Power of Parental Education
  4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement
  5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood
  6. Government Works 
  7. Cash Allowances Are Effective

The length of a substantial blog post, each lesson includes downloadable tables and charts, a short video, and links to related materials.

So grab a mug of your favorite warm beverage, pull up a seat, and start reading. We're pretty sure that by the end of the last lesson, you'll agree with Madrick, et al. that "investment in early childhood is the best way to create a better economic life for all Americans." 

[Review] 'The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession'

January 07, 2015

Bookcover_The_Teacher_WarsConventional wisdom has it that America's once first-rate public education system is a shadow of its former self, today surpassed in both quality and cost-effectiveness by the educational systems of any number of European and Asian countries and with little hope of improvement.

Although some of this decline has been blamed on larger societal problems such as poverty and racism, the teaching profession itself has come in for a large share of criticism. In this view, "bad" teachers — those seen to be undereducated, coddled by their unions, and/or unmotivated and uncaring — are virtually untouchable, while good teachers are forced out of the profession by poor pay and lack of respect.

According to Dana Goldstein, there's nothing new about the conventional wisdom. Indeed, throughout U.S. history, she writes in The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession, teachers have been unfairly blamed for the state of American public education even though a host of larger "villains" — misguided reform movements, an unhealthy obsession with standardized tests, ideological crusading, political meddling — are more rightly to blame.

Goldstein characterizes the regular attacks on public school teachers as the product of "moral panics," a term used by sociologists to identify an all-too-common feature of American society in which "policy makers and the media focus on a single class of people . . . as emblems of a large, complex social problem." She identifies at least a dozen such panics, and in each one she finds that blame for the failings of the American educational system, real or imagined, was assigned to one easily vilified group or another: intemperate male teachers, undereducated female teachers, black intellectuals, unionized teachers, unpatriotic teachers, alternative-program recruits, and teachers protected by seniority, to name a few.

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