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192 posts categorized "Education"

Knight Cities Challenge: We Want Your Best Idea to Make Gary More Successful

October 17, 2014

Knight_cities_challlengeThe City of Gary, Indiana, is ushering in a new era. The days when the city was synonymous with urban blight and crime are fading into the distance.  Once a symbol of disinvestment standing next to City Hall, the Sheraton Hotel is being demolished and will be replaced with community green space.  Marquette Park has undergone an extensive renovation, making it a hub for community and family-focused events, including Gary's first marathon. Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, a newly renovated Boys and Girls Club sits in the once vacant Tolleston School. Gary's hometown brewery is producing critically acclaimed beer and continues to grow. And, IUN and Ivy Tech have partnered to build a new Arts and Sciences building on the corner of 35th and Broadway to serve as a cornerstone for future redevelopment projects.

The city is on the upswing, and everyone from teachers to business owners is feeling it.  But what's behind Gary's revival, and what can we do to maintain, support, and build on the transformation? How do we ensure that Gary continues to become a more vibrant place to live and work?

Over the next three years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a private, independent foundation based in Miami, will invest $15 million to answer these questions in Gary and twenty-five other communities across the United States. The foundation believes it is the city's own activists, designers, artists, planning professionals, hackers, architects, officials, educators, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and social workers who have the answers, and it wants them to take hold of their city's future. To that end, all are welcome to submit ideas to the Knight Cities Challenge in one of three areas that the foundation believes are the drivers of future success for Gary: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

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Arts Education and Human Development: Creating Space for Transformation

October 15, 2014

Selvon_waldron_PhilanTopicArt can change lives.

For over eighteen years, we have lived that reality at Life Pieces To Masterpieces, a comprehensive arts-based youth development nonprofit serving African-American males from the most underserved communities in Washington, D.C. We have seen — over and over, with more than a thousand young men — the transformation that happens when youth connect to and embrace their creative potential. We have learned that individual brilliance is a universal trait. It only needs the space to grow.

The research is clear: the arts play a crucial role in positive youth development. They stimulate imagination; build problem-solving and critical thinking; develop perception, vision, and self-confidence; teach delayed gratification and the ability to complete long-term tasks; stimulate memory; and motivate children to learn[1]. These benefits are particularly pronounced among youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Across all measures of academic achievement and civic engagement, youth from low-income backgrounds with high exposure to arts outperform their peers from similar backgrounds, and they reach outcomes “closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied.”[2] For funders seeking to assist in closing gaps in opportunity and achievement, arts education has proven to be among the most efficient and impactful investments available.

Of course, not all arts education is created equal. As an organization committed to holistic human development, we know that process and approach matter. All that we do with our Apprentices (program participants) is rooted in our award-winning Human Development System, a concrete set of beliefs, values, and strategies to help individuals connect to their sense of purpose. Our unique, collective process is structured not only to make art fun and creative (though it certainly is) but also to serve as a vehicle for processing experiences, healing wounds, and navigating challenges. For youth facing violence and trauma, it becomes a therapeutic outlet, a chance to reconnect with a sense of control and personal power in an often chaotic world. For youth too frequently told, shown, and exposed to ideas of their own inadequacy, it becomes a powerful tool to rebuild a sense of self-worth and reconnect to the reality of their brilliance.

The philanthropic community tends to operate in perpetual pursuit of silver bullets, hunting out promising outcomes and attempting to copy-and-paste the programs that create them into new environments and communities. We are very proud of our outcomes. In a city where the graduation rate for African-American males is well under 50 percent, for eight years in a row 100 percent of our Apprentices have graduated high school. And an external evaluation of our program found that 100 percent of program participants’ parents and guardians reported improved attitudes toward the future in their children. Still, we don’t claim the specifics of our programs or our artistic process to be any type of panacea. We have grown, developed, and innovated based on the specific needs and experiences of the community of which we are a part. That is why, rather than attempting to franchise or spread nationally, we are focused on reaching more of our target population in Washington, D.C.

We do, however, believe that one of the key factors to our success can and should be applied universally. And we believe that funders seeking to create a truly meaningful and sustainable impact should put this factor at the center of their funding priorities: the intentional commitment to building an environment of love, security, and expression. In an increasingly data-driven world, that can sound soft and unscientific. But it is the truth, as we have experienced it for more than eighteen years. The type of creative expression that produces real, transformative change is only possible when youth are able to immerse themselves in a loving, safe space. What matters is not handing a young man a paintbrush; what matters is allowing that young man to experience an environment that honors and respects his potential greatness.

So before asking an organization about its outcomes, ask about the kind of space they create. How do they make space for unique identities and means of expression? How do they ensure that each individual’s specific talents, abilities, and interests are engaged? How do they provide opportunities for participants to connect with themselves, their peers, and program staff? How do they make sure, every day and in every interaction, that youth in their programs feel loved, safe, and able to express their true selves? When those questions are answered honestly, with thought, care, and intentionality, you can trust that positive outcomes will follow.

Art can change lives. Creating an environment in which it does so is the real art of arts education.

Selvon Waldron, executive director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces, is a youth development leader and human rights activist.


[1] “Fact Sheet About the Benefits of Arts Education for Children,” Americans for the Arts. Washington, DC. 24 September 2013

[2] James S. Catterall, Susan A. Dumais, and Gillian Hampden-Thompson. “Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies.” Arts.gov, National Endowment for the Arts. Washington, DC. March 2012

'Under Construction': Phoenix Indian Center – College and Career Readiness

October 03, 2014

Under_construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions nd was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

The Hohokam Indians made their mark nearly two millennia ago. In the hot desert region that is home to Phoenix today, the Hohokam developed agriculture based on a sophisticated irrigation system. Using only hand tools, they fashioned a canal network stretching more than five hundred miles through the Gila and Salt River valleys.

This summer, Augustine Newman, 16, heard of these amazing feats of engineering for the first time. This wasn't just historical fodder; the pre-industrial technology of the Hohokam fueled a deep pride in Augustine, an aspiring scientist who is half-Apache and affiliated with the San Carlos Tribe. "We Natives had our own system," he explains. "We were able to be self-sufficient."

PIC_augustine_newmanAugustine was among sixty young men who heard about the Hohokam canal system during a tour of the offices of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a diversion system that carries water from the Colorado River to municipalities and reservations in central Arizona. The visit was part of a summer career exploration program within a larger College and Career Readiness initiative organized by the Phoenix Indian Center. Katosha Nakai, former chair of the center's board of directors and CAP's tribal affairs and policy development manager, led the tour through the many CAP departments — accounting, legal, engineering, water operations. The tour largely served to show the young men the kinds of jobs available with the right training and education.

The trip to CAP was one of many eye-opening moments during the first phase of a program serving young American Indian men in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Over two short weeks, the guys connected with each other, explored their roots, and considered different college and career options. It was a time for surveying the world beyond their home base in Phoenix or on one of the nearby Indian reservations.

It's quite possible that the Hohokam irrigation canals are not featured in local school textbooks. One of the program’s participants, Nathaniel Talamantez, who is Akimel-O'Otham and a member of the Gila River Tribal Community, says that at his school "maybe they'll do two pages [of Indian history] in the book and that's it."

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 27-28, 2014)

September 28, 2014

Hk_protests_07011Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Economy

A new report from Jennifer Erickson and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress explores the "middle-class squeeze" -- the double-barreled phenomenon of stagnant income and rising costs that has eroded middle-class Americans' standard of living over the last decade or so.

Technology has been one of the factors behind stagnating middle class incomes. But in this Q&A with Eric Brynjolfsson, a professor of management science at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Nobel laureate Robert Shiller and Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, suggest that the exponential advance of machine learning will further exacerbate inequality and may lead to the end of paid employment for most of us.

Education

It's pretty much become conventional wisdom: Education is the antidote to racial inequality. But an analysis of the Fed's recently released 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances by Demos' Matt Bruenig finds that "white families are much wealthier than black and Hispanic families at every education level....[and] that all white families, even those at the lowest education level, have a higher median wealth than all black and Hispanic families, even those at the highest education level."

Cassie Walker Burke, an assistant managing editor at Crain's Chicago Business, has a good, balanced piece in Politico Magazine about the "Kalamazoo Promise" -- an initiative conceived and funded by philanthropists in that Michigan city "to pay for college for any student who attended the Kalamazoo schools from kindergarten on and then attended a public college in Michigan.

"[M]any public school leaders work with counter-productive assumptions about the readiness, interest and even the basic capacity of regular people to understand the changes our systems need to keep up with the times," writes Nicholas Donohue, president/CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog. And that's a shame, Donohue adds, because direct community engagement just may be the key to advancing meaningful education reform.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 20-21, 2014)

September 21, 2014

The link roundup is back, just in time for the autumnal equinox and what some are calling the largest climate change-related demonstration in history. Lots of other things happening as well, so let's get to it....

Charity

Writing in TIME, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reminds us that the National Football League is full of players and coaches who exemplify the word "character" and work tirelessly off the field to make a difference in their communities.

On the CoinDesk site, Tanaya Macheel reports that United Way Worldwide has announced it now accepts donations in bitcoin, becoming the latest charitable institution to accept the digital currency.

Communications/Marketing

In the latest installment of her "Big Idea" podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Allison Fine speaks with Internet pioneer and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls about the "intention economy" and the movement to put customers' needs and desires before those of your business or organization.

On the GrantCraft blog, Marc Moorghen, communications director at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ponders a question that most of us have asked at one point or another: What is communication all about?

And on her blog, Beth Kanter, recently returned from co-facilitating the "Impact Leadership Track" at the NTEN Leading Change Summit, addresses another good question: Does rigorous data collection thwart effective storytelling by nonprofits?

Education

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Betsy Doyle and Mike Perigo, a partner in and the head of the education practice at the Bridgespan Group, look at the efforts of district officials and local funders in Memphis, Tennessee, to improve the quality of instruction in Shelby County, where sixty-eight public schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state in terms of academic achievement. According to Doyle and Perigo, those efforts will be based on "a three-pronged talent strategy focused on: 1) retaining great teachers, 2) developing local teacher talent, and 3) recruiting national talent."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Teach for America co-founder and CEO Wendy Kopp defends her teacher-training organization from a spate of recent criticism "based on misrepresentation and toxic rhetoric." The impact of TFA, she writes,

is clear. Twelve years ago, D.C. students were scoring at the bottom compared with their peers in other large cities. Today, although there is still much to be done, schools in the nation's capital are improving faster than any other urban district's. This change is the result of the efforts of many people, but without Teach for America alumni, we'd lose much of the energy behind it. We'd lose schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and much of her cabinet, the mayor's deputy for education, the state superintendent, the past four "Teachers of the Year," the managers of the school principals, 20 percent of principals, hundreds of teachers and the leaders of many nonprofits working to support schools and students.

Would the United States really be better off if thousands of outstanding and committed people did not apply to Teach for America? We should be cheering those who devote their energy to working alongside others to meet the extra needs of our most marginalized kids. Not all of them will be teachers forever. But teachers can't solve this problem alone. We also need those who choose careers in education administration, policy, public health, law and business, who will carry with them the conviction and firsthand experience to lead change from outside the classroom....

Impact/Effectiveness

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Kopczynski, Jesse Fripp, Katie Early, David Jeromin, and Topher Wilkins dissect four myths that have grown up around the emerging field of impact investing and then explain why it's important for everyone in the social sector "to understand the impact space as a middle ground — an ecotone — between the traditional philanthropic space and the traditional commercial space."

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Making School Choice Work Requires New Cross-Sector Investments

September 12, 2014

Headshot_robin_lakeAs many thoughtful education reform advocates now admit, public school choice has created new possibilities for families desperate for better options. But it can also create significant access challenges for disadvantaged families. In cities where many state and local agencies oversee district and charter schools, fragmented governance makes solving those challenges especially difficult.

This is evident in cities like Detroit and Cleveland, where parents now have many school choices and districts must compete for students. While good new options exist in the form of charter and private schools, many families can't get access to them. District officials and charter authorizers protect their own schools from closure, so that weak schools stumble along and overall educational quality stagnates. Recognizing that the best schools have little advantage over weaker ones, the best educators and charter providers go elsewhere.

Recent research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education holds good and bad news for school choice advocates: we found that many parents in "high-choice" cities, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds, are today actively choosing their children's schools and getting access to their first or second choice. Yet our research also shows that too many parents face barriers to finding good schools, including difficulty in obtaining reliable information to inform their choices, navigating different eligibility and application requirements, and finding adequate transportation. Parents with the least education and those who have children with special needs report the most significant barriers.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2014)

September 02, 2014

Don't know what it's like where you are, but here in NYC someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that summer is over. Which is okay, because before it ends we want to make sure everyone has a chance to catch up with all the sizzling content we posted on PhilanTopic in August. Enjoy!

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

5 Questions for…Michael Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

August 26, 2014

With a new school year beginning and debate over the Common Core State Standards heating up, we thought it would be an excellent time to talk to an expert on the subject.

According to Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a D.C.-based think tank dedicated to advancing educational excellence for every child, the "Common Core Wars” scorecard currently stands at 42-4-3-1: forty-two states out of the forty-six that signed on to Common Core are still on board (including "plenty" of states that have "rebranded" the standards); four states (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia) never adopted them; three states (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Missouri) currently are going through a review process that will result in new standards; and one state, Oklahoma, has repealed the standards.

Headshot_michael_petrilliPND conducted the following Q&A with Petrilli earlier this month.

Philanthropy News Digest: One concern of opponents of the Common Core is that the standards are not as rigorous as some existing state standards. But a Fordham Institute analysis found that the Common Core standards were superior in content and rigor to the standards that three-quarters of the states were using in 2010. What are critics of the Common Core getting wrong? And why should any state with demonstrably tougher standards in place adopt the Common Core?

Michael Petrilli: Even critics of the Common Core acknowledge that the standards are more rigorous and challenging than what the vast majority of the states had in place before. To be frank, that's not saying much: most state standards pre-Common Core tended to be vague, misguided, or both. And the associated state tests, which often were set at ridiculously low levels, encouraged "drill and kill" style teaching, and regularly sent false signals that most students — and schools — were doing fine, were arguably worse.

The real question is how the Common Core stacks up to the best state standards, such as those that were in place in Massachusetts, Indiana, and California. In our judgment, it's a toss-up. Our reviewers gave the Common Core a grade of "A-" in mathematics and a "B+" in English language arts; a handful of states did slightly better, particularly in English. A smart move, then, would be to combine the Common Core with the best of these previous standards, as Massachusetts did in 2010 by adopting the Common Core but keeping, among other elements, the list of exemplary literary authors that was part of its old standards.

Why, you ask, should any of the handful of states with strong standards adopt the Common Core? We admitted to being divided on this question in 2010, though we anticipated some upside to the move to common standards, including the proliferation of high-quality Common Core-aligned curricula and assessments. In other words, it was our belief then that if states stuck with their old standards, even good ones, their educators would miss out on the improvements in curricula and assessments that we fully expected would soon sweep the country. Four long years later, we're finally seeing our prediction come true. Common Core-aligned curricular resources are starting to enter the market, and next spring Common Core-aligned assessments will replace the old state tests in at least half the country. And we still anticipate that these tools will represent big improvements over what preceded them.

But now the question, particularly in red and purple states, is whether states should stick with the Common Core. In Ohio, for instance, there's a bill under consideration that would move the state to the old Massachusetts standards in math and English. While that might have been attractive five years ago, in the interim school districts in the state have invested tens of millions of dollars in professional and curriculum development related to the Common Core. Ohio also is planning to use the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, which looks to be a huge improvement on its previous test. So, changing assessments again would bring enormous additional costs. Such a switch also would be greatly demoralizing to Ohio educators, who have been working hard to implement the Common Core. In short, teachers and administrators would be right to be frustrated by a move to dump the standards simply because of politics.

PND: Another frequent criticism of the Common Core is that it was paid for and developed by a handful of large foundations behind closed doors and represents U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's reform agenda. You've written elsewhere that it was "a huge mistake" for some Common Core supporters to urge the federal government to create incentives for state adoption of the standards. What about the role of foundations in the process? Could the Common Core, or something like it, have been developed without the support of the Gates, Hewlett, and Broad foundations?

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'Under Construction': Northside Achievement Zone

August 25, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

It's the classic question, probably the best way for an adult to get inside the mind of a child, who must imagine life ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.

Common sense dictates that we should outwardly deem every child's answer to that question as  airtight. Whatever you want, you can have. We'll embrace the different versions of those high-achieving future selves — whether it involves saving patients' lives, discovering a new gene, leading a Fortune 500 company. Privately, however, we may imagine less rosy futures, aware of certain realities that often impede the path to success, including income and wealth, geography, race, gender, and educational quality.

For a tightly knit group of residents in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, however, "whatever you want, you can have" is the gospel truth. For every child, no exceptions.

They have decided to aim very high for their children and to partner with mentors, teachers, tutors, and other professionals to provide the supports needed for their children to be ready for college and beyond. The mobilizing force behind this group is the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a Promise Neighborhood collaborative that seeks to end intergenerational poverty in North Minneapolis through education.

Delajuante Moore, Josh Mendez, and Jason Spellman are among the more than 1,600 youth — many low income and youth of color — living in North Minneapolis that, with their families, are enrolled in NAZ. All three young men have thought about what they want to be when they grow up. Delajuante, a rising eighth-grader and recent graduate of Ascension Catholic School (a NAZ partner school), wants to be a lawyer. His classmate Josh is looking at different options but is really interested in being a video game director. Jason, a rising sixth-grader at KIPP Stand Academy (another NAZ partner), wants to be a doctor.

UC_Jason_SpellmanThrough the messaging of NAZ and its partners, the young men are reminded constantly that their plans rest on getting a college degree. At KIPP, a college-preparatory charter school, Jason and his classmates are proud members of the "Class of 2024," the year they expect to graduate from a four-year university. With Josh and Delajuante, Jason participates in an afterschool program called 21st Century Academy that is designed explicitly to help middle-school-age students prepare for college and careers.

Nine local schools also partner with NAZ, along with a total of twenty-seven nonprofit anchor organizations, including afterschool and expanded learning programs, housing agencies, and early childhood centers. Together, all these actors form a tight circle of support around Northside students and families. And while these resources may be available in a majority of low-income communities, the NAZ difference is the way in which it coordinates and aligns the various partners, and in how it champions a Northside "culture of achievement," with empowered families leading the way.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 16-17, 2014)

August 17, 2014

Conflict_ImageOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education

Why hasn't the once-booming tech ed sector solved education's problems? Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor for the publication, shares some thoughts on that question from Paul Franz, a former doctoral candidate at Stanford who now teaches language arts in California. Those thoughts, writes Meyer, "mirror my own sentiment that education is a uniquely difficult challenge, both technically and socially, and that its difficulty confounds attempts to 'disrupt' it...."

Fundraising

The "ice bucket challenge," a grassroots campaign aimed at raising funds for the ALS Association, a a charity dedicated to finding a cure for amyotropic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease), went viral this week. Around the country, celebrities and members of the public were filmed being doused with a bucket of ice water and then posted the footage to their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. "Multiply this activity 70,000 times," writes William MacAskill, a research fellow in moral philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, "and the result is that the ALS Association has received $3 million in additional donations....[A] win-win, right?" Not according to MacAskill, whose own nonprofit, Giving What We Can, champions the principles of the effective altruism movement. The problem, writes MacAskill,

is funding cannibalism. That $3 million in donations doesn't appear out of a vacuum. Because people on average are limited in how much they're willing to donate to good causes, if someone donates $100 to the ALS Association, he or she will likely donate less to other charities....

***

This isn't to object to the ALS Association in particular. Almost every charity does the same thing — engaging in a race to the bottom where the benefits to the donor have to be as large as possible, and the costs as small as possible. (Things are even worse in the UK, where the reward of publicizing yourself all over social media comes at a suggested price of just £3 donated to MacMillan Cancer Support.) We should be very worried about this, because competitive fundraising ultimately destroys value for the social sector as a whole. We should not reward people for minor acts of altruism, when they could have done so much more, because doing so creates a culture where the correct response to the existence of preventable death and suffering is to give some pocket change....

Before you get too upset, read the entire piece. (MacAskill is a thoughtful young critic who, like many other people in the sector, has grown impatient with the status quo.) Then come back here and tell us why he's wrong — or right.

For an entirely different take on this question, take a look at this recent post by Philanthropy Daily contributor Scott Walter, executive vice president of the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., which is unsparing in its criticism of effective altruism (and Peter Singer, who inspired the movement).

In a short post on the BoardSource site, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions' Tom Ralser looks at the important distinction between a donor and an investor.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 19-20, 2014)

July 20, 2014

Headshot_stritch_garnerOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Education

In The Atlantic, Meredith Broussard, an assistant professor at Temple University, notes that asking poor school districts to give standardized tests inextricably tied to specific sets of books they can't afford to purchase is unfair to teachers, administrators, and students.

host of NPR's "Here & Now" program, Melinda Gates admitted that implementation of the Common Core, the national education guidelines in math and reading which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have strongly supported is the "tricky" part. "Let's be honest," Gates told Hobson.

The implementation of this is going to take some time. It has to be done carefully, it has to be done with teachers on board and they need to get some time before they can actually teach appropriately in the classroom. So you've got to make sure that the assessments and the consequences for teachers and students don’t happen immediately at the same time. And I think we got those two pieces overlapped and that’s why you got so much controversy....

Food Insecurity

A troubling article by Tracie McMillan in National Geographic finds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2006 decision to track "food insecurity" instead of "hunger" -- "shifting the focus from whether people [are] literally starving to whether staying fed [is] a problem" -- has led to a startling new picture of America in which 1 in 6 Americans -- some 49 million people -- "can't count on not being hungry."

Giving

Is the primary role of charity to fight poverty? That's the question raised by Meredith Jones, president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, in a thought-provoking post on the MaineCF blog.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the "America Gives More Act" (H.R. 4719). As The Nonprofit Times reports, the package of five measures is designed to increase charitable giving by boosting the deductible limit of food donations from 10 percent to 15 percent and guaranteeing fair market value regardless of demand; allowing individuals age 70.5 or older to make gifts from their IRAs without incurring withdrawal penalties; allowing a deduction to be taken for a conservation land easement; allowing gifts made until the individual tax filing deadline (April 15) to be deducted from the prior year's taxes; and reducing the excise tax on the investments of large private foundations from a rate of 2 percent to 1 percent; the latter provision is not scheduled to take effect until 2015. No word as yet as to when the Senate plans to take up the bill.

Forbes reports that Warren Buffett had broken his personal giving record -- set last year -- with gifts of Berkshire Hathaway class B stock totaling $2.8 billion. The recipients of Buffett's generosity include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (16.59 million shares worth $2.1 billion), the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (shares worth $215 million), and the Howard G. Buffett, Sherwood, and NoVo foundations — run by his children Howard, Susan and Peter, respectively — each of which received shares of BH stock worth $150 million.

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NGO-Run Schools: Three Ways to Increase Value

July 18, 2014

Headshot_bourassa_wastyIt's no secret that international development work has more than its share of challenges, especially when it involves a project that espouses a long-term goal such as improving access to or the quality of education. While some schools run by nongovernmental organizations fare better than others, most experience varied levels of success, depending on a range of factors. While many of these factors lie beyond the control of NGOs, others can be addressed at the local level. Based on our observations in the field, the following tactics have proved to be effective in boosting the success of NGO-run schools:

Create a Stimulating Environment

The squalid conditions in most refugee camps, communities of displaced people, and urban slums not only have negative physical effects on children but also psychological ones. Accordingly, a fresh school setting can be a refuge for children in otherwise less-than-desirable situations. Displaying bright, colorful drawings, paintings, and other artwork by students on classroom walls is one way to create a healthy, positive environment — an environment that sends a positive message, supports brain stimulation and learning, and helps combat absenteeism.

Libraries that offer not only textbooks but also picture books, short story collections, and graphic novels also have great appeal for students of all ages and can be an excellent way to get kids hooked on reading. And kids who are hooked on reading often will become ambassadors of education in their local communities, eagerly sharing their love of learning with their parents, siblings, and neighbors. Making the community more aware of the importance of literacy and education and getting buy-in through such methods can yield significant long-term benefits.

Active Learning and Group Work

We've noticed in our travels that when English-speaking visitors interact with students at NGO schools where English is taught as a second language, teachers are often quick to intervene and mediate without allowing time for either students or the visitors to negotiate a channel of communication. Having teachers constantly translate for students in such situations isn't helpful, however, as it denies kids the opportunity to work out what a visitor is trying to communicate or to make themselves understood on their own.

According to the late American psychiatrist William Glasser, we "learn" 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we say, and 90 percent of what we say and do. Thus, a better strategy would be to employ active learning methods — for example, letting foreign visitors in a classroom setting interact with students in English only. When students are encouraged to communicate through a combination of hand gestures and pictures or words on a blackboard in addition to the few English words or phrases they may possess, they almost always will learn more than if they simply relied on a teacher to translate for them.

Similarly, having students work in groups can be a great way to boost the socializing elements of classroom instruction and build students' confidence. A student who has a fear of speaking in front of others might be encouraged to focus on a different aspect of the team assignment, for instance, while another member of the group is assigned the task of speaking on behalf of the team. Knowing that their contribution was a valuable part of the group effort can be a powerful motivator for students who in more individualized settings might be too shy to assert themselves. It's also a good way for teachers to identify the weaknesses of individual students without highlighting those weaknesses to the rest of the class, and to pair "slow" and "fast" learners, thereby ensuring that no student is "left behind" while helping to cultivate empathy in stronger students.

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Whither Education? A Q&A With Michael McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation

July 03, 2014

Differing opinions about how best to educate children have been a feature of polite (and not-so-polite) conversation since the time of Plato, so it’s not surprising that such concerns continue to boil. Indeed, in recent decades it has become common for critics and reports to link the troubled state of public education in America with the decline of the republic and to insist that only a complete overhaul of the system, with a focus on those growing up in disadvantaged situations, can save us.

One of the earliest of those reports, 1983's A Nation at Risk, famously claimed that American schools were failing and called for dramatic action to remedy the situation, including the introduction of a seven-hour school day, a longer school year, and teachers' salaries that were "professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance-based." More than thirty years after its publication, however, few of the report's recommendations have been adopted, and the public education system in the U.S. remains an archipelago of local school districts that, some would argue, have little in common with each other.

Established in 1962, the Spencer Foundation received the majority of its endowment after the death in 1968 of its founder Lyle M. Spencer, who made his fortune from Science Research Associates, an educational publishing firm. In the years since its establishment, the foundation has continued to champion education research and today is led by Michael McPherson, a nationally known economist who became the foundation's fifth president in 2003 after serving as president of Macalester College in Minnesota for seven years and in a variety of roles at Williams College in Massachusetts for twenty-two years.

PND recently spoke with McPherson about the state of public education in the United States, the Common Core and its critics, and where the U.S. educational system is headed.

Headshot_michael_mcphersonPhilanthropy News Digest: As a college student in the 1980s, I minored in education, and one of the things we discussed a lot was A Nation At Risk, the 1983 report issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. More than thirty years after publication of that report, many people would say nothing has changed, that the education system in the United States continues to fail millions of children. What does the latest research tell us about what works and what doesn't in public education?

Michael McPherson: Well, it's impor­tant to supply some context. It's certainly true that there are large, important, and disturbing problems in American education, especially for students from low-income families or facing other forms of disadvantage. At the same time, our public schools perform better, on average, than they did thirty years ago. High school grad­uation rates are up over that period of time and test scores are higher, though not as high as people would like. I think some of the criticism is grounded in what I call Golden Age thinking. The fact is that people who are complaining about the performance of our public schools are complaining about schools that are producing kids who, on average, score better on tests than they and their peers did, which is rather ironic. It helps when discussing these things to keep a little perspective.

That said, a bigger problem is the fact that we haven't exhibited any persistence or consistency in our reform efforts, which have been sporadic and characterized by a sort of magic-bullet approach. People try things, give up on them, and go on to something else. Nor have we invested in a consistent fashion in the preparation and quality of teachers. It's as if we're hoping for better schools rather than actually coming up with a long-term plan to create better schools.

PND: When you say "long-term," how long do you mean?

MM: It depends on your goals. So far, nobody's been able to avoid the fact that it takes eighteen years or so for a child to become an adult. We haven't managed to speed up the human development process, and so if we want all children to be successful in school, we have to expose them to quality early childhood education by the age of three. The ultimate effects of such a policy, whether you're talking about high school graduation rates or college readiness, aren't going to be noticed for another fifteen years or so. But we should be able to make some judgments about whether a particular reform is working or not. Take Success for All, which is one of the most successful whole-school reform strategies to be introduced in the United States in decades. The program was introduced back in the 1990s, and today there are roughly a thousand Success for All schools in the U.S. These days, the organization attracts a lot of federal money, but it took them well over a decade to establish their bona fides. The point is, Americans are a pretty impatient people, and that doesn't always work to our advantage.

PND: What is the most important element in student success? Is it teachers? Parents? Something else?

MM: In many ways, the most important factor in student success is the consistency of attention paid to the development of the individual student. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that an exceptionally good teacher can produce a jump in test scores in his or her students but that that effect invariably fades after three or four years. That's not to say that every student needs at least one great teacher in every grade. But being able to provide kids with consistently good teachers throughout their school-age years is a lot better than an alternating pattern of spectacular and terrible teachers. Consistency is important, and that applies as well to what parents do and what happens early in kids' lives.

Let me also say that it's one thing to ask how important a factor is and another to ask how much we can influence that factor. It's one thing, for example, for a child to have "chosen" the right parents in terms of their interest in his or her schooling and development as a person, and to appreciate the importance of that "choice" in the bigger scheme of things. But there's not much evidence to suggest that public policy can have much of an effect on who your parents are. Your parents are your parents, and we have yet to identify or develop programs that change that basic equation in a consistent or reliable way. I don't mean to be negative or to dismiss the possibility of success for every child, regardless of circumstance, but I do think it's important, in terms of a policy framework, to ask both what matters and what can we affect?

PND: Well, are we asking the right questions about what works and what doesn't in public education?

MM: I think we spend too much time asking whether something does or doesn't work and not enough time asking how things work and why things work and for whom things work. The "what works" framework is a little binary in its way of operating. We all know from our personal lives that something that works well for one person, whether you're talking about their tennis game or their personal work style, doesn't necessarily work well for another person. Why should we assume that education is so simple that the same thing works for everybody?

You can see the same kind of problem in other areas of life. The pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of time and money on the trial-and-error discovery and development of different compounds, and then they go through a long experimental clinical trial phase to determine whether the compound works as intended and what its negative side effects might be. Increasingly, however, because of advances in our understanding of the human genome, we are developing better ex­plan­ations for how drugs work. And that is opening up the possibility we'll be able to design drugs that work for particular conditions and diseases, instead of marching around the jungle looking for exotic plants that might yield a new compound or two. In other words, trying out stuff with the aim of determining whether it works is not a particularly sophisticated research strategy.

PND: What else should we be questioning about our current approach to education reform?

MM: We should be worrying about the quality of our success measures. By that I mean we have allowed ourselves to slide, somewhat unreflectively, into equating test scores with academic achievement or educational success. But even within the realm of academic achievement, there are a lot of things these tests don't capture very well. The ability to write a good essay, for example, which is difficult to assess through standardized tests; it's not impossible, but it's almost impossible to do it cheaply and at scale. There's also a lot of evidence to suggest that factors ostensibly influenced by one's schooling include things we don't usually think of as "academic," such as perseverance, resilience, conscientiousness, the ability to handle disappointment, et cetera. All these things seem to matter quite a bit, but they tend to disappear from view when the focus is on test performance.

Finally, I'd say we need to spend more time thinking about measures in general and what we're really trying to achieve with the schooling we provide our children. Presumably test scores are a means to an end, right? Well, what is the end? We're not having that conversation, which is too bad, because I believe thinking more about the ends would be a con­structive thing to do.

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Game-Changing Philanthropy Through Funder Collaboration

June 12, 2014

Headshot_bossiere_corvingtonPhilanthropy has spent decades focused on achieving good outcomes with not enough to show when it comes to population-level impact on intergenerational poverty. It's clear that to achieve better results, we need to change the way we do our work.

As we ask nonprofits to collaborate to ensure better alignment and more secure hand-offs between and among programs, we funders have got to be prepared to do the same.

Fortunately, there are a number of foundations that have already figured this out. In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation asked a dozen fellow funders — banks, insurance companies, family foundations, and the local United Way — to align their grantmaking with the goal of ensuring that every child in the community enters fourth grade reading at grade level. Thanks to those efforts, the Funder Collaborative for Reading Success has supported a variety of tutoring, afterschool, and summer learning programs.

In Iowa, the ten foundations in the Education Funders Network have agreed to jointly fund an early reading initiative, starting with a summer learning push that is being rolled out this month in communities across the state. In Arizona, the state's leading philanthropic organizations have joined with public agencies and more than five dozen community nonprofits to create Read On Arizona, an effort aimed at improving language and literacy outcomes for children from birth through age 8.

These efforts give lie to the social-sector adage that "collaboration is an unnatural act between non-consenting adults." Together, these foundations are pushing through the discomfort that comes with yielding control of the agenda and are diving into the messy work of shared accountability and elevated expectations.

What's more, they're directing their energy toward one of the biggest problems our nation faces: the fact that four-fifths of children from low-income families have not learned to read proficiently by the time they finish third grade.

This is a problem with grave consequences. Third grade marks the point where the curriculum shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who don't reach that critical milestone often struggle in the later grades and are more likely to drop out of high school. Too often, even in good schools with effective teachers, these are the children least likely to succeed, because they are too far behind when they start, miss too many days of school, and lose too much ground over the summer.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 7-8, 2014)

June 08, 2014

World Cup_logoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

On the Bloomberg View site, Cass Sunstein, the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard University, provides three rebuttals to the so-called Sophisticated Objection of the fossil fuel lobby and its supporters, an argument which acknowledges that while climate change is a serious problem, unilateral action by any country will impose significant costs without producing significant benefits.

Data

On the Markets for Good blog, Lucy Bernholz suggests it's time we started thinking more seriously about how to "collect, organize, govern, store, share, and destroy digital data for public benefit" – and offers a couple of "deliberately half-baked" ideas to get us started.

"Good data practice is not just about the technical skills," writes Beth Kanter on her blog. "There is a human side [as well].  It is found between the dashboard and the chair. It includes organizational culture and its influence on decision-making – from consensus building on indicators, agility in responding to data with action, and sense-making. It is the human side that helps nonprofits use  their data for learning and continuous improvement." 

Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, L.S. Hall weighs in with a surprisingly generous consideration of the education philanthropy of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Evaluation

Nancy Roob, president and CEO of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, argues in a post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog that while fears of rigorous evaluation are "justifiable," a broader perspective on the purposes of evaluation can help allay them.

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