Connect With Us
YouTube
RSS

185 posts categorized "Education"

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Missouri) currently are going through a review process that will result in new standards; and one state, Oklahoma, has repealed the standards.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?

MP: First, let's be clear that the Common Core standards were not developed "behind closed doors." Teachers, in particular, played a critical role in improving the standards. Here's how Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford put it in their American Journal of Education article, "Evidence Use and the Common Core State Standards Movement: From Problem Definition to Policy Adoption":

Both the AFT and the NEA convened groups of teachers to review CCSS drafts. The AFT drew its group of reviewers from members involved in providing professional development to colleagues and the NEA from national board certified members. The AFT math review team met four times and the ELA team three times. After an extensive review of drafts, they communicated their concerns in face-to-face meetings with the standards writers....

We at the Fordham Institute reviewed multiple drafts of the standards, and published our reviews online. One can see a clear progression from relatively mediocre first drafts to a strong final product.

That said, I do believe that Common Core supporters made a huge mistake in not crying bloody murder when Arne Duncan incentivized adoption of the standards through Race to the Top. Conservatives are right to worry about federal involvement in this area, and the distinction between "incentives" and "mandates" turned out to be meaningless with respect to the public debate.

As for foundations, I do believe that philanthropy played an appropriate role in the development and adoption of the Common Core. For years education reformers have argued that foundations need to engage in the policy-making process if they want to make a significant impact; otherwise, they are simply throwing "buckets into the sea," in the memorable phrase of University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene. In the case of the Common Core, their resources were essential in funding the technical work involved in developing the standards and in ensuring rigorous feedback on the various drafts.

Where the foundations erred — as did the Obama administration — was in their approach to the federal role. The center-left orientation of the major Common Core funders blinded them to the backlash that would come from the right because of federal involvement in the Common Core endeavor. I regret that we at the Fordham Institute didn't do more to warn them — and the administration — to avoid any and all federal entanglements.

PND: Do you support the recommendation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to institute a moratorium on the question of using Common Core-aligned assessments to evaluate teachers and determine student promotions?

MP: Absolutely, and I was heartened to see Arne Duncan endorse this course of action as well. There are many reasons for such a "pause" in the use of student test scores for high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. The first is simply logistical: it is technically challenging to develop accurate measures of student growth when switching from one test to another. Furthermore, states may not have the results from the new tests back in time to compute student growth even if they were able to overcome the technical challenges. Then there's the issue of fairness and morale: this is a time to encourage teachers to try new approaches, to stretch themselves, to collaborate, to push their students toward new, higher expectations. Understandably, teachers want some assurance that if they are going to take these risks, they are not going to face the guillotine if they fail.

PND: What are the implications of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's decision, apparently for political reasons, to withdraw his support for the Common Core?

MP: Everyone knows that Governor Jindal flip-flopped on the Common Core as a way to audition as "Tea Party Darling" for the 2016 presidential sweepstakes. And in crass political terms, his decision may work. What Governor Jindal may not have expected was the fierce pushback from his own state superintendent, his own Board of Education, his own Board of Regents, and a majority of Republicans in the state legislature. And it looks like he is going to lose on the merits in the courts. Surely other Republican politicians are watching and learning. If Governor Jindal gets a bounce from fighting the Common Core, others might follow. So far, the lesson appears to be that flip-flopping on this issue is no more popular than flip-flopping on any other issue.

PND: Broadly speaking, what role or roles should organized philanthropy be playing in education reform? What is it doing well? And what, if anything, should it do less of?

MP: Let's be honest: there would be no education reform movement were it not for philanthropy. That's nothing new; old-line foundations have been investing in public education reform for almost a century. What is new is that the current generation of foundations — foundations such as Broad, Gates, and Walton — are willing to invest larger amounts of money, in a more aggressive way, and not just through the system as it currently exists.

On the whole, this is an overwhelmingly positive development. It has led to the most promising innovations in education in generations, including Teach For America, which is pumping new talent into the education system; "No Excuses" charter schools, which are achieving breakthrough results for low-income students and are starting to scale; and, of course, the Common Core standards, which represent a radical raising of expectations.

This new philanthropy also has been admirably open to self-examination and course correction. The major funders of the charter school movement, for instance, have led efforts to improve charter quality and accountability, efforts that are starting to bear fruit.

The mistakes, in my view, mostly come in two categories. The first is political tone-deafness, particularly around top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms. That certainly includes the Common Core, which should have been protected from any federal interference. But it especially involves the push for prescriptive statewide teacher evaluation systems, which, as former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said, raised the stakes for high-stakes testing dramatically and fueled a backlash to much of the reform agenda in the politically powerful suburbs.

The second category is around funders' "theory of action," which, in my view, has been too narrowly focused on college as the sole pathway to the middle class for poor children. There's no doubt that college is a great pathway, and we should continue to work to help many more low-income students complete two- and four-year degrees. But there are other great pathways, too, including high-quality career and technical education programs and apprenticeships. If our goal is to end the cycle of poverty, we shouldn't overlook these other routes to the middle class.

Kyoko Uchida

'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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for…John Gomperts, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance

May 30, 2014

According to Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic 2014 (112 pages, PDF), a report published in April by America's Promise Alliance and its partners, the four-year high school graduation rate in the United States reached 80 percent for the first time ever in 2012. But while the overall rate is on track to reach the 90 percent goal set by the alliance's Building a GradNation Campaign, the report notes the troubling persistence of achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color. In an effort to help address those gaps, America's Promise just released Don't Call Them Dropouts: Understanding the Experiences of Young Americans Who Leave High School Before Graduation (72 pages, PDF), which looks at the multiple factors that result in students in high-poverty communities leaving high school before they graduate.

PND spoke with John Gomperts, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance, about the positive trendlines in graduation rates, the implications of the reports' findings, and what philanthropy can do to address the achievement gaps that remain. Before joining America’s Promise in 2012, Gomperts headed AmeriCorps, Civic Ventures, and Experience Corps.

Headshot_john_gompertsPhilanthropy News Digest: Building a Grad Nation notes that one of the factors in the steady rise in the U.S. high school graduation rate over the last decade is the significant improvement in African-American and Latino graduation rates. To what do you attribute those gains?

John Gomperts: We as a nation have seen an almost 10 percentage-point increase in high school graduation rates over about a decade, which is notable, because that means that an additional four hundred thousand young people are graduating every year than were graduating a decade ago. That's four hundred thousand young people who are on track to becoming successful adults, which is a huge thing for those young people, their families, their communities, and the nation. And, yes, we have seen impressive gains among African-American and Latino students. Those two groups had a long distance to travel, and that was one of the huge red flags for all of us who are concerned about young people and opportunity. But while graduation rates for African Americans and Latinos have improved over the last decade, they still graduate at  lower rates and there is more work to do.

To what do I attribute these gains? A couple of things. The first is a much greater awareness of the challenge. For a long time, people just assumed that everybody graduated from high school, or that it didn't matter. One of the big things that America's Promise and its partners set out to do was to help people understand that lots of kids are not graduating from high school, as well as the consequences of not graduating for those kids, their families, their communities, and the country.

Second, greater awareness of the problem led to much greater accountability at the school level, community level, family level, and national level, so that all of a sudden, with significant help from the federal government and from folks on the outside, people are now tracking graduation rates and holding institutions and individuals accountable for the outcomes.

Third, there is no question that targeted school reform has helped drive improvements in graduation rates. Those efforts come in a variety of forms: better teachers, better curriculum, longer school days, charter schools, teacher evaluations, and so on. In addition, a whole host of reforms have been targeted to the lowest-performing schools, and those have made a difference.

Fourth, we've learned a lot more about, and invested more heavily in, evidence-based interventions in schools and in communities. We've gotten smarter about what the real barriers are that prevent kids from staying and succeeding in school. Some of those things have to do with school, some of those things have to do with life, and I think many nonprofits have done a great job of working with local school districts and others to provide the kind of support that young people who are growing up in challenging circumstances need in order to flourish and thrive.

Continue reading »

It's Time to Make the American Dream Available to All

May 27, 2014

Headshot_geoff_canadaThe barriers to success that black men face have been in plain sight for decades, so it is particularly heartening to see a movement taking shape that is specifically crafted to address these challenges and change the odds for one of the most disenfranchised populations in America.

I was on the board of trustees of the Open Society Foundations when the idea of a black male achievement campaign first came up. While it was obvious that something needed to be done, we immediately found ourselves facing a philosophical dilemma: Was it right to target just one group when other groups also need help?

In a country where cultural and racial relations are as complicated as they are in the United States, people are understandably hesitant to publicly announce they are going to help one group while seemingly ignoring all others. Eventually, we concluded that tailoring our efforts to a group that has a common history and a resulting set of common challenges is absolutely the right approach. Black men in America — while individuals in their own right — are heirs to a unique historical experience. After slavery was ended by the Civil War, black men faced decades of institutional racism, Jim Crow and segregation, public lynchings, and disenfranchisement. More recently, they have been abused and demeaned by a toxic street culture and media stereotypes that glorify self-destructive behavior.

If we are going to close the achievement gap and end what the Children's Defense Fund calls the "cradle to prison pipeline" for black boys and men, we need to take into consideration the insidious context of their situation. Indeed, as the Campaign for Black Male Achievement has taken shape, gaining traction even as parallel efforts have emerged, we've seen how necessary and overdue such an effort is. While there is certainly a lot of day-to-day work still to be done, the narrative and national dialogue have begun to change. Ignorance and fear are giving way to empathy and intelligent action.

We have, in Barack Obama, a president who has given the imprimatur of the White House to the idea that racism will not be sanctioned or ignored by society.  In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the president's empathetic response created space for an honest, open, and clear-eyed public discussion of race relations and the stubbornness of racism in America.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 24-26, 2014)

May 26, 2014

Healing_Field2After another Typepad outage last weekend, we're back with our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Advocacy

In the Summer 2014 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Steven Teles, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, Heather Hurlburt, a senior fellow for national security at Human Rights First, and Mark Schmitt, director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation, argue that the mid-20th-century "golden age" of consensual politics in America was an anomaly and that, for nonprofits and foundations engaged in advocacy, there are three alternatives for dealing with increasing political polarization: staying the course; changing the system; and accepting and adapting.

Climate Change

On the F.B. Heron Foundation blog, Heron board chair Buzz Schmidt applauds Stanford University's recent decision "to 'repurpose' funds formerly invested in coal mining companies into investments that made more positive contributions to society's regenerative capital" and suggests that critics of the decision who suggest that divestment campaigns typically fail because they don't have any impact on companies' stock price are missing "the forest for the trees."

Education

In USA Today, Math for America president John Ewing argues that while the Common Core standards are not perfect, "they provide a structure that has a huge amount of potential if we just give [them] some time to work."

Fundraising

These days, it's hard to avoid talk about crowdfunding. But Social Velocity's Nell Edgington thinks it might be time to distinguish what's exciting about the crowdfunding approach from the hype and shares some questions to help us do that.

Continue reading »

Time to Put Poverty Back on the Education Reform Agenda

May 19, 2014

Headshot_kent_mcguireA few months ago the Southern Education Foundation released a report detailing the demographics of public school enrollment in the United States. The single most important finding in the report? Nearly half of all public school students in the nation and a majority in Western and Southern states are low-income and qualify for free and reduced lunch — and an increasing percentage of those are students of color. Unfortunately, a much-needed debate about the challenges presented by these demographic realities, especially for the nation's schools, has yet to occur. In fact, the dominant narrative around public education in the U.S. would have it that entrenched poverty has little or no impact on educational achievement. We all recognize that teacher effectiveness and high expectations for students are important elements in student achievement. But can we really ignore the implications of being poor for school readiness and success?

Poverty is really a proxy for a range of conditions and circumstances that shape the daily lives of students. A student who is hungry or cannot see or hear adequately is likely to have problems concentrating in class. We also know that children from low-income families have much higher rates of untreated dental conditions and endure more acute illnesses that lead to chronic absenteeism and lost instructional time. If education reform policies are insensitive to these realities, there is little reason to expect that learning outcomes for low-income children will improve.

In spite of our best efforts, income-related gaps in student achievement in the U.S. persist, from grade school all the way through college. Indeed, I am not at all confident that we have figured out how to break the link between family income level and academic success. And so I would ask: Are we sure that our current reform agenda, with its emphasis on standards, competition, and accountability, is adequate to the challenge of helping kids, especially the most vulnerable, learn and develop in ways that prepare them for the world of work or other postsecondary opportunities? What more should we be doing, and what else might we consider doing, to increase the odds that all kids, regardless of race, ethnicity, or family income, can take full advantage of all this country has to offer?

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 10-11, 2014)

May 11, 2014

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

Net_neutralityArts/Culture

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Skeel, a professor of bankruptcy law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, argues that the $816 million art-for-pensions deal to keep the Detroit Institute of Arts collection intact and in the city fails to protect all creditors equally and, therefore, is probably illegal.

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske, director of digital at the Rockefeller Foundation, shares the thinking behind the foundation's decision to underwrite a project that looks at the role digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a way to inspire action on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. Findings based on the foundation's initial convenings have been packaged in a report, Digital Storytelling for Social Impact, that's embedded in Geneske's post or can be downloaded here.

Education

In a post on the Campaign for America's Future blog, Jeff Bryant, editor of the Education Opportunity Network site, looks at a handful of recent reports that call into question the efficacy of private charter schools.

Environment

Nice two-part interview on the Greenpeace USA blog with environmental activist and documentarian (The Story of Stuff) Annie Leonard, who earlier this week was named to lead the organization.

The announcement by Stanford that it was divesting its endowment of investments in coal companies has officials at other colleges and universities feeling the heat, writes Jonathan Berr on CBS' Moneywatch site. But in the New York Times, op-ed contributor Ivo Welch, a professor of finance and economics at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, argues that "[i]ndividual divestments, either as economic or symbolic pressure, have never succeeded in getting companies or countries to change."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (May 3-4, 2014)

May 04, 2014

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

Run_for_the_rosesCommunications/Marketing

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in progress blog, Heath Wickline, a communications officer at the foundation, poses a good question: What is a foundation Web site for? Whatever the eventual answer, Wickline admits that he and his colleagues have "the nagging feeling that we can and should be doing more. The [foundation], like many of our peers," he adds,

is sitting on a huge amount of data that comes out of our grantmaking. We believe it could be valuable to a wider audience: policymakers, funders contemplating grantmaking in fields where we fund, nonprofits who wouldn't be eligible for a grant, but whose work is adjacent to what we fund. We regularly conduct evaluations of our strategies to determine what's worked and what hasn't. And the end result of much of our grantmaking is research that could have important implications for policy. Our commitment to transparency means we can, and should, do everything in our power to ensure that all of that information is not only available, but easy to find and to use....

The Ford Foundation also is building a new Web site and, through an Un-Survey, is asking all of us to tell it what kinds of questions the site should answer. A clever and creative idea.

On the Markets for Good blog, Peter Grundy, the "father of the infographic," credits his invention to two ephiphanies, one in 1990 ("good information design is not about visualizing information but about visualizing our opinions of information" and the second ("making things simple is complicated") in 2000.

Education

On her blog, Diane Ravitch responds to Alexander Nazaryan, the author of a Newsweek piece rebuking Louis C.K. for slamming Common Core standards.

Impact/Effectiveness

In an important post on the McKnight Foundation blog, Kate Wolford, the foundation's president, offers a few thoughts on the foundation's decision to invest $200 million, roughly 10 percent of its current assets, in four impact investment categories: mission-related investments via public markets, mission-related investments via private markets, mission-driven investments, and program-related investments.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (April 26-27, 2014)

April 27, 2014

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

Earth_day_treeCommunications/Marketing

On the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers blog, Rick Moyers, vice president for programs and communications at the D.C.-based Meyer Foundation, admits to having become "convinced that almost all nonprofits could engage more supporters and have a greater impact if only they were better at telling their stories" -- and shares some resources the foundation has put together to help nonprofits do just that.

Education

On his Straight Up blog, education policy maven Rick Hess shares a "robust" exchange between teacher/blogger John Thompson and Steve Cantrell, senior program officer for research and data at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, regarding Thompson's concerns about the foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching project.

The Lumina Foundation, in partnership with other leading education organizations, has announced the launch of a social network called MoveED for Goal 2025, with the aim of building a national movement to make attainment beyond high school a reality for all Americans, including low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, and adult learners.

Fundraising

Interesting (and, some would say, familiar) story in Tech Crunch about a recent $23 million investment in CrowdRise, a crowdfunding platform conceived by the actor Edward Norton, Robert Wolfe, Shauna Robertson, and Jeffery Wolfe that aims to be "the crowdfunding platform for charitable activity."

Impact/Effectiveness

The Case Foundation has released "A Short Guide to Impact Investing," a basic primer on the subject based on conversations with hundreds of individuals in the impact investing community. The foundation calls this a "working version" and is encouraging feedback from readers on each chapter as the next step in creating a final version of the guide.

And some good news on that front. New numbers from one of the very first SIB-supported programs in the UK suggest that "short-sentenced offenders receiving through-the-gate support on release from HMP Peterborough as part of an innovative payment-by-results (PbR) Social Impact Bond pilot are less likely to reoffend than those outside the scheme."

On the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, Jeff Bradach, co-founder and managing partner of the Bridgespan Group, announces the launch of Achieving Transformative Scale, an eight-week-long blog series that will explore some of the solutions that social sector leaders around the world are pursuing to take their work to scale.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "[Richard] Wagner's music is better than it sounds...."

    Mark Twain

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Tags

Other Blogs