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257 posts categorized "Education"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2016)

July 03, 2016

Happy Fourth of July weekend! Hope you're spending it with family and friends. Before we head back out with more shrimp for the barbie, we thought we'd revisit some of the great content we shared here on PhilanTopic in June. Enjoy!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

[Review] Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

July 02, 2016

The 10,000-hour rule popularized by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell in his bookOutliers is just another way to say practice makes perfect. But what makes us want to continue practicing? In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, MacArthur Fellow and University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth makes the case for understanding personal achievement through the lens of "grit." Yes, intelligence matters, Duckworth argues, but follow-through and tenacity are just as, if not more, important.

BookImage_GritWith Gladwell-esque verve, Duckworth, a former management consultant at McKinsey who left the firm to teach seventh-grade math in a New York City public school, combines engaging stories with the latest research in her discipline, positive psychology, to explain why achievement should be understood more as a function of continuous effort rather than natural ability, all the while maintaining the reader-friendly language and cadence of pop science.

Duckworth's big idea is based on her graduate work, which she distills into two equations: talent x effort = skill and skill x effort = achievement. "Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort," she writes. "Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them." While she acknowledges that her framework overlooks the role of luck and opportunities provided by nurturing relationships, be it a coach, parent, or mentor, her point is straightforward: concentrated long-term effort is a key ingredient in achieving any goal. "With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive."

So what is grit? Using stories from the NFL, journalism, Wall Street, and even cartooning, Duckworth argues that grit isn't just about working incredibly hard (although that's important); it's about "working on something you care about so much that you're willing to stay loyal to it." Think you've got passion and perseverance? Duckworth includes a "Grit Scale" to help readers calculate just how gritty they are. If you don't score well, despair not. You can change, she says — "grittiness" can be improved.

The "life-organizing goal" that drives Duckworth's work is to "use psychological science to help kids thrive." Her core thesis is that grit can be developed "from the inside out" — through the discovery of a passion or purpose, dedicated hours of practice, and the belief that our efforts will help create a better future — as well as "from the outside in" — through supportive anddemanding parenting, immersion in enriching extracurricular activities, and exposure to a culture of excellence.

Of course, given that economic, educational, and cultural resources are not equitably distributed in society, there's an obvious flaw in Duckworth's promotion of "growing grit" as a solution to systemic educational challenges. And while she admits that social biases and structural impediments can deter even the grittiest students, she really doesn't have an answer as to how those challenges might be addressed.

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[Review] Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence

June 20, 2016

From the fight over Common Core and concerns about charter school expansion to the fallout from Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the public school district in Newark, New Jersey, the role of philanthropy in shaping education reform has been a topic of discussion for years. Indeed, foundation funding for education has nearly quadrupled over the last three decades, while major funders like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have been routinely criticized for their top-down approach and outsize influence in advancing specific reform agendas.

Cover_policy_patronsWhat role, then, should foundations play in supporting education reform? In Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence, Megan E. Tompkins-Stange, an assistant professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, explores the question by comparing the "outcome-oriented" models of Gates and Broad with the more traditional "field-oriented" approaches of foundations such as Ford and Kellogg. Based on archival material and extensive interviews conducted anonymously with foundation and grantee executives and staff as well as education experts, her book offers a nuanced look at how major education funders view their reform strategies — and how they are viewed by others.

Founded in 2000 and 1999 in Seattle and Los Angeles, respectively, the Gates and Broad foundations are the "new players" in the field of education philanthropy, which before their emergence on the scene had been the domain of East Coast institutions like the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Annenberg and Ford foundations. It was the latter's $500 million Annenberg Challenge, launched in 1993 and now widely viewed "as a failure due to its dilution of capital across too many school districts, resulting in a lack of concentrated impact," however, that really brought philanthropy's role in education reform to the fore. In contrast, Bill Gates and Eli Broad, who are closely identified with the rise of philanthrocapitalism in the mid-2000s, have focused their efforts on achieving "concrete outcomes that yield significant return on investment...initiatives that reflect market-based values, such as choice and competition." In their view, Tompkins-Stange writes, foundations "should act as effective, efficient problem solvers that can circumvent bureaucratic blockages and catalyze innovation."

In 2006, Gates, whose support earlier in the decade for the creation of "small schools" within large public schools had little impact, shifted his focus and that of his foundation from structural education reform efforts to systemic reform, with an emphasis on teacher effectiveness and state standards and assessments. According to a former staffer, the foundation had "a very explicit theory of action about working at the state level to create a policy environment that would be supportive of the kinds of changes that [Gates] wanted to make." At the federal level, Gates has supported both Common Core and the Obama administration's Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) initiatives. Between 2005 and 2010, the share of its education funding allocated to policy advocacy — which, according to a Gates official, enables the foundation "to get maximum leverage out of the program invest that we make" — quadrupled, to 20 percent annually ($78 million in 2009).

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 18-19, 2016)

June 19, 2016

Gettyimages-orlando-candlelight-vigilOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Getting Attention! blogger Nancy Schwartz offers some good advice to nonprofit communications professionals about the right (and wrong) way to respond in the wake of the unthinkable.

Democracy

The editorial board of the Guardian captures perfectly why the public assassination of British MP Jo Comer by a right-wing extremist was such a cowardly, heinous act — and why it should be a wakeup call for everyone who cherishes decency, open debate, and a commitment to both democracy and humanity.

Education

How did a Montana-based foundation help boost the high school graduation rate in that state to its highest level in years? The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation's Mike Halligan explains.

Big data and analytics were supposed to "fix" education. That hasn't happened. Writing on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the best-selling Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?, and Jonathan Hasak, a Boston-based advocate for disconnected youth, explain why and look at something that actually could make a difference.

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A New Power Grid: Reflections on 'Building Healthy Communities' at Year 5

May 19, 2016

Health_exercise_for_PhilanTopicSystems change, policy change, narrative change, and people power are terms we use often at the California Endowment.

Together, they represent what's happening in fourteen geographically diverse communities across the state thanks to our Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative. Just as important is the state-level systems and policy change work we've supported to help strengthen local efforts. Taken together, they represent the comprehensive vision behind BHC, a ten-year, $1 billion initiative launched in 2010 to advance statewide policy, change the narrative, and transform communities in California that have been devastated by health inequities into places where all people have an opportunity to thrive.

As 2015 came to a close and we reached the halfway point of BHC, we thought it important to look back at the first five years of the initiative and document what we've learned to date. And because transparency in philanthropy is critical to the growth and effectiveness of the field, we want to share those insights with others.

A significant portion of the BHC plan involves a "place-based" focus on fourteen communities. Of equal importance is how the collective learning and energy generated by those communities help promote health, health equity, and health justice for all Californians. In other words, BHC is a place-based strategy with a broader goal of effecting statewide change.

So, what we have learned? It starts with this: BHC will be successful when three things happen to benefit the health of young people in lower-income communities:

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

Joe-dimaggio_display_imageOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.

Data

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.

Education

How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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Turning a Visit Into an Immersive Experience

May 11, 2016

Immersive_learningThe Jim Joseph Foundation invests in curated immersive learning experiences and the training of talented educators who facilitate them. From a pedagogical view, these kinds of experiences stand in contrast to the simpler "trip to the museum," which by itself typically lacks the educational component needed to catalyze learning. In contrast, an immersive learning experience provides an opportunity for a participant's growth in terms of knowledge, character, and identity.

One example of the value of such an opportunity is found in a 1970 study of Sesame Street[1] (which premiered in 1969). The study sought to determine whether socioeconomic status (SeS) was a determining factor in whether young children (ages 3 to 5) benefited from watching the program. In the study, there was a difference in baseline performance between those with low SeS and high SeS, although both segments exhibited material improvement on assessments after regularly watching the program.

In a subsequent study that examined the same age group[2], however, researchers noted a profound divergence and determined that certain children not differentiated by SeS excelled at a far greater rate than other participants. The X-factor? Parents. When one or more parents collectively watched episodes with their children, researchers noticed that children’s measurable skill sets increased more than the skills sets of those whose parents did not. The result pointed to the "curated experience" as an important and defining one.

This idea of curation permeates each of the Jim Joseph Foundation's strategic priorities: Increase the Number and Quality of Jewish Educators and Education LeadersExpand Opportunities for Effective Jewish Learning, and Build a Strong Field for Jewish Education. Three grants — to George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the American Friends of the Israel Museum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum's Innovation Fund — represent the symbiotic actualization of these strategies.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 7-8, 2016)

May 08, 2016

Nyquist_DerbyOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civil Society

"Digital data are different enough from time and money — the two resources around which most of our existing institutions are designed — that it's time to redesign those institutions."  In a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why and how.

Community Improvement/Development

We didn't catch it in time for last week's roundup, but Forbes contributor Ruchika Tulshyan's profile of the Detroit-based New Economy Initiative, a startup entrepreneurship fund focused on inclusive economic development, is well worth a read.

Also in Forbes, the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock argues that "a Detroit-style 'grand bargain' approach could — with the same level of financial contributions from both big philanthropy and organized labor — break stalemates and allow [other Rust Belt] cities to restore funding for the city services on which their economies depend."

Education

In Inside Philanthropy, Mike Scutari shares highlights of a new case study, Dancing to the Top: How Collective Action Revitalized Arts Education in Boston (48 pages, PDF), written by sector veteran Cindy Gibson for Boston Public Schools Art Expansion (BPS-AE), a multiyear effort to expand arts education in schools across the district. Gibson calls the initiative described in the study "one of the most strategic initiatives" she's ever seen and praises the funding collaborative behind the efforts as "really collaborative." Definitely worth a read.

Environment

Long considered a disaster when it comes to pollution and environmental degradation, China is beginning to appreciate the seriousness of the situation -- and its responsibilities as the second-largest economy in the world -- and is pursuing a number of solutions to environmental challenges at home and beyond. The Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 30-May 1, 2016)

May 01, 2016

Munich-May-dayOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

On the Americans for the Arts blog, Sharbreon Plummer offers some "suggestions for ways that employers can support emerging leaders...of color, along with ways that individuals can begin to explore self-care and agency within their institutional structures and everyday lives."

Climate Change

The Paris Agreement to limit emissions of global greenhouse gases will go into effect when 55 countries  —  comprising at least 55 percent of annual global emissions — ratify it domestically. Making sure individual countries live up to their commitments is going to be a challenge. Pacific Standard's John Wihbey explains.

Community Improvement/Development

"In the wake of Freddie Gray's fatal encounter with the police, subsequent tumultuous protests, a mistrial for one of the officers charged in connection with [his] death, and a crime spike, Baltimore, for better or worse, has become a poster child for government failure," writes Clare Foran in The Atlantic. With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake having announced she will not run for reelection, what happens in the city's Democratic primary "could shed light on the complex challenge of how to rebuild a fractured city — or how not to."

Corporate Philanthropy

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther considers the growth of global pro bono programs and argues that, as well intentioned as they may be, "without independent evaluations, feedback from clients and transparency about results, [such] practices won't do nearly as much good as they could."

Education

On the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, Frederick James Frelow, a senior program officer in the foundation's Youth Opportunity and Learning program, looks at some of the restorative justice practices the New York City Board of Education has implemented to help address "the root causes of the conflicts and misunderstandings that undermine trust and respect between youth and adults in school as well as in the world at large."

Environment

A massive 40,000-acre seagrass die off in the waters of Florida Bay is raising alarms about a serious environmental breakdown. The Washington Post's Chris Mooney reports.

In the first post of a four-part series, Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world's biggest conservation groups have embraced an approach known as "new conservation" that is roiling the field.

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Helen Brunner, Founding Director, Media Democracy Fund

April 27, 2016

Helen Brunner, founding director of the Media Democracy Fund and an advisor to the Quixote Foundation, recently was awarded the Council on Foundations' 2016 Robert Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for her efforts to protect the public's basic rights in the digital age and to secure universal access to a free and open Internet. Central to that work was funding and organizing the successful campaign to preserve net neutrality that culminated in the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 decision to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or "throttling" — intentionally slowing — the flow of legal content or services and from offering "fast lanes" for a fee.

PND spoke with Brunner about the role of philanthropy in the ongoing debates over freedom of expression, data privacy, and the impact of social media on civic discourse.

Helen_brunnerPhilanthropy News Digest: The supporters of net neutrality seemed to have won a decisive victory last year, but the issue is being adjudicated again, with Internet service providers suing the FCC over the rules it issued in 2015 to protect the "open" Internet. Given that the court hearing the complaint is the same one that blocked the commission's earlier rules on net neutrality, how hopeful are you the new rules will be upheld?

Helen Brunner: I'm extremely hopeful they will be upheld, because I think this time we got it right. One of the things the commission didn't do in 2010 was to actually reclassify the Internet so that it could be regulated the way the commission regulates telephony. The Internet originally was regulated as a telecommunications service, but then the FCC decided, for a brief period, to regulate it more as an information service. But then they realized the Internet was far too important in terms of driving the economy — and innovation — to hamper it in that way, that the openness and innovation engendered by the Internet wasn't as well protected as when it was regulated as a common carrier. So they switched back, and that is, in fact, the current classification that enabled us to argue for "open" Internet, or net neutrality rules, under the rule of law properly.

So I'm hopeful the court will come back with a positive ruling. We had an extraordinarily good attorney arguing in court for the public interest petitioners, but the one thing that might come back for further review is mobile, which we care very much about because so many vulnerable populations rely on it for their Internet access. If the court feels that adequate notice wasn't given for that rule to be tasked, then the FCC will just go through the procedure again and get it right. That might be a concession the court would make in order to give more time for the big mobile companies to respond as to why they think it's a bad idea. And, of course, it would also give advocates of net neutrality another chance to respond as to why it's so important for the public interest and vulnerable populations for mobile to be neutral. There's a great deal of sympathy at the commission for that position.

PND: Social media played a major role in galvanizing public calls to preserve net neutrality and keep the Internet open. At the same time, social media seems to have had a pretty corrosive effect on civic discourse and the expectation of a right to privacy. Are those the kinds of inevitable trade-offs we all must accept as the price of the democratization of communication in the digital age? Or can something be done to slow or even reverse those trends?

HB: These are societal issues as well, whether we're talking about the coarsening of civic discourse or the aggressive tone of pundits in mainstream media. Social media is indeed amplifying all that, but I think we see polarized discourse everywhere, so it's something we need to address on a broader level. That said, there are some technical innovations that can cause social media to go off on a bad track, including something called "bots" on social media that can be used to drive discourse in a highly polarized direction, as well as techniques that enable companies to create false narratives. Now that isn't to say there aren't real dialogues and genuine arguments on social media, but there are things we can do to address the problem of bots, and there are several projects that different people are working on with the goal of at least eliminating the artificial hyping of phony debates.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 23-24, 2016)

April 24, 2016

BarerootcherrytreeOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Americans for the Arts has released the sixth and final edition of the National Arts Index, its annual report the health and vitality of arts and culture in the United States. This edition, which covers the years 2002-13 and includes data on eighty-one national-level indicators, provides "provides the fullest picture yet of the impact of the Great Recession on the arts — before, during, and after." You can download the full report (4.38mb, PDF) a one-page summary, and/or previous reports from this page.

Climate Change

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther suggests that is we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we not only have to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we'will also need to figure out how to pull vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. It's a daunting challenge, but we've got "a decade or two, perhaps" to figure it out, Gunther adds, and philanthropy, which has yet to devote much money to research on these technologies, has a real opportunity to make a difference.

In a Q&A here on PhilanTopic, the United Nation Foundation's Reid Detchon explains the significance of the Paris Agreement, which representatives of more than a hundred and seventy countries signed at a ceremony at the UN on Friday. And in a post on Medium, the National Resource Defense Council's Reah Suh argues that the accord represents the greatest opportunity the world has had to shift "from the carbon-rich fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy options that can power our future." home and abroad.

Disabilities

Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has just awarded $20 million to thirty nonprofits working to engineer a better life for the disabled around the globe. Wired's Davey Alba has the details.

Education

On her Answer Sheet blog, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss shares key takeaways from Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation, a new report written by a team of teachers and administrators headed by veteran educator Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and education historian and activist Diane Ravitch.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has launched an initiative called the Better Math Teaching Network. Learn more here.

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Evidence at the Crossroads: The Next Generation of Evidence-Based Policy

March 28, 2016

US CapitolWhen we began our "Evidence at the Crossroads" blog series, we posited that evidence-based policy making was at a crossroads. In the past six months — despite rancorous partisan debates and a fierce presidential primary season — Congress surprised everyone and passed the long overdue re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with strong support from both parties.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes over eighty mentions of "evidence" and "evidence-based," and a devolution of power to states and districts to implement those provisions. And earlier this month, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), was approved by the Senate and the House in another display of cooperation.

It is promising that at a time of heightened political rancor, evidence-based policy is finding bipartisan support. But the road ahead is still tenuous, and much will depend on whether the evidence movement can evolve. Here, I draw on the terrific ideas and insights from the authors of the series to suggest three steps for moving forward: focus on improvement, attend to bodies of evidence, and build state and local capacity for evidence use.

Focus on improvement

It's time to position evidence-based policy as a learning endeavor. Implementing and scaling interventions in different contexts with diverse groups is notoriously challenging. Promising results are emerging, but not all are home runs. The history of evaluation research shows that most evaluations yield mixed or null results, and this generation of studies will produce the same. Interventions work in some places for some people, but not others. Even new studies of established interventions turn up findings that are inconsistent with prior studies. What should we make of these results?

One direction we should not take is to obscure these findings or pretend they don't exist. I fear that already happens too often. The rhetoric of the What Works agenda — funding more of what works and less of what doesn't — has created an environment that pressures program developers to portray home run results, communications engines to spin findings, and evaluation reports to become more convoluted and harder to interpret.

Improvement could be the North Star for the next generation of the evidence movement. The idea of building and using evidence simply to sift through what works and what doesn’t is wasteful and leaves us disappointed. We need to find ways to improve programs, practices, and systems in order to achieve better outcomes at scale. Let's not be too hasty in abandoning approaches that do not instantly pay off and instead learn from the investments that have been made. After all, many established interventions had years to gestate, learn from evidence, and improve. Let's not cut short this process for new innovations that are just starting out.

This is not to say that anything goes. Patrick McCarthy reminds us that when research evidence consistently shows that a policy or program doesn't work — or even produces harm — it should be discontinued. Indeed, the next generation of evidence-based policy will need to aim toward improvement while keeping an eye on whether progress is being made.

Attend to bodies of evidence

If evidence-based policy is to realize its potential to improve the systems in which young people learn, grow, and receive care, we need to rely on bodies of research evidence. Too often, public systems are pressured to seek silver bullet solutions. A focus on single studies of program effectiveness encourages this way of thinking. But, as Mark Lipsey writes, "multiple studies are needed to support generalization beyond the idiosyncrasies of a single study." Just as a narrow aperture can exclude the important context of an image, so too does focusing on a narrow set of findings exclude the larger body of knowledge that can inform efforts to improve outcomes at scale.

State and local leaders need to draw on bodies of research evidence. This includes not only studies of what works, but of what works for whom, under what conditions, and at what cost. What Works evidence typically reflects the average impact of an intervention in the places where it was evaluated. For decision makers in other localities, that evidence is only somewhat useful. States and localities ultimately need to know whether the intervention will work in their communities, under their operating conditions, and given their resources. Evidence-based policy needs to address those questions.

To meet decision makers' varied evidence needs, the evidence movement also needs to focus greater and more nuanced attention to implementation research. Real-world implementation creates tension between strict adherence to program models and the need to adapt them to local systems. To address this tension, we need to build a more robust evidence base on key implementation issues, such as how much staffing or training is required, how resources should be allocated, and how to align new interventions with existing programs and systems. As Barbara Goodson and Don Peurach argue, we have built a powerful infrastructure for building evidence of program impacts, but we need to match it with equally robust structures for implementation evidence.

And finally, the evidence-based policy movement needs to recognize the importance of descriptive and measurement research that helps local decision makers better understand the particular challenges they are facing and better judge whether existing interventions are well suited to address those problems. For those needs assessments, descriptive and measurement studies can be critical.

Build state and local capacity

As decision making devolves to states and localities, the way the federal government defines its role will also change. In the wake of ESSA, officials in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are aiming to move beyond top-down compliance. But to do so they will need to identify new means to support states, districts, and practitioners in the evidence agenda. States and localities are not mere implementers of federal policies, nor are they simply sites of experimentation. A key way to foster the success of the evidence movement is to support the capacity of state and local decision makers to build and use evidence to improve their systems and outcomes.

Technical assistance is one way that the federal government can support capacity, and it'll be important to direct technical assistance to state and local decision makers and grantees in productive ways. While tiered evidence initiatives such as i3 have provided grantees with technical assistance to conduct rigorous impact evaluations, assistance has focused less on other key issues: helping grantees apply continuous improvement principles and practices, vet and partner with external evaluators, and build productive collaborations with districts and other local agencies to implement programs.

Providing technical assistance in these areas would increase the ultimate success of these evidence-based initiatives.

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are another way to support state and local agencies. In education, these long-terms partnerships can provide the research infrastructure that is lacking in many states and districts as they seek to implement the evidence provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act. RPPs can help districts and schools interpret the existing evidence base and discern which interventions are best aligned with their needs. In instances where the evidence base is lacking, RPPs are poised to conduct ongoing research to evaluate the interventions that are put into place. Similarly, in child welfare, research-practice partnerships could provide states with additional capacity as they develop Title IV-E Waiver Demonstration Projects to test new approaches for delivering and financing services in order to improve child and family outcomes.

The federal government is perhaps uniquely situated to build and harness research evidence, so that what is learned in one place need not be reinvented in another and the lessons accumulate. Mark Lipsey suggests that federally funded research require the collection and reporting of common data elements so that individual studies can be synthesized. Don Peurach imagines ways the federal government can support an "improvement infrastructure." We should consider these ideas and others as we move forward.

Foundations also have a role. Private funders are able to support learning in ways that are harder for the federal government to do. The William T. Grant and Spencer foundations' i3 learning community, for example, provided a venue for program developers to share the challenges they faced in scaling their programs and to problem solve with one another. In another learning community, our foundation supported a network of federal research and evaluation staff across various agencies and offices to learn from each other. A learning community requires candor and can provide a safe and open environment to identify challenges and generate solutions. Foundations can also produce tools and share models that states and localities can draw upon in using evidence. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, we can often do this with greater speed than the federal government.

Realizing the potential of evidence in policymaking

The ascendance of research evidence in policy in the past two decades gave way to investments in innovation, experimentation, and evaluation that signaled great progress in the way our nation responds to its challenges. But for all the progress we've made in building and using evidence of What Works, we've also been left with blind spots. As a researcher, I did not enter my line of work expecting simple answers. Quite the opposite, in fact. Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners know that there is always more to learn than yes or no; more at stake than thumbs up or thumbs down. We build and use research evidence not just to identify what works, but to strengthen and improve programs and systems — to build knowledge that can improve kids' lives and better their chances to get ahead.

As we approach the next generation of evidence-based policy, it's essential we take steps to ensure that practitioners and decision makers at the state and local level have the support they need.

Headshot_vivian_tsengThe above post by Vivian Tseng, vice president, program, at the William T. Grant Foundation, is the eleventh and final post in the foundation's "Evidence at the Crossroads" series, in which it sought to provoke discussion and debate about the state of evidence use in policy, with a focus on federal efforts  to build and use evidence of What Works. It is reprinted here with permission of the foundation. You can read other posts in the series here and/or register for a free event co-sponsored by the foundation, "Building State and Local Capacity for Evidence-Based Policymaking," in Washington, D.C., on March 30.

Weekend Link Roundup (March 26-27, 2016)

March 27, 2016

CherryblossomOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

Forty-one percent of Americans — a record number — believe global warming poses "a serious threat to them or their way of life." Aamna Mohdin reports for Quartz.

Another sign of the times: The Rockefeller Family Fund, a family philanthropy created by Martha, John, Laurance, Nelson, and David Rockefeller in 1967 with money "borne of the fortune of John D. Rockefeller," America's original oil baron, has announced its intent to divest from fossil fuels, a process that "will be completed as quickly as possible." You can read the complete statement here

And the New York Times' coverage of new findings warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unchecked global warming, in a much more compressed time frame than previously thought, should get everyone's attention.

Conservation

What is the most effective way to protect wild lands? Traditional place-based conservation? Or through efforts to reshape markets and reduce demand for the development of those lands? Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther explores that question with Aileen Lee, chief program officer for environmental conservation at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the largest private funders of environmental conservation efforts in the world.

Corporate Social Responsibility

"What we are seeing," write Brigit Helms and Oscar Farfán on the Huffington Post Impact blog, "is not just a passing trend, but the beginning of a new form of business — a business that looks beyond profits to generate social value, the business of the future. Tectonic forces are accelerating this movement. At the global level, the most important one involves a cultural shift driven mainly by millennials. The new generation sees the main role of business as that of 'improving society', and not just generating profits...."

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Measuring Outcomes Across Grantees and Over Time

March 22, 2016

Results1When the Jim Joseph Foundation's evaluators’ consortium met last November, the overall focus was on the long road ahead toward developing a common set of measures — survey items, interview schedules, frameworks for documenting distinctive features of programs — to be used as outcomes and indicators of Jewish learning and growth for teens and young adults. Consortium members and the foundation were especially excited to learn about the work led by George Washington University to develop a common set of long-term outcomes and shared metrics to improve the foundation's ability to look at programs and outcomes across grantees and over time. A key part of this endeavor will be an online menu — developed in consultation with evaluation experts and practitioners — from which grantees can choose to measure their program outcomes.

Already, the GW team is making significant progress toward this end. As part of foundation efforts to inform and advance the field, we think the process and lessons related to these efforts are important to share.

To begin, the GW team reviewed the desired outcomes and evaluation reports from a dozen past foundation grants representing a variety of programs. Six grants address the foundation's strategic priority of providing immersive and ongoing Jewish experiences for teens and young adults. Six others address the strategic priority of educating Jewish educators and leaders.

For this latter strategic priority, the GW team offers a welcome "outsider" perspective, bringing strong expertise on outcomes in secular education and teacher training to the development of common outcomes for the foundation's Jewish educator grants. How, for example, do other programs measure quality and teacher retention? Both of these qualities are desired outcomes for the foundation's grants. Yet, if these qualities are not measured with common metrics, the foundation will never be able to properly determine whether its grantmaking in this area is successful. GW's expertise and strong relationship with the foundation are beginning to provide important answers to these challenges.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 19-20, 2016)

March 20, 2016

EggOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb considers the ongoing debate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Data

With its combination of "engaging" visuals and "data-driven interactivity," data visualization could be the answer to opaque spreadsheets and dry, little-noticed statistics. Or not. The challenge, writes Jake Porway on the Markets for Good site, "is that data visualization is not an end-goal...[i]t is often the final step in a long manufacturing chain along which data is poked, prodded, and molded to get to that pretty graph.  Ignoring that process is at best misinformed, and at worst destructive."  

What makes data "clean" and why does it matter? Jenny Walton, a customer advocate at donor relationship software company Bloomerang, explains.

Education

It's a familiar story. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, moves into a small town or suburban community and "disrupts" its local competitors out of business. Less familiar is the story about Walmart, increasingly under threat from online competitors, leaving a town or community -- and taking its low-paying jobs along with it. A business story, yes. But as Jeff Bryant, director of the Education Opportunity Network, explains on Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet blog, it's also a story about closed or underfunded public schools.

Can privately funded charter schools and district schools co-located in the same building learn to live together in a way that benefits kids and teachers from both schools equally? The folks at the Walmart Foundation, a major funder of charter schools, highlight one promising example from Los Angeles.

Inequality

Not New York. Not San Francisco. The U.S. city with the widest income disparity is Boston, where nearly half of residents make less than $35,000 a year and, for most folks,  inflation-adjusted incomes haven't risen in three decades. That stark reality is one of the findings contained in a new study by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a report that "portrays a local economy sharply divided by race, class, and education, with shrinking opportunities for those trying to climb the economic ladder." The Boston Globe's Katie Johnston reports.

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Quote of the Week

  • "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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