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180 posts categorized "Education"

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

July 03, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game-Changing Philanthropy Through Funder Collaboration

June 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 7-8, 2014)

June 08, 2014

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

Climate Change

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

Data

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

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

Education

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

Evaluation

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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."

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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.

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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.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 29-30, 2014)

March 30, 2014

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

April_showersCommunications/Marketing

In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, the Barr Foundation's Stefan Lanfer shares some lessons he and his colleagues have learned about communicating in times of change. The first two are simple but powerful: know what you want to communicate, by word and by deed; and know what you don't want to communicate. Check out Lanfer's the post for three more things the foundation got right.

Education Reform

Public school advocate Diane Ravitch has posted a draft version of of remarks made at an education conference earlier this month by Dissent contributor Joanne Barkan on the topic of how to criticize the role of "big philanthropy" in education reform

Fundraising

In today's New York Times, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, lets readers in on a well-kept secret: Fundraising is fun. The "magic" of raising money for a cause or organization, writes Brooks,

goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere conviction. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with the financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society....

On the Relationship Science blog, Kathy Landau, executive director of the National Dance Institute in New York City, makes an impassioned case for seeing data and relationship building "as mutually beneficial rather than mutually exclusive."

Grantmaking

In a post on the GrantCraft blog, Grant Coates, president and CEO of the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth, explains how a reevaluation of the foundation's grantee selection process helped him and his colleagues realize that leadership often is what separates a "good" grantee from a "great" grantee. "The presence of powerful leadership," Coates writes, "is almost tangible – it's a spirit that employees exude, a confidence that the organization embodies, and an impact that's measurable – true leadership is, in short, a game-changer in the grantee selection process."

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5 Questions for...Eric Schwarz, Co-Founder and CEO, Citizen Schools

March 26, 2014

Established in 1995, Citizen Schools works to help children, especially those from low-income backgrounds, discover and achieve their dreams. To that end, the Citizen Schools model is focused on partnering with middle schools to extend the traditional school day by a few hours and augmenting traditional classroom instruction with a combination of intensive academic support and a range of enrichment and youth development activities. Currently active in seven states, the organization also offers project-based courses led by volunteer "Citizen Teachers" who, outside of school, are scientists, engineers, artists, lawyers, and business leaders.

Earlier this month, PND spoke with the organization's co-founder and CEO, Eric Schwarz, about the Citizen Teacher concept and the scalability of the Citizens Schools model.

Headshot_eric_schwarzPhilanthropy News Digest: When and where did the "Citizen Teacher" concept emerge? Is it something you and your colleagues developed, or is it something you kind of grabbed hold of and made your own?

Eric Schwarz: Well, men­tor­ing and volunteering and apprenticeships have been around for thousands of years. If you think about law and medicine, it's how much of the training happens to this day: you get young professionals training under older professionals in a kind of apprentice­ship model.

The insight we came to almost twenty years ago was that for most low-income kids enrolled in a K-12 school in the United States, the school experience had become disconnected from the real world. Many of these kids had never met someone from a fast-growing profession like engin­eering, and so their chances of growing up and becoming an engineer was close to zero. So we developed a model that made it easier for engineers and lawyers and others to connect with kids directly and do hands-on experien­tial projects with them.

I'm happy to say, the results have been terrific. We've found that Citizen Schools narrows, in most cases eliminates, and sometimes even reverses the achievement gap between middle-income and low-income kids. We're also seeing significantly higher high school and college graduation rates, which means we’re putting kids on a path to success. That's very exciting.

We've also learned that we’re actually making a big difference in the lives of our volunteers. In fact, we commissioned a business school professor from the University of Vermont, David Jones, to do a study of the program's impact on volunteers. And what he found is that there's a significant impact in terms of volunteers feeling better about their companies. They’re happy their company has sponsored or approached them about taking some flex time to give back to the community, and they're usually delighted that they have a chance to build their dele­gation skills, teamwork skills, and coaching skills.

PND: Do you see citizen-teachers as filling a gap in public education, as complementing classroom instruc­tion, or doing a little of both?

ES: The Citizen Schools model is designed to support teachers and public schools by adding three hours to the learning day, every day of the week, all year long. It's a significant extension of the learning day from a six- or seven-hour day to a nine- to ten-hour day. And bringing real-world experiential activities to kids in school is an important complement to the learning that goes on. Think of it this way: if math instruction is limited to a teacher at a blackboard — these days, maybe it's a whiteboard — explaining and talking about concepts, but you, the student, don't have a sense of how those concepts connect to the real world, it's much more likely you're going to tune out and disengage from that class and maybe even from school. Citizen Schools gives kids a sense of how to actually use algebraic concepts in designing a video game, or how, when you're presenting the opening argument in a trial, you want to lead with a topic sentence and then back it up with specific examples. Those kinds of things reinforce what teachers teach, and at the same they tend to motivate students to care more about doing well. It's a terrific comple­ment to what already is happening in public schools across the country.

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The Smartest Investment We Could Make: The Future of Girls

March 13, 2014

(Dr. Anand K. Parekh is an adjunct assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. His family manages the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation.)

Girls_in_classroomAs the father of two young girls, there is no greater joy for me than to see them smile and thrive. This is why I often remember former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s words: "There is no policy for progress more effective than the empowerment of women and girls. A nation that neglects its children, especially girls, is a nation that neglects its future and development." Given this truth, the Parekh-Vora Charitable Foundation has initiated a focus on two areas particularly important to girls: water and sanitation, and primary school education.

We could have chosen many areas of need to focus on, so why girls, why water and sanitation, and why education?

To begin with, we were struck by the numbers: globally, 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation, while 768 million people lack access to safe water. Every day, 2,000 children die from water-related diseases. And each year, 60 million children are born into homes without access to safe water and sanitation. It's estimated that improvements in these areas alone could vastly improve health outcomes, increase productivity, and reduce healthcare costs – while increasing a country's gross domestic product (GDP) by anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent. Girls are disproportionately affected by the water and sanitation crisis, given that they frequently miss school or drop out altogether because of a lack of a private toilet in school. Tens of thousands of other girls and women spend hours at a time walking for miles while carrying water on their heads that can weigh up to forty pounds. Simply put, access to water, sanitation, and hygiene enables women and girls to take control of their lives.

The numbers around education are equally alarming: 793 million people worldwide are illiterate. Once again, girls and women are disproportionately affected and account for two-thirds of all illiterate persons. In the developing world, an estimated 42 percent of girls are not enrolled in school, while more than 60 million primary school-aged children of both genders do not have access to education and likely will never learn to read or write. The numbers are confounding, not least because we know that even a few years of basic education empowers women and girls to take control of their lives. Educated women are healthier (an extra year of  education for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 percent to 10 percent) and earn more (an extra year of education boosts future wages by 20 percent). If every child were to receive an education, an estimated  171 million individuals would be lifted out of poverty.

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Weeeknd Link Roundup (March 8-9, 2014)

March 09, 2014

We forgot to set our clocks forward, but we didn't forget our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector. Enjoy....

Daylight_savings_timeCommunications/Marketing

On her Nonprofit Communications blog, Kivi Leroux Miller shares the checklist she uses when evaluating clients' email newsletters.

Data

In a post on the Markets for Good blog, Beth Kanter shares three of her favorite DIY data vizualization tools. (Hint: You probably have two of them on your computer.)

Education Reform

In his Straight Up blog on the Education Week site, Rick Hess, an Education "policy maven" at the American Enterprise Institute, shares some suggestions for the Measures of Effective Teaching team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from blogger and award-winning teacher John Thompson.

Impact/Effectiveness

On Friday, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced the names of four finalists for the next round of the state's "Pay for Success" program, which aims to connect private and philanthropic investors with nonprofit organizations that provide direct services for vulnerable New Yorkers in the child welfare and early childhood, healthcare, and public safety sectors. For more information on the program and the finalists, click here.

As impact investment continues to gain traction — and favorable press coverage — an important piece of the story is being neglected: the role of government, Indeed, write Ben Thornley, Cathy Clark and Jed Emerson on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, "impact investing would barely exist — certainly not at its modest, current scale — but for the support and partnership of government."

If foundation leaders really want to "make a difference" — for their missions, their grantees, and the individuals and communities they serve — they would be wise, writes Tim Delaney, president an CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, in the Nonprofit Quarterly, to focus their efforts at the state level. With so little being accomplished at the federal level these days, "the arc of history is being written in the states....[And unless] more attention is devoted to the state policy level, the stealth shift of burdens onto nonprofits and foundations will reach a disastrous tipping point."

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 1-2, 2014)

March 02, 2014

Ukraine_protestorOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Big Data

In the Washington Post, Brian Fung reports that more than a dozen civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza, "are backing a set of principles targeting the widespread use of data in law enforcement, hiring and commerce."

With the advent of big data, are "we to assume that government and business will be 'upended', 'revolutionized', 'disrupted' or some other exciting verb but [that] nonprofits and civil society will remain unchanged?" asks Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2173 blog. Not likely, says Bernholz. "On the contrary, the implications of networked digital data for both addressing our shared social problems and changing how we voluntarily act, how we associate with each other as independent citizens, how we organize for change or protest, are profound. Isn't it time for a real discussion of privacy, association, and autonomy -- about civil society -- in a networked data age?"

Education

Guest blogging on Education Week's Living in Dialogue blog, Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, argues that "the lack of process is precisely why Common Core needs to be abandoned, especially by public service and teacher unions."

Health

In a post on the Forbes site, Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist with an interest in lifestyle and environmental exposures as factors in chronic disease, suggests that reports that we may "finally be seeing the beginnings of a reversal in the upward trend in obesity" -- a conclusion based on one statistic from a study conducted by researchers at National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) -- belies a more sobering reality: there was no change in obesity either in children and adolescents or in adults over the ten-year study period.

Innovation

Innovation in social change works is great, writes Dr. Robert Ross in a special supplement to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but it's not everything. "In fact," adds Ross, "when it comes to addressing today’s urgent social problems, from education and public health to civil and human rights, innovation is overrated."

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