In a story published on May 22, 2011, the New York Times examined the foundation’s education advocacy grantmaking. This blog post helps provide context for that article. The reporting behind the story relied heavily on documents and information that the foundation itself has made public, either in our Form 990, published every year, or on the grants database on our website. Transparency is critical to good philanthropy and makes reporting such as this possible.
But the New York Times neglected to mention one important fact that is key to placing the work of our foundation in the right context—that our spending, though significant, is barely more than a half of one percent of what the country spends on education every year. The Times noted that we spent roughly $375 million on U.S. education in 2009. That’s a significant amount of money, to be sure. But each year, the country as a whole spends some $600 billion on education.
Given that fact, it’s important to understand our role: We can take risks others can’t, and we can push the boundaries of the discussion and debate. We fund innovative new ideas. We follow the evidence and support the brave work underway in the field. We can foster and join important collaborations, but we also hope we can push new thinking.
And sometimes, we can promote collaboration where it has previously been lacking.
This is especially true in education, where the debates are highly political, with points of view deeply entrenched. Many of our advocacy grants and investments hope to break through that. We have funded organizations with seemingly opposing points of view on some issues. That funding is intentional on our part, and we hope that doing so will bring both sides together in new dialogue that can lead to meaningful and lasting improvement for students.
Our partnership with Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been essential in helping move the debate beyond the predictable. We don’t agree on everything, but where we do agree, we have forged a powerful partnership.
The foundation’s largest investment in teaching effectiveness, approximately $400 million over seven years, centers on a courageous collaboration between local union leaders of both the AFT and the National Education Association and districts. These parties are developing ways together that they can better support teachers in the classroom while establishing fair and reliable measures of evaluation. The AFT last summer passed a resolution laying out principles for teacher development and evaluation systems, with the goal of rewarding and retaining the best teachers.
No one benefits from a polarized stance, especially not students. Randi certainly knows this and is an essential leader in forging a more constructive path through collaboration. By supporting the work of a range of partners, from the AFT to Scholastic to Donors Choose to Teach Plus, we are eager to help put teachers where they belong—at the heart of the discussion about what teachers want and need in order to be successful. At the end of the day, it is about improving student outcomes. With only one-third of our students graduating high school prepared for college-level work, we have a long way to go. We are proud to partner with remarkable teachers, administrators, and advocates on the way forward.
Education, Teachers, Students, National Education Association (NEA), New York Times, Randi Weingarten, National Education Association (NEA), American Federation Of Teachers (AFT), Scholastic, Donors Choose, Teach Plus, High Schools, Administrators, Teacher Effectiveness