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Private Philanthropy in Public Education: Measuring Impact and Improving Results

Academy Convenes Educators, Donors, and Evaluation Specialists

7/11/2011

Press Release

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Private donors contribute more than $6 billion annually to public K-12 education in the United States. But how do philanthropists know that their investments are actually making a difference in the classroom? And what can the efforts teach us to improve education more generally?

At a recent meeting organized by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, foundation leaders, researchers, evaluation specialists, and education officials explored how better collaboration and communication between the philanthropic sector and educators can improve instruction and student outcomes.

Participants discussed model initiatives in the Chicago, Boston, and New York City public school systems, including efforts to collect data and inform practice in the schools.

“School districts are drowning in data but lack staff to analyze it,” said Thomas J. Kane, professor of education and economics at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Mary M. Brabeck, dean of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, called for a focus on “translating basic research into teachable knowledge.” In education, as in medicine, she said, the tendency of researchers to work in silos has created a “theory-practice gap.”

“How do we continue to have civic engagement, and well-rounded individuals who are informed – key to any thriving democracy – if they’re not educated and literate?” asked Anthony Miller, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. The K-12 school system desperately needs breakthrough innovations and a weak education system affects the country’s national security and economic prosperity, he told the gathering. But Miller questioned whether the public understands the seriousness of the challenge.

Academy President Leslie C. Berlowitz convened the meeting to give philanthropists and grantees a forum to discuss best practices and to identify areas where greater collaboration would benefit education theory and practice.

Groups represented at the Academy meeting included the Research Alliance for New York City Schools; Boston Plan for Excellence; the Consortium on Chicago School Research; the New York City Department of Education; Harvard University Graduate School of Education; Technical Education Research Center; The Boston Foundation; J.P. Morgan Chase, The Pioneer Institute; the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; the Wallace Foundation; the Nellie Mae Education Foundation; Math for America, among others.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (www.amacad.org) is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,300 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world.

 

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