How Program Officers at Education Philanthropies View Education

Tom Loveless, American Enterprise Institute
April 2005

Perhaps the most gripping contribution to this week's lively American Enterprise Institute conference on K-12 education philanthropy was a paper by Brookings's Tom Loveless examining the education beliefs and values of program officers at a cross-section of U.S. foundations. He mail-surveyed 240 such foundations, receiving a 53 percent response rate, so his data come from 128 education program officers. There was some debate at the conference about how representative they are of their species, but the data themselves are more than a little dismaying. Bottom line: those who make education grant decisions are even more "progressive" in their ideas about schools and schooling than professors in colleges of education! (Loveless used the same questions that Public Agenda had asked ed school faculty in 1997, which yielded the celebrated study Different Drummers, showing that the professoriate is markedly out of step with both the general public and with teachers themselves. See here.) For example, when asked if they felt kids' academic achievement could be improved by "emphasizing such work habits as being on time, dependable, and disciplined," just 44 percent of foundation program officers were positive, versus 60 percent of education professors. Asked if it would help to raise promotion standards between elementary and middle school and "only let . . . kids move ahead when they pass a test showing they have reached those standards," strong positives were registered by only a third of foundation staffers, compared with half the professors, 62 percent of practicing K-12 teachers, and 70 percent of the general public. There's plenty more here. The inescapable bottom line: if these folks are making funding decisions, expect private philanthropy in K-12 education to make matters worse, not better. Perhaps Loveless will revise his paper before it appears in the AEI collection (to be published by Harvard Education Press in the autumn, edited by Rick Hess) but you can find his fascinating draft on-line here.

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