Philanthropy – Evaluation of Education grantmaking

The foundation has considered the importance of strategic grantmaking and the idea of having high impact. What does it mean to have impact when the average grant in education is around $25,000 to $50,000.

What do we know?

Private/faith-based schools have remarkable success with inner city kids. Remediation takes place within the first year; reading seems to be easier to remediate than math and science. In most cases adherence to one particular faith is not mandatory. Most schools welcome families of all faiths. Students thrive in an atmosphere that is safe, and has rules. This seems to be the case across geographic funding areas.

Public Schools pose a more formidable challenge when looking for impact, but the foundation has made significant inroads in shifting the direction of some of these large ships. The work of CAST in schools in Lorain County has generated enthusiasm, contributed to a change in discussion about delivery of curriculum to divergent learners. It has added to conversation in schools about brain function and development and its impact on curriculum. It is exciting to see small pockets emerging where teachers are eager to shift the focus from assessment of learning to a concept of assessment for learning.

There are promising programs in isolated public schools that will address assessment of student performance such as the assessment for learning programs as well as programs that develop co-teaching. We see in these programs an attempt to bring to large public schools methods that have worked well in smaller, private school environments.

Structure of the school day

For inner city schools, a traditional public school day of 8-2:30 is not in place. In the Denver Street School, students are taught in blocks of 90-100 minutes as opposed to the typical 45 min schedule. This, teachers say, allows more time for challenged students to talk and reflect on the matter at hand rather than the typical – here’s the lesson, take it in, and report back to me on a standardized test and we will see how we do.

An environment that incorporates individual attention

In the National Association of Street Schools (NASS), each student has a faculty advocate who watches out for that youngster throughout the year. At Nativity Prep, Epiphany, Arrupe Prep and even the Urban Community School of Cleveland , the school days provide structured environments for students from early morning until the evening. All schools agreed that the after-school hours are when youngsters are most vulnerable.

Each of the schools incorporate into their behavior the reality that educational needs are not divorced from the social needs. For most of these schools the average teacher student ratio is 10/1. In the Cristo Rey model schools, young people who are teachers in training also serve the students by being available for them after the school day is over, for mentoring, coaching. The students live modestly and have little cost impact on the administration.

Respect for individual learning styles and adaptation

We have learned that whether it be in a small nurturing environment that a small private/faith-based school creates, or in larger public school classrooms, teachers know they teach better and students actually learn when the curriculum is adapted to the individual learning styles CAST has been phenomenal in helping teachers understand the link between brain research, and translating that into excited learning.

What we see on the horizon.

Using web-technologies students will develop electronic portfolios for their work which is open to each other (peers) for critique and discussion as well as with teachers. These educational portfolios contain the work that a learner has collected, reflected, selected and presented to show growth and change over time, representing an individual or organization’s human capital. The portfolios are not so much an instructional strategy to be researched, but more of a means to an end: to support reflection that can help students understand their own learning and to provide a richer picture of student work that documents growth over time.”

The Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland has called for something like this in his very impressive set of Conversations on Education which include an appeal to “personalized learning.” People have yet to figure out what that means. As of 2008, there were no plans in place for the State of Ohio to implement electroinc-portfolios that could follow students throughout their careers (and also be used as a solid record should students transfer to another district or out of the State).

Islands of excellence

In a conversation with Mr. Geoff Andrews, Superintendent of the Oberlin City Schools, I talked about the wealth of learning the foundation has gained by funding a diversified portfolio of schools. After listening he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the foundation could figure out a way to bring all this learning and leverage it in one district somewhere and create an “island of excellence” that could serve as a model. I said, yes it would be great.

Two months later, my esteemed colleague Helen Williams, Education Program Director of The Cleveland Foundation informed me of legislation in the State of Colorado that would create just that. The Innovation Schools Act of 2008

The Innovation Schools Act is intended to improve student outcomes by supporting greater school autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making. The Act provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements.

The suggestion could not have come at a better time. It is my hope that philanthropy can suggest the Ohio legislature examine this act and seek advice from experts to do the same in Ohio.

4 thoughts on “Philanthropy – Evaluation of Education grantmaking

  1. Jeff Jaroscak

    I respectfully challenge the thinking underlying creating an “Island of Excellence.” My experience the past five years has revealed one core idea that characterizes all school improvement efforts–the notion that there is one way to improve schools and that replicating the efforts of successful schools is a viable strategy for all schools.

    At the Center, we believe that school improvement can come only from a relentless focus upon, and pursuit of, the desired results.

    The notion that we currently suffer from a plethora of new ideas and a scattergun approach to improvement does not reflect my experience. My experience has been totally different. We don’t have too many ideas, we have many variations of the same idea.

    An ABC News special, entitled The Deep Dive, chronicles a project undertaken by the design firm Ideo. A component of the Deep Dive is “rapid prototyping.” At Ideo they reject the notion that there is one way to solve every problem. By independently developing five to seven rapid prototypes, teams at Ideo have a number of different designs from which to develop the final product.

    I submit that this “rapid prototyping” is what has been lacking in the school improvement effort. Instead, we have replaced it with control, management, and intervention.

  2. John

    Thanks so much for the post. I have not seen the video but ordered it from ABC News. The disucssion about Innovation Zones sounds good but in my opinion lacks a little meat. Your critique is very well received and might be that substance for what an Innovation Zone could look like. When the OGF Group discussed the zones, the purpose was to create places that lift the typical controls, managment styles in favor of less outside intervention. It is my opinion that if the state were to establish Distributive Innovation Groups supporting Entreprenurial Innovation Groups, the creativity coming out of the rapid prototyping can be brought to scale with greater facility. If this model were done on a national level, we could really get somewhere in improving education.

    Please let me know if I have captured the rapid prototype issue correctly.


  3. Jeff Jaroscak


    I think that counties make ideal entities for “Innovation Zones.” I have been re-reading the Gund report on effective schools in Cleveland. I think that the key to a report like that is to identify what Peter Schwartz (The Art of the Long View) calls “drivers.” Those practices that are, without question, linked to school improvement. The Gund Report uses, collaboration, distributed leadership, and others. In finding the locations to spotlight, it is important to add a layer of evaluation in terms of what Douglas Reeves calls “Antecedents of Excellence.” In my view, in order to be spotlighted a school/district has to go beyond success. They must have a rational explanation for why the strategy works. If they have made no attempt to measure the impact of the strategy, then there is little that can be learned from them.

    I think that your point in the initial post is well-taken, that it is difficult to create deep change without leveraging all available resources and that a focused funding effort will stand a better chance of success.

    With the role of the P-16 still developing, I think that there is an opportunity to view that body as a “spotlighting agency.” They are uniquely positioned to focus attention of programming that is innovative and successful.

    A couple of questions:

    To what extent do innovation zones require that schools think beyond the traditional notion of “district” and begin to think in terms of “region?”

    Does the success of innovation zones depend on schools and districts that can not only “think” out of the box, but “act” out of the box as well?

  4. John Mullaney

    Oh Jeff, How I wish you were on our OGF task force because your questions are right on the mark! I think there is opportunity to put some flesh on the concept of Innovation Zone. It is my hope that the governor or perhaps OGF will open up a blog to invite contributions such as yours. The notions of Innovation district should absolutely include a region. I think the inital thought of a district (and I should mention districts because the idea from my understanding is to have more than one), is to start small and as you mention drive down to see what works then, based on shared experience, bring it to scale. The purpose of lifting restrictions on these zones was to enable teachers to “act” rather than “think” outside the box without thought of rebuke from a superintendent or principle if it did not seem to fit the recepie from “State”. I remain convinced that the current system keeps teachers from acting as the Professionals they are and should be, and relegates them to cogs in some wheel. Under that system they can think all the nice thoughts they want, but acting…..well, better pass it by the superior or …..god forbid….the union reps. It is my hope these zones will be places where creative and great teachers will be able to shine for the professionals they are!

    Lets see what we can do to open this discussion to the wider teaching public.

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