What Do Teachers Need? Nearly 2 Million DonorsChoose Requests Shed Some Light
A new analysis of 10 years of DonorsChoose records shows that online crowdfunding requests are on the rise—and the data reflects a deep divide between high-poverty and low-poverty schools.
Grantmakers for Education, a consortium of education philanthropists, analyzed 1.8 million teacher requests, from the years 2009 to 2019. During this time period, requests grew at a compound rate of 23 percent annually.
The fastest-growing categories of requests are "warmth, care, and hunger," health and wellness, and character education. The warmth, care, and hunger category was added in 2016, and encompasses requests for items like winter coats, personal hygiene products, and snacks.
Across the board, however, requests for academic materials far exceed any other type of request. About 70 percent of requests over the past decade were for literacy and language, and for math and science materials. That demand holds true regardless of state spending, geographic region, or student performance.
"The remarkable durability in what teachers are asking for is a really powerful, teacher-voice-oriented statement about what teachers need to do their work, and how it's not filled by the dollars they're getting from the government," said Celine Coggins, the executive director of Grantmakers for Education.
Within the requests in the math and science category, 51 percent were for math materials, 24 percent were for applied sciences, 14 percent were for environmental science, 9 percent were for health and life sciences, and 2 percent were for financial literacy.
Disparities Between Schools
Nearly all teachers use their own money to buy classroom supplies that are not provided by their district, federal data show. According to a nationally representative Education Week Research Center survey, only 12 percent of teachers said they have raised money for their classroom from crowdfunding sites. They're more likely to open up their own wallets, request money or materials from their students' families, or simply do without.
After all, online crowdfunding is not always successful: Nearly 1 in 3 teachers who had tried to use crowdfunding said they had never gotten a project fully funded, according to the Education Week survey.
This is in line with the Grantmakers for Education analysis, which found that over the past decade, 64 percent of all projects were fully funded. The report also found that while the majority of requests come from high-poverty schools, requests from low-poverty schools get funded at higher rates. This wasn't always the case—in 2009, 70 percent of requests from high-poverty schools were filled, compared to 58 percent from low-poverty schools. But for the past two years, requests from high-poverty schools have had a harder time getting funded.
Coggins said this is likely due to the increased awareness of DonorsChoose: Parents in affluent communities now realize this is an easy way to make sure their child's teacher has what he or she needs.
There's also a stark difference between what teachers need, depending on where they teach. Teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely to request projects related to warmth, care, and hunger, English as a Second Language, and team sports. Teachers in low-poverty schools are more likely to request projects related to economics, foreign languages, and special needs.
Pre-K teachers and high school teachers are the most likely to have their projects funded, the analysis found. For the past six years, middle school projects were the least likely to receive funding.
Over 80 percent of projects in the warmth, care, and hunger category were fully funded—a much higher success rate than any other category. Also, the price tag on the project matters: Almost 82 percent of projects that requested less than $300 get fully funded, compared to 45 percent of projects that request over $900.
Where Philanthropy Fits In
Grantmakers for Education conducted the analysis for its members—nearly 300 organizations and 1,600 individuals—to better understand the needs of teachers.
"From a funder's perspective, ... we really want to hear directly from teachers [and] from parents," Coggins said. "This is a mechanism to see really what's needed in the classroom."
Last year, Grantmakers for Education released a report of education donors' changing priorities over time. The report found that education philanthropy was moving away from core academic issues—like teacher quality and curriculum and standards—in favor of "whole child" investments.
The growing interest in non-academic issues is reflected in the DonorsChoose database. Due to growing demand, social-emotional learning was officially added as a sub-category within Applied Learning on DonorsChoose in 2019. And while equity is not an official category or subcategory of the site, the number of teachers mentioning "equity" or "social justice" in their requests grew at a compound annual rate of 32 percent over the past decade—a higher rate than projects across-the-board.
Still, "the vast, vast, vast majority of what teachers are asking for is the core academic [materials] that funders seem to be moving away from," Coggins said. "We see some real areas of alignment and some real areas of difference."
According to Education Week Research Center data, many teachers have taken fundraising in their own hands, even outside of sites like DonorsChoose. Nearly a quarter said they apply for grants, 9 percent said they ask local businesses for materials or money, 8 percent of teachers ask their family or friends directly, and 7 percent said they help organize live fundraising events.
For teachers, fundraising "is becoming an ubiquitous way to meet the needs of their students," Coggins said.
Even so, several school districts across the country have banned DonorsChoose and other crowdfunding sites over the past few years. In March, for example, the Metro Nashville school district made headlines—and infuriated teachers—when it temporarily barred the site until officials develop crowdfunding policies.
District leaders say that technology purchased through crowdfunding sites might not meet district information-technology specifications, and that there's no way to ensure that the materials teachers purchase are aligned to curriculum. Another concern is that districts can't monitor how much money flows to individual schools.
Still, "teachers are asking for what they think their students need," Coggins said. "I would hate to see that opportunity for teachers to get taken away."
Image via Getty, chart via Grantmakers for Education