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A Shifting Role For Local Education Charities

A few weeks ago, Ethan Gray, the director of a coalition of education philanthropies called Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, contacted Education Week to let us know that the group would be releasing a document to serve as a guide for other groups interested in forming such organizations in their own communities.

In our conversation, we talked about how the Walton/Broad/Gates foundations get a tremendous amount of media attention (because they spend so much money), but some interesting changes were happening at the local philanthropy level as well—namely, that these organizations were becoming much more active and aggressive in steering the education "reform" conversation in their own communities. They aren't just a support system for the traditional public school system, as they might have been seen 10 or 15 years ago.

I explore this change in an article this week. An excerpt:

Driven by national trends in the economy and in philanthropy, other city-based foundations are going through the same shift in focus as the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Instead of serving as passive boosters of their communities' traditional public school systems, these organizations see themselves driving a discussion around transformation and innovation that is, they say, agnostic on how schools themselves are governed. ...

"There's a national consensus among reformers that we need to really step up our efforts," said Ethan Gray, the director of CEE-Trust, based in Indianapolis. "For a long time, we've funded nice programs—not to take anything away from programs that stuff backpacks with food, or tutoring programs, or programs that place a business leader in a school for a week. But if you look at the long-term data trends, those are not transforming programs."

This trend isn't brand new. My colleague Erik Robelen wrote two years ago about the growing interest in education policy by charitable organizations, including large and small groups and some that had not engaged in that area before.

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