Can Crowdfunding Pay for Teacher Professional Development?
Crowdfunding Feedback for Teachers
Last year four teachers at Olney Elementary School in Philadelphia partnered with EdConnective instructional coaches. Over the course of six consecutive weeks, these teachers received four times the amount of instructional feedback a teacher typically receives in an entire year. Teachers reported the experience "breathing new life" into their classroom and the principal decided to expand the opportunity to his entire teaching staff this upcoming school year. In a landscape where professional development is often viewed as a "compliance activity," the fact that teachers and a school leader want more support is exciting.
The Problem: Funding
Principal Michael Roth from Olney Elementary has a staff of 45 teachers. His current budget doesn't allow for the expansion of the teacher feedback support beyond three new teacher partnerships already reserved for this upcoming school year year. State and local leaders in Pennsylvania have discussed the possibility of more education funding for months, but breaking through political gridlock, especially in relation to Philadelphia public schools, is uncertain. As Principal Roth and I chatted about this conundrum—wanting a support that teachers and administrator like but that the school or district cannot fully fund— the idea of crowdfunding entered the conversation.
Crowdfunding as a movement gained initial traction among platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, where people began soliciting a high volume of small donations to fund a litany of causes, ranging from starting a new comedy club, to funding innovative new products, like a candle-powered phone charger, or a seemingly random cause such as conserving Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit (which raised over $600,000 in two weeks).
For educators, platforms like DonorsChoose.org and PledgeCents can similarly be used to crowdfund donations for education-related causes. One big difference between the education fundraising platforms and others is amounts raised. A quick glance at Kickstarter projects reveals raises of $10,000 or more, whereas the education platforms seem to target smaller amounts, often below $1,000. In such a landscape, Principal Roth wanted to discover if $7,500 could be raised to provide 11 observations and 12 feedback sessions for five of his teachers.
People are tired of funding campaigns. The advent of crowdfunding was really novel: Why not donate $50 to get the prototype of some new smartwatch? Heck, I shopped Kickstarter for Christmas presents at one point. Then, crowdfunding seemed to cross an invisible line from products to social causes. Getting 10,000 people to donate $10 each to feed and temporarily house people after a massive hurricane—people could get behind that. Recently, however, I and many of my colleagues have been put off a bit by the proliferation of countless GoFundMe crowdfunding campaigns on Facebook, where individuals seek funding for their college tuition and personal debt. Does the spread of questionable personal campaigns make the general public less willing to invest in worthy campaigns like Principal Roth's? Does the sheer saturation of crowdfunding campaigns on the Internet make worthy causes nearly impossible to spot?
Time to Find Out
Principal Roth at Olney is taking a stab at this crowdfunding tool, regardless of the barriers, to allow five teachers (and their students) to benefit from the additional observation and feedback support this year. Using PledgeCents, he is moving forward in an attempt to make a way—despite a bleak budget outlook—for the teachers and students at Olney Elementary when it comes to enhanced professional development. There are 60 days on the clock to raise $7,500. He will soon see whether crowdfunding is a viable way to fund professional development for his teachers.