Where Should Education Grant Dollars Go?

Where Should Education Grant Dollars Go?

Teacher quality has become a major focus of grant-making in education, which in turn has had a marked impact on the direction of education policy. In recent years, foundations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to improve the teaching profession. The largesse has covered (among much else) the development of new teacher-evaluation systems, changes to teacher pay and career paths, efforts to strengthen alternative-recruitment programs, and initiatives to promote teacher voice.

Given the philanthropic interest in teaching, how do you—as a practicing teacher—think grant-making organizations can best spend their education money? What kinds of teacher-support programs do you think deserve more attention? Where do you think the real promise lies in terms of making sustainable and scalable improvements in schools?

The most effective grant initiatives will ultimately be those that aim to transform systems and structures through sustainable processes that build capacity, strengthen connections, and heal the conditions of our schools and communities. Since initiatives are only as valuable as how they are used to shift school culture and practices, the extent to which they will be successful depends on the capacity of people on the ground floor to leverage their implementation as a vehicle for change.

Well-constructed teacher-residency programs can break the cycle of ineffective teacher preparation, give a boost to educators all along the career spectrum, and provide innovative models for how to invest in teacher development.

The greatest asset schools have to improve student achievement is their human capital. And for most school districts, that resource is underutilized. The problem is worsened by the fact that teachers do not have the time to collaborate within a traditional teaching schedule. Philanthropists should help schools tap their invaluable resources by providing funding for teacher-led professional development of all kinds—including the additional personnel that may be needed to secure more time for teachers to collaborate and learn.

Without consistency in their teaching staff, city schools are constantly stuck in survival mode, and students suffer. This same issue contributes to the significant principal-retention problem we have as well. It's time to invest some serious attention and funding into initiatives that will keep our best teachers where they are needed most: with students.

Too many teachers I talk to, at all stages in their career and in a variety of school settings, tell me they are thinking about leaving the pool altogether. Capacity lags behind the newly defined goals for the teaching profession. The focused support for building this capacity in a strategic, sustainable way is the next step for educational philanthropy.

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