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Foundations Pondering New Proposals For Improving the Quality of Teaching

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New York--Continuing a recently renewed interest in schools, several of the nation's leading philanthropic foundations are weighing new ventures aimed at improving the teaching profession.

According to grantmakers gathered here for a meeting of the National Council on Foundations' Precollegiate Education6Group, many foundations are now planning to put their money into model teacher-education and inservice-training programs, as well as into preschool and dropout-prevention programs. (See related story on page 5.)

Some grantmakers even spoke of re-entering the school-finance-equity field, into which the Ford Foundation poured some $30 million during the 1970's. Others are looking for ways to influence educational policy at the state and local levels.

Efforts to build community support for schools are increasingly popular, the foundation officers' discussions suggested, but curriculum-development programs appear to be of declining interest.

In the past few years, foundations have expressed a greater interest in public education than ever before, and have become increasingly sophisticated in using their limited funds to effect change, grantmakers said. But for some, an emphasis on teaching--especially on the preservice education of teachers--would represent a departure from their current grantmaking priorities.

"A significant number of people here have recognized that the only place education takes place is between teacher and student. It doesn't take place in the central office or in the governor's mansion," said Jack Murrah, executive director of the Lyndhurst Foundation in Tennessee. "So if you want to improve education you have to make teachers better."

"The common message of educational research and the reform reports is that the teacher is the person who does it," added Steven D. Lavine, associate director of the arts and humanities division at the Rockefeller Foundation.

Teacher Initiatives

Foundations reportedly considering new teacher initiatives include:

The Ford Foundation: After promoting the school-finance-reform movement in the 1970's, Ford turned its attention to the problems of urban poverty, making precollegiate grants largely in the area of minority education.

In the past five years, the foundation has funded a high-school recognition program, the Public Education Fund, and various urban-school improvement projects.

Now, Ford is considering--but has not yet adopted--a coordinated strategy to improve the teaching profession that includes: collection of data on how much time teachers have to prepare for courses and how much of a role they play in curriculum development; sponsorship of professional-development opportunities that put teachers "in the mainstream of their own professional community"; and the development of new teacher-preparation programs.

The foundation is also looking for a way to address the dropout issue, said Edward J. Meade Jr., a chief program officer in the urban-poverty program. "I'm not sure we know what we can do to help dropouts," he said. "If we knew better the cause of dropouts, we could do more to help." And noting that the school-finance-reform movement has lost momentum, Mr. Meade said that "it might be time to go back in."

The Exxon Education Foundation: One of the largest of the corporate foundations involved with education, the Exxon Education Foundation has been spending about $500,000 a year on its Impact II program, which deals with teacher alienation and the lack of collegiality and initiative in the profession. It also spends another $2.5-million on assorted precollegiate-education projects, including instructional uses of television and programs for minority engineers and scientists.

The foundation has recently embarked on a major effort to build programs in three new areas: research on the implications of demographic changes in the school-age population, restructuring of schools to make them more effective, and new methods of preservice and inservice preparation of teachers.

"We've evolved in terms of who the kids are and what the schools must be," said L. Scott Miller, a foundation program officer. "The kids are different--many more of them are at-risk--and these are the kinds of kids that schools have had the most difficulty with historically.''

Mr. Miller said that the three new programs would become the centerpiece of the foundation's precollegiate work in the next few years, and that "from a dollar standpoint, the teacher program will get the largest share."

The Rockefeller Foundation: In 1982, the Rockefeller Foundation developed a new arts and humanities division designed to strengthen secondary-school teaching in the arts and humanities.

Since then, the foundation has supported large-scale efforts in urban school systems to improve inservice opportunities for teachers, and to make teachers "feel good about themselves and grow," Mr. Lavine said. Districts served have included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and St. Louis, and the foundation is now considering projects in several other major cities.

The foundation is also looking into new ventures to support preservice programs for teachers, Mr. Lavine said.

The Matsushita Foundation: Endowed last December with $10 million, the new foundation plans to spend about $800,000 a year to help revitalize the teaching profession and build community support for schools, according to Sophie Sa, its executive director.

The Lyndhurst Foundation: The foundation spends about $1.5 million a year on education, much of it on programs to help teachers continue their intellectual development. It is looking at new development efforts, as well as at ways to attract bright people to the teaching profession, Mr. Murrah said.

Other foundations reportedly considering new initiatives include the American Can Company, which is looking at the relationship between dropouts and the high-school-reform movement, and the C.S. Mott Foundation, which may fund programs for latchkey and preschool children.

Increased Interest

The very existence of a formal group of foundations interested in precollegiate education, and the large number of foundations that belong to it and help fund it--more than 120--attest to a new "respectability" for giving to public education, foundation officials said.

The meeting here attracted some 60 grantmakers from private, corporate, and community foundations, which together spend about $40 million to $50 million annually on precollegiate-education programs, according to Mary Leonard, director of the precollegiate-education group.

Compared with total spending on precollegiate education nationwide, the amount that foundations spend is relatively small, and that limits their potential impact on schools.

But the new initiatives that foundations are now considering reflect a greater sophistication in how to deal with schools, and a greater willingness on their part to make grants to schools, grantmakers said.

For example, foundations have long been interested in teacher development, but they are now taking a more "systemic" approach to it, said Theodore E. Lobman, vice president of the Stuart Foundation in San Francisco. "It's not just how much teachers know but whether the environment is conducive for them to teach," he said.

"No quick fixes are being offered," Mr. Meade added.

Corporate Interest

Until a few years ago, relatively few corporate foundations made significant grants to public schools, content to let their tax dollars sup-port public education, Ms. Leonard said. When they did give grants to public schools, they tended to fund development of curriculum materials that they wanted taught, Mr. Lobman said.

Other foundations that made grants to public schools were often disappointed, and in many cases redirected their grants to other groups, some of which worked with schools, Mr. Lobman said.

At the same time, major foundations like Ford and the Carnegie Corporation of New York tended to focus their resources on a few large urban districts or a handful of major national projects, where they could have the greatest impact. "We're not just interested in urban areas, we're interested in children at risk, and they just happen to be concentrated in big cities," said Diane L. August, a program associate with the Carnegie Corporation.

"We believe that somehow a critical mass is being built up," Mr. Meade said.

Now, however, more foundation money is flowing to schools, Ms. Leonard said, in part because "there's more of it out there" and because working with schools is "getting easier to do."

Also, some of the foundation funds that once went to higher education or private schools are now going to public schools, Ms. Leonard said, as foundations seek to guarantee that colleges and universities do not have to spend their time on remediation.

Much of the growth in interest in giving to schools is coming from the corporate foundations, grantmakers said, many of which reorganized their programs in recent years to put a greater emphasis on precollegiate education.

The American Can Company Foundation, for example, decided to focus its grantmaking on public education in 1983. It now spends $3.7 million on precollegiate education--more than most other foundations. One of its recent grants was made for a study of how school boards operate: what role they play, how they are structured, and how they make decisions.

School in Crisis

Other foundations have been drawn back to schools by reports that they are in crisis, as well as by the reform movement and the dwindling of federal funds for education, grantmakers said.

These new circumstances have created challenges and opportunities for foundations interested in education, and in some cases they have also forced them to change their approach, program officers said.

For example, foundations are less interested in funding projects that once might have led to a federal initiative, said the Lyndhurst Foundation's Mr. Murrah, because "no one believes that if we could show it was a good thing for students to be involved in a particular program that the federal government would do something." As a result, he said, "People are thinking local."

But the inability to stimulate larger program spending means a premium must be put on finding the "pressure points" that can produce systemic change, he said.

Nonetheless, foundations will probably continue to support programs aimed at improving public schools because they "have a soft spot for kids," Mr. Lobman said, and schools are "where the kids are."

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