Foundation Heads Urged To Support Children's Issues
New York--Warning of ominous demographic and political trends, a former U.S. commissioner of education urged foundation officers gathered here this month to become advocates for children.
Harold Howe 2nd, now a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, told the more than 60 grantmakers that although there are ways to do "all kinds of things inside schools which can be stimulated by foundations," foundations can also play a role in building public support for schools and for children's issues.
"I think foundations can create an awareness that we are a society that has begun to forget its children," Mr. Howe said. "There isn't anyone in Congress playing that role, and nobody in the Administration, either."
Unless foundations support groups that speak up for children, he said, the elderly and others will "take everything away."
Mr. Howe also urged grantmakers to get their "hands dirty" by looking behind the rhetoric of the school-reform movement and challenging some of its assumptions. He said foundations should pay more attention to the needs of "at risk" children, whose numbers he said are growing as a result of the reforms.
"It's happening right now and people don't know it," he said. "We're tightening up standards, getting the College Board scores up, and there are more dropouts."
Noting that there are "a lot of vested interests in the school-reform movement," he said foundations "have got to find out what's going on, rather than what people say is going on."
Another speaker, Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the education and human-resources program at the Rand Corporation, said demographic trends are changing the nature of the school-age population, as well as the schools' political constituency.
"The changes occurring are really revolutionary, so we have to be prepared to be visionary," she said. Among those changes, she said, are the temporary increase in the school-age population due to the "baby boomlet," the decline in the number of college students seeking careers in teaching, and an increase in the percentage of single mothers who work.
About 70 percent of single mothers now work, she said--the same percentage as for women as a whole--creating new demands for child-care services and preschool programs, which in many areas do not exist. Not to pay attention to the plight of these families would be "to miss one of the most powerful changes of the decade having an impact on children and schools," she said.
David Weikart, president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, which conducts research on early-childhood education, underscored Ms. DarlingHammond's comments, noting that "what is driving the demand for preschool programs is not some esoteric commitment to young people, but women finding that there has to be some place for their children to be while they are working."
He told the grantmakers that foundations could play a role in ensuring that "we put in place programs of quality."
Other speakers at the conference, which provided grantmakers interested in precollegiate education an opportunity to discuss emerging issues, urged foundations to support more research on schools, testing, and teachers.
"We deeply need to know why teachers spend time the way they do," said Richard C. Anderson, director of the center for the study of reading at the University of Illinois.
Mr. Anderson said that 70 percent of class reading time is devoted to workbook exercises, "so now we see children sitting in classrooms filling out as many as 1,000 of these sheets a year."
He told the grantmakers that "if you work with schools, your prestige will be be lower and so will your funding." But he said there is a need to "put theorists and practitioners together."
Dale Mann, professor of educational administration at Columbia University's Teachers College, said educators need a "totally unambiguous demonstration of effective schools."
But he warned that schools "eat projects for breakfast," and urged the grantmakers to adopt complex strategies for effecting change.