Donors Seek Deeper, More Lasting Results From Gifts
Part I of this series examined the rising foundation interest in precollegiate public education. Part II reports on ambitious new foundation initiatives that seek to do much more than simply "help."
By Lynn Olson
This month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is expected to select five cities for grants of approximately $10 million each to reduce the number of school dropouts, teen-age parents, and unemployed youths.
Known as "New Futures," the $50-mil6lion program is designed to reshape the way institutions serve disadvantaged children through collaborative citywide efforts.
Although it is by far the most ambitious, the Casey Foundation's project is one of a handful of philanthropic initiatives nationwide that are intended to address the systemic problems of schools and communities.
Second of Two Parts
Instead of making specific project or categorical grants, these foundations are aiming their efforts at sweeping organizational change.
The hope is that such initiatives will lead to deeper and more lasting school reform than previous philanthropic efforts. To support that goal, foundations are committing sizable sums of money, often over long periods of time.
The Casey Foundation's "New Futures" program is a five-year initiative. The selected cities must agree to match the foundation's grant with an equal amount--75 percent of which can be redirected from other sources, and 25 percent of which must be new revenue. According to the foundation's planning guide, the objective is to accomplish "durable" and "fundamental" change.
"It is not," the guide states, "intended to be a research or experimental program created as a supplement, enhancement, or even compensatory response to 'business-as-usual' practices and policies."
The Matsushita Foundation, in Secaucus, N.J., has launched a 5- to 10-year "school-improvement" program. It will work with no more than 10 districts to restructure schools with the involvement of their teachers and principals. The foundation is spending approximately 85 percent of its program budget--or $850,000 a year--on the effort.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., is just beginning a long-term partnership with three Michigan communities. The project will develop community coalitions to address the developmental needs of children from the prenatal stage through young adulthood.
Although the "Kellogg Youth Initiatives Program" does not yet have a fixed budget, Jack Mawdsley, program director in education, says: "We're going to stay with those communities for 20 years, to see whether the long-term commitment can make a difference."
Foundation officials attribute these more comprehensive initiatives, in part, to the failure of previous grantsmaking.
"There's a feeling that we have funded programs and projects that have done great things for small numbers of children and small numbers of teachers in individual schools," says Nelvia M. Brady, senior staff associate for the Chicago Community Trust, "and there has been limited carryover from the learnings of those efforts to the institution as a whole."
When the foundation money disappeared, she says, so did the programs and projects it funded.
"It is more cost-effective for us to begin to look at systemic change initially," argues Ms. Brady, whose foundation recently launched a $5-million, five-year program that will encourage collaborative efforts at school reform in the Chicago area.
Theodore Lobman, vice president of the Stuart Foundations in San Francisco, shares that sentiment. "Many foundation staff have learned that grants to improve particular school functions ... are 'at risk' because of the institutional conditions surrounding the people who spend their grant money," he says.
One way to change that, he argues, "is to support organizational change directly."
Last year, the foundation launched a program that will provide grants to 7 to 10 school districts interested in increasing teacher participation in decisionmaking.
"We are looking for teacher-designed efforts that get them to take on responsibilities that you don't often see," says Mr. Lobman. "That might mean teacher involvement in supervising and evaluating beginning teachers; teacher involvement in identifying and helping tenured teachers who could do better; and teacher involvement in helping each other regardless of whether they are judged by some4body or other to be doing a good job."
The foundation is also supporting the creation of school-based health clinics and of "comprehensive, early interventions" that could prevent school failure.
Although it marks a departure from recent trends, this is not the first time that foundations have tried to encourage widespread, structural change in schools.
Large private foundations historically have been involved in such endeavors.
During the 1950's and 1960's, for instance, the Ford Foundation launched two sweeping programs to reform America's schools. The first, the Fund for the Advancement of Education, spent approximately $71 million on precollegiate and higher education between 1951 and 1967. Its numerous grants to change schools' organization and curriculum included the introduction of teachers' aides, team teaching, flexibly designed classrooms, and instructional television.
The second project--the Comprehensive School Improvement Program--ran from 1960 to 1970. It distributed more than $30 million in grants to encourage a number of innovations in schools simultaneously.
But often, notes Edward J. Meade Jr., chief program officer for the foundation's education and culture division, "plans for these innovations failed to take into sufficient account" the broader context in which schools operate--including the participation of teachers and community members.
"You can't buy change," argues Mr. Meade. Teachers and others need to be involved in school reform from the beginning, he says.
Several observers point to the Ford Foundation's most recent effort--the dropout-prevention program--as the trailblazer among foundations that are now taking a more "participatory" approach to school reform.
In February, Ford announced grants totaling $2.3 million to launch the second phase of that project, which assists school-community groups in 21 cities to reduce the number of dropouts.
Mr. Meade says one of the program's primary purposes is to test "the usefulness of the collaborative for mobilizing and informing and facilitating a community's attempts" to confront the dropout problem.
Foundations have taken a number of steps to encourage such collaboration. Most have provided money for planning and have relied on first-hand observation to determine which communities are ready and willing to change.
In addition, they have often exhorted or required different groups to work together.
The Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis, for instance, two years ago began a program to help improve urban schools that focused on the middle grades. The 10 participating cities have been encouraged to give teachers a prominent role in the planning and implementation process, and to involve both parents and other youth agencies in their efforts.
"At times we have strongly encouraged, and at other points required, that parents, members of youth-serving community agencies, and schoolpeople sit down together to plan," says Joan Lipsitz, program director in education. "We will, likewise, increasingly support the youth-serving agencies that come to the table, because we're interested in both in- and out-of-school learning."
The New Futures program requires participating cities to provide evidence that each collaborative effort includes key sectors of the local community; has "explicit authority" to command resources and establish policy; and has the support of state officials.
Even so, notes Sid Gardner, director of the program, "we found that when we sent out a long strategic-planning guide--170 pages--the youth-employment task force wentoff and talked about jobs and the teen-pregnancy task force went off and talked about health, and they inevitably reverted to the categorical, programmatic mindset."
To help local coalitions overcome such obstacles, foundation officials are choosing to spend more time providing technical assistance--or hiring someone to do it for them.
The Ford Foundation, for example, has given grants to three separate agencies that are helping local communities develop their collaborative efforts and carry out their dropout-prevention plans.
Norm Fruchter, a senior consultant with the Academy for Educational Development in New York City, has worked with six of the Ford-funded initiatives, in Baltimore; Cincinnati; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Providence, R.I.; and Trenton.
"Part of our responsibility was to take a look at the collaborative structure as it was unfolding and to try to define who wasn't being represented in the circle," Mr. Fruchter says, "and to try to push the people who were the key actors ... to be more inclusive than they had originally intended."
There was no formula for what each city's collaborative effort should look like, he notes. But from the beginning, he says, "everybody understood that Ford was going to look very hard and very carefully, first, at the extent of the collaboration, and second, at the extent to which real structural solutions were proposed--as opposed to business as usual but better."
The New Futures program made eight days of technical assistance available to the 10 cities involved in its six-month planning period and hired four consultants to work with them; New Futures officials plan to provide five on-site coordinators once the final sites are chosen.
Representatives from each of the five cities will also attend a "New Futures Institute" throughout the five years--first to get assistance from outside experts and later to share information among themselves.
The Kellogg Youth Initiative is beginning with a two-year seminar that brings together a cross-section of 30 to 35 people from each of the three target communities.
Individuals--rather than institutions--applied or were nominated to become members of the teams, which will meet with experts from around the country at least once a month and will visit exemplary programs nationwide.
Each team will be responsible for assessing the particular needs of children in its area. The communities will then have to come back to the foundation with requests to fund specific proposals.
To help them, the foundation has hired staff members who are based in the local community and who are natives of the area.
"It adds credibility to have somebody who knows the territory; someone who has grown up, lived, and worked in those areas," says Mr. Mawsdley. "I think it's a necessary ingredient for any kind of program to get someone who's operating near the folks involved."
The Matsushita Foundation is also focusing its efforts on providing technical assistance, and is functioning more like an operating agency than a grantsmaking body, according to Sophie Sa, its executive director.
Although the foundation will provide small amounts of seed money, "for the most part, we're going to be providing expertise," she says.
The organization currently has a list of experts that it draws upon periodically and three consultants who spend most of their time visiting school districts. Ms. Sa estimates that she spends half her time on the road.
"We don't have a model, we're not focusing on any curriculum," says Ms. Sa. "What we are trying to do is to help schools and districts develop their capacity for helping themselves."
'A Little Intrusive'
"I think foundations have come to realize that they have to pay for technical assistance," says Mr. Meade of the Ford Foundation. But he warns that "it's dangerous when they offer technical assistance" themselves.
More intensive involvement on the part of foundations has been both ''helpful and sometimes a little intrusive," notes David Bergholz, executive director of the Public Education Fund in Pittsburgh. "You get swept up in these things rather quickly, and if you decide to open the door and stick your foot in, the rest of you goes in pretty fast."
Adds Mr. Gardner of the Casey Foundation, "You get fairly quickly to an appropriate measure of humility about 'So who knows how to do this stuff?"'
"We've found the best people we could, but we don't have any illusions that there's a cadre of people out there" with ready-made solutions, he says.
Mr. Lobman, of the Stuart Foundations, agrees. "You can sound smart as hell, but when presented with the obstacles confronted by the applicant, you might let your standards down," he says. "A foundation could be a lot more sophisticated, and still not accomplish anything in the long run."
Already, foundation officials say, they are confronting a number of obstacles to their risk-taking ventures.
"It's very tough," notes Mary Leonard, director of the precollegiate-education program for the Council on Foundations. "The turf battles get people discouraged. Schools are very difficult places to move."
"You need to be working with five or six different sets of people in order to influence outcomes," she notes, "the school board, the area superintendent, the teachers' union, a parents' association--there are just layers and layers of ducks to get in a row."
Several foundation officials point out that after years of experiencing changing emphases in the grants programs of philanthropic organizations, schools and other community agencies are understandably somewhat skeptical.
"The school systems are very tired of being buffeted by funding trends from the feds, from the states, and from foundations," says Ms. Lipsitz. "We needed to deal with initial cynicism--'Oh, here's another foundation grant."'
"It's a matter of convincing people that we're sincere and that we're really in it for the long haul," agrees Ms. Sa. "It may take up to a year to convince all the players that we are serious and that this is the right way to go."
'Life Is Real'
In addition, many of the factors that could ruin a philanthropic initiative are beyond a foundation's control.
"Life is real," notes Ms. Lipsitz. "There are strikes; there are slowdowns. And what you put on paper is elegant, but school improvement is messy."
Most successful projects, Mr. Gardner notes, rely on good leadership. But, he adds, "You can't keep mayors from running for Congress, or superintendents from going to the next rung on the ladder."
During the planning period for New Futures, he says, "a certain amount of breath-holding took place as two of our superintendents were engaged in visible, national job searches."
Foundation officials can also find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of local and state politics.
"If you're going past new programs to real policy change, you're bumping into some pretty entrenched interests," says Mr. Gardner, "and foundations appropriately take care in intervening" in political processes.
"It requires a lot more understanding of the policy and political environment in ways that you don't have to worry about if you're trying to come up with a model summer remedial-reading program," he suggests.
Moreover, foundation efforts that appear similar on the surface may vary in subtle ways, according to Ms. Lipsitz, because of the idiosyncratic culture of individual foundations and communities.
Evaluating 'Critical Elements'
To determine what works, the Lilly Endowment has hired an outside firm to evaluate its initiatives, and Ms. Lipsitz says she hopes that other foundations will do the same.
The endowment currently funds two school-improvement efforts: the urban "school improvement program" tries to encourage districtwide change by working with numerous community agencies at once; the "middle-schools recognition program" provides grants to individual schools that want to deepen or extend their reform efforts.
The former relies on extensive technical assistance; the latter, on more limited, site-specific assistance.
"We're evaluating it all," says Ms. Lipsitz. "We're documenting it all. And one of the questions that we're interested in is, 'What are the critical elements that we're dealing with here?"'
The Ford Foundation and the Casey Foundation have also hired outsiders to evaluate their programs, and are requiring both accountability to the public and to the foundation from the grantees.
Cities participating in the New Futures effort, for example, must state precise, numerical objectives for increasing school attendance and graduation rates, and reducing youth unemployment and teen-age pregnancy. They must describe a process for making those objectives public. And they must agree to work with an outside contractor to develop a management-information system that meets foundation requirements.
In addition, the outside evaluation will include a quantitative analysis; documentation of the process local sites use to stimulate change; and profiles of individual children and families, conducted by such noted ethnographic researchers as the psychiatrist Robert Coles.
The Ford Foundation initiative is being evaluated by researchers at New York University with a $300,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
But in the end, notes Mr. Lobman, "changes in structure can never be judged until the foundation goes away and you look at what's left."
The question asked by many observers is how long foundations will be willing to maintain their more ambitious school-reform efforts.
"I'm an optimist about this one," says Mr. Meade. "There's more rhetoric among more foundations about fundamental change than there was. They know better that that's what they ought to be doing."
Even foundations that have not tackled structural changes in schools directly are finding their efforts leading in that direction. The Rockefeller Foundation, for instance, funds programs to improve arts and humanities teaching in selected school districts.
"What I think we discovered along the way," says Alberta B. Arthurs, director for the arts and humanities division, "is that when you help teachers to identify themselves as humanists, and when you encourage them to make the most of their disciplines and to contribute heavily to them, you are also helping them obtain or aim for other professional achievements."
"Inevitably," she says, "they begin to think much more seriously about the contributions they are invited to make in their departments, in their curricula, in their schools, and in their school systems."
"We find ourselves now more interested in how teachers contribute to their school systems in a variety of ways," she states.
Initially, Ms. Arthurs notes, "I thought [the foundation] would fund a set of projects, each for a three-year period, and that we might be in the schools' business modestly for a half-dozen years or so, doing model projects and seeing what we could learn."
Now, she states, "I think that we are going to find ourselves investing in this for at least a decade."