Common-Core Work Gets Aid From Many Philanthropies

By Erik W. Robelen — January 17, 2013 3 min read
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A majority of education philanthropies see the Common Core State Standards as the most significant policy development in the field today, new survey results show, but the share of them providing grants to advance implementation is not keeping pace with that sentiment. At the same time, the data, drawn from a recent survey of nearly 200 philanthropies nationwide, suggest that a growing number of foundations—24 percent—are currently providing grants to support common-core work or plan to do so.

This is nearly double the 13 percent who said they were supporting common-core efforts when asked a year earlier, in 2011, as part of the annual survey from Grantmakers for Education. On the latest, 2012 survey, 58 percent said they have no plans to fund implementation efforts.

Chris Tebben, the executive director of Grantmakers for Education, said she was surprised at the level of consensus about the common core’s significance, especially given that it was cited in reaction to an open-response question about trends in education.

“It was almost stunning how prevalent the awareness was of common core as the most significant trend,” she said. “Usually when you poll 200 grantmakers from all over the country, you see much more spread across the issues.”

(The report does not provide a precise figure for the share of respondents who cited the common core, since this was an open-ended response question, but I’m told it’s safe to say a majority of them did so.)

The new report says “many respondents believed the new standards represent a unique opportunity for transforming education. ... They noted that the new standards will require both districts and states to implement comprehensive changes at a time of reduced budgets and saw an important supporting role for philanthropy.”

Tebben said it was striking that the share of philanthropies providing grants for common-core work does not match this widespread sentiment, but she believes more of them will get active over time.

“That was a leading indicator for where you will see response from philanthropy a year from now,” she predicted.

The new report, “Benchmarking 2012: Trends in Education Philanthropy,” also probes the kinds of support for the common core provided by foundations. Most popular was professional development for teachers and principals. Least popular was direct student support or tutoring. Here’s a breakdown:

• Professional development (74 percent)
• Public awareness and communications (49 percent)
• Creation of new curricular and instructional materials (44 percent)
• Public policy and public-will building (40 percent)
• New-teacher preparation (35 percent)
• New assessments (30 percent)
• Higher education systems alignment (21 percent)
• Student support or tutoring (12 percent)

More than half the grantmakers supporting common-core implementation are what the report calls “local funders” that are providing grants locally or within one or two states. Another 7 percent are regional funders, while 38 percent are national.

Although the report does not list the philanthropies that provide grants related to the common core, those that have recently provided such support include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the GE Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (Full disclosure: Education Week‘s news coverage is supported in part by grants from the Gates, GE, and Hewlett foundations.)

Tebben argues that philanthropies are in a good position to advance the common core.

“The implementation of common core is so well-suited to a role for philanthropy,” she said. “First off, you have districts, schools, and states working on a massive change-management process, at a time when their resources are being cut.”

She suggested that philanthropy can play a variety of roles, including building public awareness and support for the standards; backing initiatives to better align efforts across sectors, such as K-12 and higher education; fueling professional development; and scaling up promising programs and practices that can be shared not just within states but across the nation.

The 198 grantmaking organizations that responded to the latest survey include a mix of philanthropies, from private, family, and corporate foundations to corporate-giving programs and public charities.

There’s plenty more information beyond the common core in this fifth annual report, which provides a helpful sketch of the funding priorities among education philanthropies, and how the field is evolving over time.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.