Teaching Our Teachers: Foundation Grants May Reflect ‘Surge of Interest’ in Teacher Training

By Jonathan Weisman — March 27, 1991 8 min read

“And that’s why they’ll make the difference,” he concludes.

“Teacher education,” says David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.” In my mind, it’s as significant as I’ve seen in a decade.”

Other grant recipients echo that analysis.

But Mary K. Leonard, director of the Council on Foundations’ precollegiate-education program, warns that huge grants from major foundations in recent months may not represent a trend in the overall pattern of foundation giving.

“There have been sort of blips in the past, big surges in teacher-education interest, and then a dearth of interest,” she says. “I’m not sure the present level represents an increase.”

Foundations have captured headlines in recent months for a number of innovative and lucrative grants they have made to teacher education:

Teachers College at Columbia University received its largest grant ever last month when the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund awarded it $2 million to support a new national network that will track efforts to restructure schooling and teaching.

The same foundation, in November, gave $2 million to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

Also in November, the Exxon Education Foundation presented the educational researcher John I. Goodlad with a five-year, $1.25-million grant to help schools, colleges, and universities reform teacher-education programs.

In a related grant, the Southwestern Bell Foundation in November pledged at least $250,000 to underwrite the Agenda for Teacher Education in a Democracy project, which seeks to stimulate dialogue on problems in teacher education.

Earlier this month, the foundation announced that it was awarding grants totaling almost $1.7 million to five Missouri schools of education to enhance teacher professionalism.

The Los Angeles-based W.M. Keck Foundation last year awarded $500,000 to

the California Institute of Technology to support an outreach program for high-school science education, and $75,000 to Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., to enhance teacher-preparation programs in mathematics.

‘A Cost-Investment Strategy’

Foundation sources contend that the grants are not just anecdotal evidence, but represent a real surge of interest that will grow as more foundations connect school improvement with teacher-education reform.

Edward J. Meade Jr., an education consultant for numerous foundations, says foundation support for precollegiate education traditionally has been programmatic and technological. But within the past five years, philanthropists have concluded that an innovative program or a technological advancement is only as good as the person behind it.

“I think there has been more attention in recent years toward the essential factor of schools, namely teachers,” says Mr. Meade, who had organized educational programming at the Ford Foundation for 30 years before striking out on his own.

The new focus, observers say, has grown naturally out of a well-documented increase in support for precollegiate education. Such support rose from 2.7 percent of total foundation contributions in 1984 to 3.5 percent in 1989.

While that percentage change might not $ sound impressive, it represents a much larger boost in actual dollars, because total & foundation giving more than doubled during those years. (See Education Week, Jan. 9, 1991).

The Reader’s Digest Fund grew substantially in that time, with much of the growth benefiting precollegiate education, says Donna V. Dunlop, a program director at the fund. A new staff installed three years ago began consciously shifting education support to a specialization in teacher education.

“Rather than funding individual programs that benefited a few kids, it made sense to invest in people that are serving young people,” Ms. Dunlop says. “We looked at it as a cost-investment strategy.”

In its new program guidelines, released in February, the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia listed “teachers and teaching” as one of three education areas on which the foundation planned to focus in the coming years.

Another foundation, the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, has dedicated what Mr. Imig describes as a disproportionate sum to teacher education. The swing follows a quadrupling of support for education and youth initiatives, from $12 million in 1985 to $44 million in 1990.

William Bonifield, the foundation’s vice president for education, says a five-year work plan, adopted in 1987, identified “instructional leadership” as an area typically neglected by the foundation community.

In response, the endowment set up professional-development schools in the ban industrial centers of Hammond, Gary,and East Chicago, Ind., in conjunction with local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers and Indiana University at Gary. The $770,000 grant enables education students at the university to gain classroom experience with senior teachers in urban environments.

Other grants have included $3 million to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, $200,000 to Teach For America, and $600,000 to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Mr. Bonifield says.

A ‘New Era of Cooperation’

Joan Lipsitz, Lilly’s program director for elementary and secondary education, suggests that an expanding interest in teacher education could mark a new era of cooperation between philanthropic organizations.

Because improving the existing teacher corps, strengthening schools of education,and restructuring schools and school systems are so interrelated, she asserts, foundations will have to focus on all three simultaneously to be effective.

Since the monetary demands of this strategy may be too great for one organization, the foundation community will have to stop seeking out individual niches and begin working together, she adds.

As necessary as it is, though, such coordination is episodic, notes Frank B. Murray, dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware. “Unfortunately,” he says, “there is still a need for many of the reform players to go it alone, to make a name for themselves and for the foundation.”

With teacher education attracting more attention, other aspects of education reform may lag, others warn.

“Foundations are like lemmings,” Ms. Dunlop says. “We chase certain subject matter, and other things get left by the wayside.’'

Rising Corporate Contributions

Corporate support for precollegiate education is also increasing, observers say, and that support has helped teacher education--both directly and indirectly.

Ginny Gutierrez, the associate publisher of the “Education Interface Educator’s

Guide to Corporate Support,” published in New Jersey, says corporate contributions to teacher education and training rose 25 percent last year.

Half of the 450 corporations listed in the guide have educator-training programs, she notes.

One way teacher-education reformers have stretched dollars is through corporate contributions to programs in the schools.

“It’s indirect, but a creative dean can make it direct,” Mr. Murray notes.

General Foods Corporation is supporting a $380,000 Re:Learning project through out the state of Delaware. Since “it can’t be run without changes in teacher education,” Mr. Murray says, he has used the corporate support to train students in the concepts and applications of the state-level restructuring approach.

Still, in the grand scheme, teacher education is not a prime recipient of the nation’s “soft money” in education, the vast majority of which goes to universities.

If schools of education are to maximize their attractiveness to private donors, they will have to persuade the university community of their importance, some observers point out.

Universities, in turn, can maximize foundation grants by integrating teacher training with other fields of research being conducted by university scholars, according to Sandra Glass, a program officer at the Keck Foundation.

Her foundation is typical of many smaller philanthropic organizations, which focus on such traditional fields of research as science, medicine, and engineering. Those have remained primary focuses because universities have stressed those in their grant applications.

“Colleges and universities know what they want,” she says, “and not too often is the highest priority preparing teachers.”

The grants her foundation has made to teacher education are almost accidental, funneling though traditional science and & technology fields.

The Lesley College grant went to renovate the education school’s Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

The California Institute of Technology grant, which supports high-school science education, was directed to the university’s biology department.

“Are foundations generally shifting from one thing toward another? No,” Ms. Glass says. But, she adds, where a traditional focus intersects with teacher training, the proposal has a tendency to stand out and win funding.

‘Focus on Enhancement’

No one argues that the private sector has taken up anywhere near the slack left by shrinking education-school budgets.

Public schools of education have lost between 5 percent to 25 percent of their budgets in the past few years, Mr. Imig says. Observers say it is not the role of the private sector to take over where the public sector leaves off.

“They don’t have enough to fill in what the states are going to pull out, but that makes it all the more important for them to provide leadership,” Mr. Murray asserts. “Foundations have no obligation to provide basic support. They have the opportunity to focus on enhancement.”

“And that’s why they’ll make the difference,” he concludes.

A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 1991 edition of Education Week as Teaching Our Teachers: Foundation Grants May Reflect ‘Surge of Interest’ in Teacher Training