Foundations Seek More Active Role in Replicating Successful Models

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Fourth in an occasional series.

Eight years ago, the Charles A. Dana Foundation launched an awards program to recognize innovations in education and health. It hoped a $50,000 prize would draw attention to the winners' ideas and help spread their successes to more communities.

"That turned out to be a fairly naive wish," Stephen A. Foster, the foundation's executive vice president, said recently.

Some award winners were deluged with requests to share their work. For others, the imprimatur of a Good Housekeeping-style seal of approval was not enough.

The Dana Foundation now works directly with the award winners to disseminate their ideas, and it often backs up that support with money.

Among the lessons the foundation learned, Mr. Foster said, is that it takes a different kind of skill to spread an idea to a new place than it does to nurture the idea in its original setting.

Traditionally, foundations have seen as their primary role the financing of pilot projects in a limited number of communities.

"The reality is that most foundations, including us, tend to think of themselves as being more in the model-development business," said Robert B. Schwartz, the director of the education program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia foundation. "We say we'll fund this thing and get it up and running, and then it's up to the government to figure out how to spread it."

Spreading 'Good Practices'

Data from a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded survey of 300 foundation, business, and education leaders in 30 countries support Mr. Schwartz's conclusion. The survey, cited in a 1990 report on replication by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, found that 80 percent of the money allocated to programs for health, education, and at-risk youths is spent on new ideas; the remaining 20 percent goes to identifying "best practices" and replicating them.

But a growing number of philanthropic leaders see a need to play a more active role in "scaling up" successful models. They and others involved in education reform are looking at ways to spread good practices more broadly and deeply. (See Education Week, 11/02/94.)

This emphasis is emerging alongside a growing movement among foundations to commission evaluations of the projects they support. An analysis of a project can help a philanthropy insure that it is investing in reforms that will stick, said Mary Leonard, the former director of the Precollegiate Group at the Washington-based Council on Foundations.

"I think going to scale is one of the killer issues now facing us," said Joan Lipsitz, the director of the education program at the Lilly Endowment in Indianapolis. "We have very powerful learning from grantmaking about what works and how it works. But we are not very smart yet about how to take those lessons and make them work for more children."

Mr. Schwartz of the Pew Trusts agreed: "There's an awful lot of evidence of demonstrably effective small-scale programs that simply haven't expanded."

Two-Pronged Strategy

The Pew Trusts' scaling-up strategy has focused on two areas: supporting groups that work to draw up national standards in K-12 education and financing organizations, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, that want to professionalize teaching.

During the 1980's, foundation money was critical in helping prominent educators create networks of restructured schools.

Financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation, for example, was a big factor in enabling Dr. James P. Comer, the Yale University child psychiatrist, to expand his pioneering work in child development. Launched in 1968 in a few New Haven, Conn., schools, his School Development Program has been adopted by 400 schools in 65 districts. It emphasizes broader ties between families, schools, and communities, and links achievement with a more holistic view of children's cognitive, social, and emotional needs.

Many regard the Rockefeller Foundation as "the Johnny Appleseed of 'Comerization,"' in the words of one philanthropy leader. Its commitment to long-term funding--which could total as much as $15 million over 10 years--has been crucial in the development of regional centers to train teachers and administrators in the Comer process.

Marla Ucelli, the assistant director for school reform at Rockefeller, believes professional development is "inextricably linked" to scaling up because it addresses the question of building the capacity of teachers.

Several other large foundations have awarded long-term grants that promote the growth of a particular school-reform network. Among them are the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which has supported the Brown University professor Theodore R. Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, and the Chevron Corporation, which has invested in the Accelerated Schools Project of Henry Levin, a Stanford University professor.

In addition to grantmaking, foundations have adopted strategies to help scale up school reform. Among the foundations with innovative strategies are:

  • The Mott Foundation, which awards considerable funding in its hometown of Flint, Mich.

Mott has taken local public officials and community leaders on site visits to observe innovative programs in action.

  • The Carnegie Corporation, which awarded a $350,000 grant to the Atlanta Project, an urban-renewal effort spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter.

Combined Interests

With philanthropic dollars representing an increasingly small percentage of the money spent to address social problems, foundations need to get more bang for their bucks, said Ms. Ucelli of the Rockefeller Foundation. One way to do this is to join with other funders to support projects in which they share an interest.

Earlier this fall, for instance, the Pew Trusts and Chicago's MacArthur Foundation both awarded grants to the Council of Chief State School Officers to help state education leaders coordinate standards-based reform. Last month, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation joined forces to underwrite a commission that will address improving the quality of teaching and teacher training. (See Education Week, 11/23/94.)

Over the past year, the promise of multimillion-dollar gifts dangled by the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg has provided an additional incentive for collaboration. Mr. Annenberg pledged to contribute $500 million to the nation's public schools as part of a broader "challenge to the nation."

Funders in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have met in each city to ponder how they might help local alliances of educators meet matching-grant requirements that are likely to be required by the Annenberg Foundation. (See related story )

While some mechanisms bring funders together to explore a particular reform, some observers said there is still a need for more deliberate cooperative efforts.

"I think we need a louder voice," said Ms. Lipsitz of the Lilly Endowment, "and more mutual reflectiveness...about what we mean by replication."

Ms. Lipsitz has weighed this question in Lilly's efforts to support middle school reform in 16 Indiana districts.

She recalled that a colleague said to her, "'Joan, you want fundamental structural reform. You're getting incremental reform. Do you want to hang the grant, or do you want to change your rhetoric?'"

"My question is," she added, "how many increments equal a fundament?"

Vol. 14, Issue 15, Page 6

Published in Print: December 14, 1994, as Foundations Seek More Active Role in Replicating Successful Models
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