Education Funding

Council for Basic Education Closes Doors

By David J. Hoff — July 14, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Council for Basic Education shut its doors last month after nearly half a century—the victim, its leaders say, of a tight fund-raising environment for education groups.

The 48-year-old advocacy organization for a strong liberal-arts curriculum in schools had found it difficult in recent years to raise money from foundations.

“It’s harder to get money for pure advocacy than it ever has been,” A. Graham Down, the group’s acting president when the group closed, said shortly after the Washington-based council shut down on June 30. “There are a lot of organizations out there doing our kind of work.”

“It has been a hard time for this type of agency,” added Janet B. Keeler, the chairwoman of the group’s board of directors. “What has been done had to be done. We’re all very sad about it.”

As of its 2001 annual report, the most recent one posted on the group’s Web site, the council had $2.8 million in assets. Almost $2 million of its $2.6 million in revenue came from grants and contracts from philanthropies such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as several corporations.

Increased Competition

In recent years, several education groups have struggled to finance their projects in the face of constraints on foundation giving and the increased scramble for dollars.

“In the past 10 years, there has been a mushrooming of organizations in education policy,” said Jack Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy.

In addition to Mr. Jennings’ organization, which he started in 1995, groups such as Achieve Inc. and the Education Trust have joined the competition for philanthropic support. Also in the past 20 years, the National Governors Association, the Business Roundtable, and other older groups have added to the pressure on limited funds by substantially increasing their education advocacy. In addition, foundations have had to cut back giving in recent years because of declines in the stock market, Mr. Jennings said.

“If foundations aren’t willing to give you steady funding,” he said, “you run the risk of collapsing.”

Mission Accomplished?

The Council for Basic Education was started by a group of prominent intellectuals in 1956 to advance liberal arts education in public schools.

Among the founders were Jacques Barzun, the distinguished Columbia University historian and the author of the 2000 best seller From Dawn to Decadence, among other books; Mary Bingham, whose family owned The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, Ky.; and Clifton Fadiman, a founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

In many ways, the council had met all of its goals, according to Mr. Down, who had been the group’s president for 20 years when he retired in 1994. He returned on an acting basis after Raymond “Buzz” Bartlett left the council this spring. At the time, the board thought the organization’s financial problems could be solved, Mr. Down said.

Despite its financial woes, the council can claim credit for some of the changes in education policy in the past 48 years, he added.

All students, he said, now have access to instruction in the basic curriculum needed to participate in society, which had been one of the group’s top priorities.

Mr. Down pointed out that the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to track student achievement in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school. “All of the things that the council was concerned with were addressed in that act,” he said.

Under Christopher T. Cross, the council’s president from 1994 through 2001, the group actively participated in the debates over defining what students should know in academic standards and assessing whether they had achieved those standards.

For example, Mr. Cross, who served as an assistant U.S. secretary of education during the first Bush administration, convened educators and historians to review a controversial, federally financed set of voluntary national history standards and suggest changes to them.

Earlier this year, the group produced a report, financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, that suggested schools were focusing on reading and math at the expense of other subjects to ensure good scores for state and federal accountability systems. (“Principals’ Poll Shows Erosion Of Liberal Arts Curriculum,” March 17, 2004).

Parceling Out

The council’s 12 staff members were given one month’s notice to find new jobs, and many have, according to Mr. Down.

As of last week, Mr. Down said he and others were working to arrange for other groups to finish CBE projects that have been underwritten by funders.

For example, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education will complete work on a program to recruit new teachers in the Mid-Atlantic region. The project—also paid for by the Carnegie Corporation—is scheduled to end in 2006.

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as Council for Basic Education Closes Doors


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding A Court Ordered Billions for Education. Why Schools Might Not Get It Now
The North Carolina Supreme Court is considering arguments for overturning a statewide order for more school funding.
6 min read
A blue maze with a money bag at the end of the maze.
Education Funding Schools Want More Time to Spend COVID-19 Aid for Homeless Students
Senators want to give districts more time to spend COVID relief funds for students experiencing homelessness.
4 min read
New canvas school bags hanging on the backs of empty classroom student chairs in a large modern classroom
iStock/Getty Images
Education Funding ESSER Isn't the Only School Funding Relief That's Disappearing Soon
Federal relief aid, policies to prevent schools from losing enrollment-based funding, and support for vulnerable families are expiring soon.
10 min read
Vector illustration of a businessman's hand holding a slowly vanishing dollar sign.
Education Funding Schools Lost Ground on Funding in Recent Years. The Recovery Could Be Slow
School funding took a hit a few years ago. It might be some time before it recovers.
5 min read
Tight crop of a dollar bill puzzle missing one piece