Education Funding

Sharper Focus on K-12 Expected After Shift at Carnegie

By Vaishali Honawar — January 18, 2008 7 min read
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After focusing deeply on higher education and professional development over the past decade, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching appears poised to dig deeper into the challenges faced by K-12 schools, under a new president with a strong national reputation as a precollegiate education researcher.

Anthony S. Bryk, a researcher at Stanford University named Jan. 9 to lead the century-old nonprofit research and policy organization, built his reputation in part by leading an ongoing research program in Chicago to produce accessible studies on efforts to improve that city’s public schools.

Mr. Bryk, who is slated to start in his new post in August, has already signaled that one of his priorities at Carnegie, located on the Stanford campus in California, will be to arm teachers and students with both the knowledge and technology they need to live and work in a global society.

“He is an inspired choice,” said Thomas Toch, a co-director of Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank on whose research advisory board Mr. Bryk serves. “He has a gift for recognizing important research questions before others do, and for finding creative ways to examine important questions,” said Mr. Toch, who worked as a researcher for the Carnegie Foundation in the 1980s.

Richard A. Middleton, the superintendent of the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, and a member of the Carnegie Foundation’s board of trustees, said he hopes to see Mr. Bryk turn the spotlight on precollegiate issues, with an eye toward influencing public policy, including at the federal level.

“We have had a wonderful focus on college and professional training with [outgoing President Lee S. Shulman], and with this new president, we felt we have some opportunity to do quality education research and engagement in policymaking in K-12 education,” Mr. Middleton said.

Still, some observers suggested that despite Mr. Bryk’s history of homing in on research issues relevant to the field, ensuring such engagement would not be without challenges.

“He is first and foremost an academic, so I think his greatest challenge will be finding ways to communicate the foundation’s research to wider audiences,” Mr.Toch said.

Focused on Teaching

The foundation was formed in 1905 by the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and chartered by an act of Congress in 1906.

Though it began as a pension plan for college professors, by the 1930s the foundation was getting increasingly involved in research on education policy and standards under its first president, Henry Pritchett. In the late 1930s, the pension plan separated from the foundation, which does not award grants and is devoted entirely to policy and research.

Today, the foundation’s mission, according to its Web site, is “to address the hardest problems faced in teaching in public schools, colleges, and universities—that is, how to succeed in the classroom, how best to achieve lasting student learning, and how to assess the impact of teaching on students.”

At some points in its history, the foundation has shared a president with the Carnegie Corporation of New York—created as a grantmaking philanthropy in 1911 by Mr. Carnegie. In 1979, however, the foundation became completely independent of the corporation, which still continues to give it occasional grants for projects.

Through books, seminars, and reports, the foundation has built a strong reputation in the education community. In 1947, it helped set up the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit educational testing, research, and curriculum-development organization based in Princeton, N.J.

Varying Emphases

One of the foundation’s earliest contributions, and still among its best-known, was the Flexner Report, a 1910 study of medical education whose influence on how doctors are trained is still being felt. The foundation also famously parented the Carnegie Unit, developed in 1906 as a measure of the amount of time a student has studied an academic subject. The foundation later advocated that 14 standard units of credit be required for entrance to college.

Critics have said in recent years that while the unit helped put higher education on a solid footing in the early 20th century, its emphasis on “seat time” rather than content mastery has now become a constraint on teaching and learning.

Advancing Teaching

Each of the past two presidents of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has led the organization in a new direction, and incoming president Anthony S. Bryk is expected to do the same.

Ernest L. Boyer
Broadened the foundation’s agenda to include a stronger focus on public schools. Formerly U.S. education commissioner under President Carter, he had a strong interest in public policy, releasing such major reports as High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America and Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.

Lee S. Shulman
Has emphasized building strong bridges between education communities, and has focused on higher education and professional development. Under him, the foundation led the creation of a network of nearly two dozen colleges and universities aimed at establishing doctoral programs in education that are geared more to practitioners than to professional scholars.

Anthony S. Bryk
(Starts August 2008)
Observers expect he will refocus the foundation’s agenda on K-12 education and help bring the nation’s schools into the digital age. They also hope he will increase the foundation’s influence on education policy, including the debate over renewing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Ernest L. Boyer, who served as the U.S. commissioner of education under President Carter, is often credited with broadening the Carnegie Foundation’s agenda after taking its reins in 1979.

Before Mr. Boyer’s administration, the foundation had worked more on higher education. But Mr. Boyer demanded the foundation pay more attention to public schools. A major 1983 report, High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America, insisted that teachers be at the center of any reform and called for young people to be involved in community service.

Observers say that since Mr. Boyer’s death in 1995, the foundation has been less active on public-policy formation.

Mr. Shulman, the foundation’s first president to come directly from academia, took the helm in 1997. Moving the foundation from Princeton, N.J., to Stanford, he faced some criticism for shifting its emphasis and the way it operated. The foundation also underwent a staffing overhaul.

Mr. Shulman said: “The question was, how can we build on the really important things that the foundation had done in 92 years, as well as respond to what the challenges were in 1997.”

Mr. Shulman wins praise for forging partnerships among education stakeholders.

“Ernie [Boyer] was enormously effective as an emissary bringing the message of the needs and urgency of children, and all the factors that impact on their learning,” said Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington. “Lee has been enormously effective as an emissary across various professional communities and the educational communities.”

Despite its emphasis on postsecondary education, Mr. Shulman’s tenure has also seen some notable work on K-12 matters.

Last year, the foundation concluded its three-year Quest program, which involved working with teachers to produce detailed representations of their classroom practice through video, teaching materials, student work, and reflective commentary by both teachers and students. The footage was designed to be used by teacher education programs to educate new teachers.

Another program, CASTL (Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) for K-12, gave fellowships to teachers and teacher-educators to create resources to share common challenges and issues in their practice.

Theory and Practice

Mr. Bryk, for his part, has received recognition from high-profile organizations over the years, securing a national reputation as a scholar and researcher.

In 2003, he received the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation Prize for Distinguished Contributions to Education and Scholarship from the Washington-based foundation. The same year, he received the American Educational Research Association’s highest honor, the Distinguished Career Contributions Award. He is also a member of the National Academy of Education, an invitation-only group of some of the most distinguished researchers in education.

Mr. Bryk, 59, is credited by peers with an ability to build bridges between theory and practice.

In the 1980s, while a professor at the University of Chicago, he helped found the Center for Urban School Improvement, which supports reform efforts in the Chicago school system. The center, among other activities, now also runs a network of charter schools.

Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, which favors market-oriented policy measures, welcomed what he called Mr. Bryk’s “openness” to entrepreneurial and choice-based efforts to improve schools. Referring to one of Mr. Bryk’s books, Catholic Schools and the Common Good, Mr. Hess said what was interesting about that volume, and his research on charter schooling, “is not that he is an advocate of it, but it shows he is perfectly open to thinking seriously about a variety of ways to solve the problems before us today.”

In 1990, Mr. Bryk spearheaded the creation of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, a federation of research groups that produces studies on school reform.

Mr. Bryk moved to Stanford from the University of Chicago in 2004. At Stanford, where he now is a professor of organizational studies in education and business, he has been researching the organizational redesign of schools and school systems and the integration of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Mr. Bryk said this week that it is too early to drill down to specifics of what he intends to do at the Carnegie Foundation.

“What sorts of partnerships we can form is going to, in a significant way, leverage what the specific programs are going forward,” he said. One goal, he said, would be efforts to bridge the gulf between research and practice.

“Carnegie has a very solid history, and Tony Bryk will lead this foundation consistent with Carnegie’s historical commitments,” said David S. Tatel, a federal appellate judge and the chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. “But each president has led Carnegie in different directions, and I expect Tony will do that as well.”

Coverage of education research is supported in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Education Week


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