A New Direction for Education Reform Philanthropy?


Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, and Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart wrote thought-provoking posts on the end of the education policy era marked by No Child Left Behind among other things and a renewed focus on practice to improve student outcomes. The questions each author considers hold significant implications for philanthropists and their giving, and will be the focus of a plenary session at the 2019 K-12 National Forum in Denver, Colorado. More information and link to register can be found here.

Vander Ark's piece has perhaps the most positive outlook on the future of educational innovation and predicts disaggregated and new school design will ultimately win the day in rethinking education delivery. Organizations such as NewSchools Venture Fund and Next Generation Learning Challenges have already gotten the ball rolling, and incentivizing school entrepreneurship will continue.

Hess focuses more on stagnation, and how the education policy landscape is currently at a standstill after a generation of federal policy change and that the education world is currently in search mode for the next "new thing."

Petrilli makes an interesting parallel to Francis Fukuyama's "End of History," claiming that education policy has modified incrementally in recent years, continuing in a state of "homeostasis" without any big, bold inflection point. Similar to Fukuyama's prediction that pockets of nationalistic conflict would persist following the end of the Cold War without actual global warfare, education policy has been marked by the occasional "skirmish" in statehouses and communities nationwide. Taking the analogy a step further, Fukuyama predicted that western liberalism would naturally proliferate to nation states and economies around the world following the fall of the Soviet Union, downplaying cultural and other factors in regions like East Asia that might hinder this proliferation. Charter school and choice advocates thought along similar lines upon the passage of school choice laws across the country and while there are over 3 million kids benefiting from charters and school choice dollars, there are still countless families and communities not reached by these programs.

Philanthropists have sensed the standstill pointed out by Vander Ark, Hess, and Petrilli, and wonder whether their approach to investment in education reform requires the types of pivot discussed in each post. To that end, the 2019 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy in Denver will address this question of whether education reform efforts require a new direction, and how philanthropy can make an impact.