Giving Compass’ Take:
• Grantmakers for Education’s report examines the 1.8 million requests made by teachers via the platform DonorsChoose.
• How can funders use this information to inform and redirect funding for education?
What can over a million teachers tell funders about the needs of schools? No one has greater insight into the needs of students and schools than teachers. Increasingly, teachers are using their voice in identifying what American classrooms lack via crowdfunding websites like DonorsChoose. These requests reveal patterns among individual classrooms. Viewed in aggregate, they also sharpen the picture of system- level inequity in public schools. The story of the data provides an investment road map for funders seeking to support students directly, but also for funders seeking broader reform of U.S. education policy and systems.
Is there a relationship between what teachers say schools need and what major donors are funding? In 2019, Grantmakers for Education (GFE) released Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19, the results of a survey of education funders on their priorities and how they have shifted over time. At the K-12 level, it revealed funders are moving away from a focus on the academic core of the classroom (issues like standards and assessment) and moving toward strategies that embrace the “whole learner” (such as social and emotional learning and wraparound supports for schools). It further showed funders to have a continued interest in addressing equity in schools and growing concern that schools are not adequately funded.
- The majority of requests come from high-poverty schools, but requests from low-poverty schools get funded at higher rates.
- Teacher requests for academic materials far exceed any other type of request, regardless of context.
- The fastest-growing categories of requests are nonacademic, focused on the needs of the whole learner.
- Certain categories of need are more likely to go unmet than others.
- The needs of high-poverty and low-poverty schools differ.
Crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose are a tool that teachers increasingly use to communicate and fill the needs of their schools. While part of their growth in use is likely attributable to teachers’ awareness of the existence of such tools, it is worth considering whether the need for their use reveals growing inadequacy of government funding of schools, especially high-poverty schools. For those in philanthropy, teacher requests point to directions for giving, whether one’s giving is focused on individual schools, policy and advocacy or system reform.