New report on middle school reform is a powerful fundraising tool

Grantmakers for Education, a membership-based organization consisting of more than 180 public and private foundations that support education, has released a new report about middle school reform that could be an effective tool for both educators and grant seekers.

The report, called “Maturing Investments: Philanthropy and Middle Grades Reform,” analyzes the impact of funding from four leading philanthropic organizations to support middle school reform efforts: the Lilly Endowment, the Carnegie Corporation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The report found that investment in middle school reform efforts to date (which actually cover a 15-year time period) have resulted in improved performance, higher test scores, and more effective preparation of students for high school and beyond.

I believe this report can be helpful to middle school administrators, teachers, and grant seekers on two fronts: as an educational resource and a powerful fundraising tool.

From an educational standpoint, the report contains helpful information about which reform models have worked over the last 15 years in a variety of middle schools throughout the United States. In addition, the report summarizes what was accomplished during this time period and contains data that support various aspects of middle school reform. All of this information could be a tremendous help to school leaders who are in the early stages of planning their own middle school reform efforts and are interested in what has worked in other places.

I would suggest that district administrators and grant writers use this report to help them design projects with significant and achievable outcomes. The authors state that “additional research, particularly longitudinal studies, on the education of early adolescents is needed that will yield useful data. Strategies to disseminate data are required, along with demonstrations that test the research findings.”

The information contained in the report and its accompanying bibliography also could prove beneficial to grant seekers as documentation to support the needs sections of their proposals. The authors, Kronley and Associates, have done an excellent job of summarizing the findings and drawing specific conclusions about the impact of the philanthropic investment by the four organizations during the last 15 years. The

organizations themselves are held in high esteem in funding circles and lend additional credibility to the results cited in the report.

Educators who plan to seek funding for middle school projects might find it helpful to share this report now with potential local funders, such as community foundations or neighborhood businesses. The report might help local funders see the “big picture” of middle school reform and might educate board members about the reform concept and the need to fund it.

In fact, the information contained in this report could be helpful to many education funders, not just those who focus their funding on middle school reform initiatives.

For example, the authors state that philanthropy can foster education reform by “… insisting on evaluation and relying on data, building networks, creating and supporting intermediary organizations, and developing targeted strategies for dissemination.” And equally as important, “philanthropic involvement in middle grades reform has reinforced the often painful truths that reform comes incrementally and that its pace is neither steady or sure.”

These are both important statements that can help foster discussion among funders and educators about the grantsmanship process as it applies to education, leading (hopefully) to a better understanding of the depth and breadth of funding that is needed to make significant, long-term improvements and a more realistic expectation of the time frame needed for these changes to occur.

For a copy of the report, go to the Grantmakers for Education web site.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or

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