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The four foundations most heavily investing in education could take many lessons from the middle of the 20th century, whenthe Ford Foundation and the establishment dealt with similar ideas.

“'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,' wrote George Santayana in 1905 – a perennially popular aphorism. But in the case of philanthropy, the message is particularly apt. Understanding foundations’ history is a key concern for philanthropic and public officials alike, given the central role that foundations have played in policy contexts for over a century. In my new book, Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence, I examine how four of the largest and most powerful foundations in the US – Gates, Broad, Kellogg, and Ford – have attempted to influence education policy. Through observation, archival analysis, and 60 interviews with foundation insiders, education policy leaders and grantees, I examine how these foundations’ strategies vary on four dimensions: whether they manage grantees in a “top-down” manner or not; whether they prefer to work with elite or grassroots partners; how they frame and choose problems to address; and what results they expect from grantees.

"The foundations’ approaches vary distinctly, reflecting two contrasting modes of engagement with education policy. In short, Gates and Broad exemplify what I call an “outcome-oriented” approach, wherein their strategies are formulated with the goal of achieving defined policy targets, whereas in contrast, Kellogg and Ford align with what I term a “field-oriented approach” – an emphasis on making grants to advocacy organizations in a more hands-off manner, with a less specific policy objective in mind. These contrasts in strategy have significantly impacted K-12 education policy, but in highly divergent ways. In this post, I expand on the book’s arguments to show how knowledge of philanthropic history might have informed and prepared Gates and Broad in one of their key strategic goals, which was ultimately successful in the short run, but not sustained."--Megan Thompson-Stange, HistPhil

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