The US has a high reading literacy rate at 98% of the population over age 15, but ranks below average in science and mathematics understanding compared to other developed countries. In 2008, there was a 77% graduation rate from high school, which was below that of most developed countries. The good news is that a lot of talent at the local, state, and national level has been focused on improving the public K-12 school system as well as the higher education system in this country.
Many charity-run programs seek to improve students’ educational achievement, as well as their rates of high school graduation and college enrollment. Such programs, if effective, have the potential to substantially improve students’ lives by expanding their potential career choices and increasing their earning potential.
Learn more: Promise Academy Charter Middle School in Harlem's Children Zone, Success for All Grades K-2
Source: Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy
Charities run many education-focused programs, including:
We invited experts to recommend nonprofits working on literacy, school readiness, school reform, the achievement gap, human capital, instructional improvement, curricular content development, lowperforming schools turnarounds, data, standards and assessments, after school programming, summer programming, parental involvement, and more. Types of nonprofits could include research, policy, advocacy, training, traditional nonprofits or community based organizations, the traditional after-school kind of nonprofits/CBOs, or even the public/charter schools themselves.
Charities offer a wide variety of activities and services, such as: tutoring, teacher training, school reform, and after school programs.
Education has a history of well-funded, reasonable-seeming programs that have failed to show impact according to the best available analysis.
Donors should ask about the track record of the general kind of program a charity is running, particularly as measured by high-quality studies such as randomized controlled trials. Many programs have shown positive effects in low-quality studies but smaller/no effects in high-quality studies.
Donors should also ask about how a charity tracks its effect on student performance, and compares its programs to any similar programs that may have worked well in the past.
Charities in this area tend to measure their impact on academic performance: attendance, test scores, graduation rates, etc. It is particularly rare that they can show impact on longer-term, more meaningful indicators such as career earnings. Nonetheless, donors should inquire about these issues.
In 2008, we ran our research to identify high-impact education nonprofits working at the national level. Two years later, we have now re-run the research and are releasing these results. We surveyed 103 national education experts (with an average of 21 years of work experience in the field) to identify those organizations that were making the biggest impact. These experts (funders, researchers, nonprofit senior staff, government officials, etc .) identified 13 top education nonprofits (out of 154 total reviewed nonprofits) working on the national level.
While programs focused on education have the potential to produce meaningful improvements in students’ lives, only a few are backed by strong evidence of sizable, sustained effects on important outcomes. Many programs are backed by preliminary evidence – for example, studies showing effects on intermediate outcomes such as children’s ability to sound out words or their intentions to stay in school. However, donors should recognize that when such programs are evaluated in more definitive studies with longer-term follow-up, these preliminary effects too often do not translate into sustained effects on more important outcomes, such as reading comprehension or high school graduation. Donors should ask about the evidence supporting the effectiveness of a specific program a charity is running -- particularly whether there are rigorous studies, such as well-conducted randomized controlled trials, showing sizable, sustained effects on students’ lives.
*Identified as having the most impact at the national level by Philanthropedia's 103 sector experts with an average of 21 years of experience in the education field.
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