In a city as diverse as Boston, educational outcomes are often determined by demographics. Students in minority and low-income neighborhoods are at a disadvantage, entering school unprepared and with fewer out-of-school learning opportunities. The Barr Foundation's three-pronged education grantmaking seeks to address these challenges, and early childhood education plays a major role in its giving. (See Barr Foundation: Boston Area Grants).
The foundation provides funding for early childhood education programs, after-school and summer learning projects, and initiatives to build and empower Boston Public Schools, which enroll 80% of the city's children. It's clear, though, that education is a high priority for the foundation. In recent years, Education has been neck and neck with the Environment as the highest-funded programs, capturing about 30% of grants made.
Specifically in the education program, early childhood has received a large chunk of funding, around 30% in recent years. In 2011, the foundation also began revising its strategy for early childhood grants, talking with top education leaders and researchers. Now research plays a major part in determining their grantmaking.
"This research made two things clear: first was the importance of focusing on children from birth — as opposed to waiting until children arrive in formal education or pre-school settings," the foundation’s early education page says. "Second was the need for new approaches that take into account the harmful impacts of early adversities."
This year, Barr's "emerging focuses" in early childhood education will continue to evolve. The foundation said last year that "2012 will be a year of research and development" in terms of early childhood education. So it will be interesting to see how the foundation continues to sharpen their focus. (Read Barr Foundation's ECE senior program officer, Kimberly Haskins IP profile).
Currently, the program places a focus on children from birth to five years old — particularly children in the Circle of Promise and English language learners. Its investments have two focuses: Developing parents as first teachers and bridging early childhood learning programs and elementary school. Another key focus is third-grade literacy:.\
"Research shows that third grade reading proficiency is highly correlated with future academic success. Until third grade, children are 'learning to read.' After third grade, they are 'reading to learn.'"
In terms of staff, the education program is also evolving. In early 2013, the foundation named Wendy Puriefoy as their Director of Education.
Puriefoy has many year of experience in education reform, both nationally and in Boston, and she has also been involved in Boston philanthropy. This will certainly be an interesting year for Barr's early childhood education initiative, and Puriefoy will certainly play a role.