Barbara Chow, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

TITLE: Program Director, Education Program

FUNDING AREAS: Education improvement and reform

CONTACT: bchow@hewlett.org, 650-234-4500

IP TAKE: Chow is a heavy hitter in both education or politics, two realms that seem to continually overlap in our society. 

PROFILE: Before being appointed Education Program Director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Barbara Chow was a policy director of the Budget Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. She also served as special assistant for legislative affairs to President Clinton, as well as White House liaison to Congress on economic, budget, and appropriation matters. Her White House work didn't end there, either; she also spent four years as Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance, and Labor in the Office of Management and Budget.

Even more important than Chow's impressive resume (at least from a grant-making perspective) is her philosophy on educational philanthropy, and in many ways the two go hand in hand. When asked during an interview to describe what she believes is philanthropy's role in educational reform, she replied, "I'm a policy person, so I tend to think in terms of leverage." In other words, Chow seeks to fund those initiatives that she believes will have the greatest impact on a large scale.

Her experience in the White House taught her that political wheels turn very slowly, so she's concentrating her efforts elsewhere by helping to provide students and teachers with resources that aren't dependent upon ederal or even state reform. What resources might those be? Well, much of what The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has funded recently under Chow's direction includes grants for organizations looking to offer open educational resources (OER)—that is, those that are free and open for educational use without copyright restrictions. One of the biggest recipients of such grants in 2012 was Open University, a distance learning provider that offers both free and paid courses. The $1.5 million grant the online university received from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation went towards OER development.

Chow has been very outspoken about her support for these organizations looking to provide free and open access to education for students. In a foundation Q&A, she made it clear that she would do her best to lend Hewlett's helping hand to these providers:

The next key piece is for organizations offering Open Educational Resources to become financially self-sustaining. Web sites that provide high-quality educational materials for free need to find ways to recover their costs and then some so they can grow. It has to reach that point. And there may be an important role for Hewlett in helping the movement figure out what the business models are.

According to Chow, in order to compete on a global scale, America's students need to go beyond knowledge-level learning and develop life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, clear communication, team work, and self-direction. She's open to Letters of Inquiry that address policy changes, improved assessments, and research that will help large numbers of students begin to develop these deep learning skills. Chow's heartfelt concern for the state of our public schools in America is evident in an article she wrote for Education Week in 2010:

The weight of school tradition — with its emphasis on lectures and rote memorization — combined with the demands of state and federal education policies often provides students leaving high school with an education that is, at best, the proverbial mile wide and inch deep. They can regurgitate facts and concepts, but have difficulty applying this knowledge in new and practical ways.

Unfortunately, Chow doesn't fund initiatives for individual schools or programs (remember, she's a big picture kind of gal), so before approaching her, be sure to gather forces from your district and/or professional organizations to develop a methodology that will have a wide-reaching effect.

Also, keep in mind that Chow has worked extensively and at very high levels with budgetary issues, so be sure that you have a clear plan for your project's finances. She'll certainly want to know how much you're hoping to get from the Hewlett Foundation and exactly how you plan to use those funds.

As a final note, if your initiative doesn't fall neatly into the categories of OER or deep learning, don't give up on approaching Chow altogether. She’s one of the more open-minded players in the education reform space as is evident in her own words: "There are so many ways to approach education reform. . . And all ways are equally valid."

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