Why Teachers College at Columbia U. is a Magnet for K-12 Grants

columbia teachers college

columbia teachers college

If there is a such a thing as an education establishment — a dubious proposition, given the deep fissures within the ed world today — Teachers College at Columbia University could well be its headquarters. It's the oldest and largest graduate school of education in the nation, with a long history of influence. From nearly its first days, TC has gone far beyond a mandate to train teachers to grapple with a wide range of education issues. It remains a powerhouse today, with a large faculty and numerous research centers. 

If Hillary Clinton had won the election, these might be heady days at TC. Instead, it's hard to remember a darker moment for the traditional educational establishment, or what's left of it. The incoming U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a leader of a conservative reform movement that's long seen Teachers College — and teacher education broadly — as part of the problem, not part of the solution. In turn, scholars at TC have been some of leading critics of that movement over recent years. (One of them, Aaron Pallas, recently laid out two grim "worst-case scenarios" in the Washington Post regarding what could happen under DeVos.)

But if TC is now likely to find itself on the outside in the Trump era, it's a good bet that the school will continue to be a strong magnet for foundation grants — at least from certain kinds of funders. 

The stream of grants toward TC in recent years is impressive. The Gates Foundation has been its biggest supporter. Last year, the foundation gave TC five grants totaling around $7.5 million. In 2015, Gates gave TC three grants that totaled over $3 million.

Gates has turned to TC's scholars and researchers for many reasons. Its largest grant, last year's $4 million, came out of the foundation's postsecondary success program to support implementation and evaluation of grantmaking on technology-mediated student advising. Another large grant was to track and study the academic success of students learning English. 

Teachers College draws the big grant money for this kind of assessment work because it has the research firepower to pull it off. A decade ago, when the Irvine Foundation was in the early stages of its ambitious school-to-career grantmaking (Linked Learning), it made a $4.4 million grant to TC toward this work. Other foundations that have turned to TC to design, implement, or assess new initiatives include Lumina, Hewlett, Doris Duke, and the Peter Peterson Foundation. 

Teachers College has also done quite well pulling in support from other kinds of funders. For example, Laurie Tisch, the New York City philanthropist, has given several million dollars to support the work of the Tisch Food Center at TC, which "cultivates research about connections between a just, sustainable food system and healthy eating."

Teachers College has an array of entrepreneurial outfits like the Tisch Center located under its roof, which is another reason that the place rakes in grants. 

Another operation housed at TC that's done well lately is the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization. It's named for Fred Hechinger, a former education editor at The New York Times, and covers issues of inequality and innovation in public education. Hechinger’s reporters examine policy issues and their impact on students and teachers, and dig into data and research to uncover inequities and substantiate claims about growth in achievement.

Hechinger's top foundation backer lately is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In past years, Kellogg has awarded more than $1 million to support various reporting projects by Hechinger, including education reforms in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and educational challenges facing young African American men and boys.

Kellogg has lately awarded TC a string of grants for Hechinger's reporting on educational issues in Mississippi, a state in need of educational improvement. One of the poorest states in the nation, Mississippi routinely ranks at or near the bottom on many national measures of educational success, including reading and math performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), fourth grade proficiency, and high school graduation rates.

Whatever happens in the Trump era, Teachers College will remain influential thanks to its large stable of scholars and research centers — and continue to draw in grant money. Just don't look for any big checks coming its way from the likes of the Walton Family Foundation.